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Around The World in 8 Months

The Beginning: Bangkok and Siem Reap

CAMBODIA | Thursday, 5 May 2011 | Views [636]

So here's the first blog entry of this trip!

For the first 3 months, my sister Rhi is travelling with me, so everything I write here involves both of us. We started of with a 10 hour flight from Melbourne to Bangkok, Thailand, with the *cough* wonderful Jetstar. I hate Jetstar, but thankfully nothing went majorly wrong this time. We had to stay overnight in Bangkok before our flight to Siem Reap, so after arriving at 11pm we had a quick sleep before having to check out at 10am. Unfortunately that meant a 7 hour wait at Bangkok airport, made only the worse by the fact that our flight was cancelled and we were reschedualed for 2 hours later, making it a 9 hour wait in the airport! How we amused ourselves for so long I'll never know haha.

Our first full day in Siem Reap we relaxed, and tried to aclimatise to the humid environment of Cambodia. I have wanted to come back to Cambodia for some time, as I came here with a school service project in 2006 when I was 16. It was a truly amazing experience teaching english and building houses, and sightseeing, and I have made a point to return. So our first day we went out to the markets, first the Old Market, then the relatively new Night Market, which opened a year after I was last here. A lot of memories already resurfaced and I found myself remembering quite  bit of the basic Khmer language we learnt at the time.

*Warning! History alert!*

Now Cambodia has a long and fascinating history but I guess the most important thing is the rise of the Khmer Rouge Regime, which totally shattered the Khmer way of life, leaving lasting damage on the landscapes of the land, as well as the psyches of the people left behind. Thousands were slaughtered and totured, includign many of the countries monks and teachers, so the temples also have a more recent and dark history. You all have google, I'm sure you can find more information if you need it, but the main thing is that the Khmer people (Cambodians) have a strong perception that they are not worthy people. It is not shown outwardly in most cases, but this is a rather startling and domineering perception amoung this country's people. As a result they are very friendly and accomodating towards westerners, more so than those of say Thailand (Land of Smiles, I think not!). However, there has been a lot of work done both architechually and psychologically in the past decade, and I have much hope for the future of Cambodia. However I do hope that they don't entirely lose their culture to the Western way as so many other cultures have.

*End History Lesson*

The most amazing thing about Cambodia by far, is the temples. There is a large rainforest area near the main town (about 20 mins by tuk tuk: a motorcycle with a carriage for 2-4 people on the back) that is literally choc-a-block with Temples and religious artifacts, and that's only what has been excavated so far! There are many that have fallen into disrepair, but many nations have stepped in to help the Khmer people maintain and rebuilt these amazing monuments, and they are well unway. In the 5 years that I have been gone, I canalready see vast imporovements to the structures of the most popular temples. It does mean quite a few areas are closed off for construction, but it will be worth it in the long run.

I'll give you a little bit of a run down of the temples we have been to so far, but it is hard to convey how each temple is different. No photos can ever do it justice. It is not just the look of the place that is special, there is a kind of feeling that takes over when you enter such places, that though we have been to so many, we can see and feel a difference in every one. SO even if you look at the photos and go "yeah yeah, more temples, more temples, same crap" I can assure you the feeling is not the same. It is something that cannot entirely be expressed in words or images, but must be experienced.

Angkor Wat- The most famous of the Khmer Temples, it is best known for its stunning sunrise shots, you will see a couple of my amateur shots in the photos section. Has amazing engravings on the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, as well as featuring the two buildings of the old Libraries, which at some stage were burnt down and all the information inside was lost. Also, you can see monkeys here, and rhi got a video of one humping a man's legs :P

Bayon Temple- One of my favorites, it features dozens of carvings of an omnipotently smiling face- that fo the king who ordered it's construction. This is where myself and a few others of the school service project broke out into dance when it started rainging- a huge releif in the weather and enjoyed dozens of Japanese tourists pointing in curiosity nd snapping away on their cameras.

Ta Keo- unremarkable visually compared to many of the other temples, but it is the only temple made entirely by sandstone. It was never completely, possibly due to the difficulty in carving detailed engravings into sandstone. It is horwver, a good way to see how the emples are being reconstructed, as many pieces of it have been lain out in groups to be replaced at a later date.

Ta Prohm- by far my most favorite Temple. This temple is best known for appearing the Lara Croft Tomraider, where Lara picks a jasmine flower before falling through the ground into.. Paramount studios :P. It is half in ruins, mostly due to the nuber of giant trees growing out of its stones. Seeing nature reclaiming such a structure has somehow made it all the more magical, and is a must see if you ever plan on going to Siem Reap. If you only have time for one temple, this is it folks.

Prasat Kravan- on the outside it looks rather boring to be honest. Small  and lacking detail, at first we wrre tempted to skip it, but thankfully we did not, as he carvings on the inside of each of the towers is truly amazing! Featuring Vishnu and many of the fantastical creatures he is associated with, it was well worth a visit. Sadly this one is so boring on the outside because the Kind who commisioned it died before it's completion.

Phnom Bakeng- The best sunset location. Many people climb up this giant hill (or take an elephant ride up) just to climp this temple's steep steps and see the sunset with a 360 degree panoramic view. It does mean however that tourists flock there like seagulls, vying for the best spot. So photographers, arrive early and be prepared for a long wait to nsure you get the spot you want.

Pre Rup- Steep climp but due to the lack of tourists at this temple, you get to see a lot more, and at your own pace. The shrines within are also very beautiful, featuringpainted dolls of Buddha and his disciples.

East Mabon- A counterpart to Pre Rup, it is very similar, except that instead of a multidue of lions to stand guard, this one has elephants, about the ehgith of an average person. It also has beaufitul carved statues in its shrines.

Ta Sohm- Another jungle temple that is currently under reconstruction. It ha a number of the main pieces reassembled on the ground level, that would normally be above head height, so at the moment it is possible to see the great detail in the engravings that would normally only be seen at a distance.

Neak Pean- A temples built with lakes in its strucure, though most of the water has now dried up. FOur smaller ponds are dried up, but the central one still has some water, and it is possible to walk accross some stepping stones to the middle tower, which was previously unaccessable due to the moat.

Preah Khan- imilar to but not quite as enthralling as Ta Prohm, however there is a very nice old lady there who will bless you in the Buddhist tradition for free. We gave her some money though, as she was really very friendly, and she let me take photos :) 

My apologies to those who don't find a multitude of temples interesting, but I have been asked to give a fair amount of detail for those who wish to travel to Cambodia in the coming months.

Something that I have found very interesting this time round is the additional information that has been discovered recently about some of the temples history, as well as more detail on the story of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, a Hindu legend about the gods and demons desire to become immortal. There is plenty of information on this online, and if you are planning a trip to cambodia i suggest you red up on you Hindu and Buddhist culture, as it gives a great insight into the temples various engravings.

Well I'm blogged-out for now, if there's anything else you'd like to know more about, just ask. I'll probably do another blog in a few days. I hope this was enlightening!

xo Jess

Tags: angkor wat, bayon, cambodia, khmer, phnom bakheng, photography, prasat kravan, pre rup, ta prohm, temples

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