Skip to content

March 21, 2007

Leave No Stone Uncarved

Share
Monk On Steps of Angkor Wat

Close

Monk On Steps of Angkor Wat

 

Ok, I’ve been in Cambodia for a few days now and thoroughly enjoying it.  I got in Friday night without know much of anything about the place so I bought a Cambodia guide book and an Angkor Wat one and spent most of Saturday doing research. I decided to get a three day pass to Angkor Wat, $40US, and they also allow you to go the evening before the pass is effective to get a sunset viewing in.  Well their ended up not really being much of a sunset due the clouds that night, but it was nice to drive past some of the temples to get my bearings and an idea of what would be coming the following days .  The temple I was at was the most popular for sunsets and swarming with people.  Half the challenge there, and at the other major temples was trying to get a decent picture without a bunch of people in them.

Angkor Wat With Reflection

Close

Angkor Wat With Reflection

 

Angkor Wat is the largest, best preserved, and impressive of the temples.  But it also refers to the entire surrounding area which is dotted with over 100 temples built from the 9th to 13th century when Cambodia controlled most of southeast Asia.  The temples started out as brick and evolved into using volcanic rock and sandstone.  Angkor Wat means city which became a temple and describes the place perfectly.

The driver that had taken me to my hostel set up to take me around for the next three days.  So at 5am the next morning we met so he could take me to Angkor Wat (the temple) for sunrise.  It was pitch black when I got there and hadn’t been warned to bring my headlamp, but remembered I had a little keychain light in my backpack.  The ground is quite unlevel due to the different height of stones and steps throughout.  I saw two people twist their ankles before 6:30.  I made it in safely and got to the steps to go up.  Oh my, they are steep.  I read in my guidebook later that the lowest angle on the steps there are 50 degrees and they had those blocked off.  You literally climb with your hands and feet all the way up.  I was the first one up , but didn’t have the place alone for too long .  However it was still just a handful of people and we were treated to a really pretty sunrise over the trees and up the path to the temple.

Bayon Heads

Close

Bayon Heads

 

I stayed there for about three hours working my way from the center point out in widening circles.  As the sun continued to rise I really got a feeling for the immensity of the place.  The outer wall close to a kilometer square and surrounded by a huge moat (190 meters wide) which you can’t even see all of from the top.  I just kept looking around disbelieving what I was seeing and imaging the work that went into building it.  All of the sandstone used to make it came from 30 miles away and was brought down on the river.  It rises 55 meters tall in the center point above the ground.  The sheer size and shape of the temple is absolutely incredible.

Then you get to looking at it at there is hardly an inch of the building that wasn’t ornately carved and originally painted also.  It really leaves you speechless trying to think about designing and decorating it.  You just can’t describe what you are seeing since every turn is slightly different.  Trying to get pictures doesn’t do it justice either since you either get the detail of what was done, but none of the amount of it or the other way around.  Plus there isn’t anywhere to get on overview except from the air.  The outer enclosure is carved with stories from Hinduism, Buddhism, and Khmer (Cambodian people’s) past.  The shortest mural is about 60 meters long and go up to 100 meters about 8 feet tall.  The level of detail and the fact that it has survived for almost 1000 years is remarkable.

Eventually, I wandered down and found my driver and off we went to the next temples.  All of the vary some and I’m certainly not going to go into all of them, just the ones I feel like.  Next was Bayon which is unique because the towers in it are all carved with a large face on each of the four sides of the tower looking outward.  It is a bit a surreal site and I can only imagine how it looked when completed and every detail would have been clearly visible.  Angkor Wat is just in a class by itself, so my next favorite that day was Ta Prohm which has been left in more or less in condition it was discovered in in the beginning of the 19th century.  When I saw discovered that refers to re-discovered by the western world, kind of like discovering America, except its already full of people!  Anyways, this one had trees growing from the tops of walls where birds would have deposited a seed, complete with fertilizer.  Wait 1000 years and a huge tree has grown which has over taken the wall and is breaking down the stone.  Some of the scenes from Tomb Raider were shot here and I was thinking that every movie should be made there.  Its just that cool looking.

