A visit to Preah Vihear Temple or was it Preah Vihear army base.

Day 64, Thursday 08 March 2012, Siem Reap –  Preah Vihear.

You will recall that a couple of days ago I met Cheeba, a Canadian woman here in Siem Reap for a holiday to see the temples. She had hired a car for a trip up to the Preah Vihear temple up on the border with Thailand and I had agreed to go with her and share some of the cost, and today was the day.

Built in the 9th century the temple has been hotly contested between Thailand and Cambodia for many years and was ‘given’ to Cambodia by the International Court of Justice in 1962, a decision the Thai’s did not and do not agree with. In fact as recently as Feb 2011 both sides were shooting at each other over the temple and some of the damage was pointed out to me on the tour. There was also a massacre of Cambodian refugees by Thai forces here in 1979. So a chequered and violent history to the site, you can read more on it here.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preah_Vihear_Temple

The temple itself is on the top of a 525 metre high cliff and has spectacular views over Cambodia, Thailand and up to Laos – except today of course!.

Right time to get on with my story.

I was up early, really early….

I had set my phone alarm to go off at 6.05. When I woke and groggily checked my watch it was 6.00 so I turned the alarm off, grabbed my clothes and went into the bathroom to get ready for the day, I was fully dressed and brushing my teeth when I glanced at my watch and noticed it was now 12.35 am…. 6.00 and 12.30 look so similar when you are half asleep !!!  Alarm back on and back to bed half clothed.

Up again at the real 6.00 am, dressed and teeth again and downstairs for a coffee and wait for the car to get me at 6.30.  Come 6.50 I thought I had best walk round to the hostel where Cheeba was staying and find out what the story was, when I got there