Bayon Heads

Close

Bayon Heads

 

I spent a while weaving my way through Ta Prohm and sat down at the end for a bit of water and all of a sudden I hear this girls voice, “”Hey, that looks like Brian”.  I looked over and it was Phoebe and Tamzin, the two English girls I met my first day in Singapore and traveled up to KL with.  I knew they were planning on going to Cambodia, but it was totally last minute for me and a completely random meeting.  It was great seeing them again and we caught up for a bit and planned to get together for a few beers later on.

Day 1 completed the little circuit with plans on the grand circuit on day 2.  The two circuits overlap each other for parts and were created when visitors starting coming here and did their tours on elephant.  I knew after going out the night before a sunrise wasn’t in my future so I met the driver at 9 and headed out again.  It was more of the same although I wasn’t getting temple burnout yet just because I would keep finding something totally different or unexpected and we were going at a nice pace.  I really felt like I was spending more time at nearly of the temples than most people, but I was still seeing everything I planned on for the day so it worked out great.

The part that was getting old is hordes of vendors stationed around every single temple.  All of them selling the same stuff and you either already bought it or really don’t want it. I must have been offered 300 “You want cold drink mister” for every one that I did buy.  The more time that went on and the more Cambodians I spent time with I really got to feeling bad about not getting more.  While there are more beggars here than anywhere so far, there is even more pleading.  You buying something for $1 really does mean something to them.  The little kids running around selling postcards are just an example.  They would whip through them saying all the names, and then count them off 1 through 10 in English .  More enterprising ones would switch to Cambodian, then French, Spanish, Japanese, German.  I know I heard one girl do all six languages.  Or where you “”from mister?”, America, ahh, capital Washington DC large cities New York, Chicago, LA, population 300 million.  They obviously get a worldwide education even though they aren’t in school.

I hit Angkor Wat again that day for sunset this time.  The nice thing about that temple is that even though there are so many people there, except at sunrise, its big enough that they spread out and you aren’t elbow to elbow for it.  I headed back after that and was going to hit some of the further out temples the next day (about 30 miles away).  That night at midnight I thought the person in the room next to me was taking a shower.  Eventually I figured out it was rain and it continued to while I was picked up at 6 all the way until we arrived at 7:30.  The ticket checker wasn’t there yet so we sat around until 8.  It was odd being the only people there and having all the vendor stalls empty.  This one wasn’t so much a temple as carvings into a riverbed and surrounding rocks.  My guide went along with me as it was a 1.5 mile walk out to them.

River Carvins at Kbal Spean

Close

River Carvins at Kbal Spean

 

It was so gorgeous being there right after the rain and being the only people there.  We kept getting glimpses of monkey scurrying away as we listened to all the rain falling of the leaves as the moved along telling us where they were.  We got to the riverbed and while there still wasn’t much of stream it did allow us to see more of the carvings.  There was a little waterfall just downstream and we spent about 45 minutes poking around.  About 5 minutes into our walk out we met the next people coming in and there were groups following every couple minutes behind.  I’m so thankful that it was pouring all night because it probably slowed them all down and gave me the place to myself.

We went 6 miles back towards town to Banteay Srey which isn’t a large temple, but has the most detailed carvings of all of them.  The carvings would go several inches deep and just stand out like they were carved last week.  Again every visible inch would have something done to it just leaving you shaking your head at how they built one temple, let alone all of them over the years.  The population of this area was at 1,000,000 people during this time while London only had about 50,000 (about the time of the Battle of Hastings) so they were early bloomers.

That afternoon we hit one more group, and my temple capacity was getting filled so I didn’t get as much from them and didn’t feel like going to hit one of the big ones again one more time.  I’m so glad I changed my plans to include this area it really is something that once I found out what I missed I would have regretted.  I really didn’t know what my plans were going to be after the temples, but at the moment I’m going to plan 9,401 and think I will stay in Cambodia for a few weeks and head north into Laos (rhymes with how).  This means that I won’t make it South Africa, but I’m ok that.  It also means I have lots to do in the next week to try and get some meds shipped to me from my parents and get a Laos visa since you can’t do it at the border point with Cambodia.  I’ll be heading to the capital soon to take care of those details and then heading east near the border of Vietnam and north.  As I said plan 9,401 with at least 10 more by Friday at this rate.  Until then …

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Share your thoughts, post a comment.

(required)
(required)

Note: HTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to comments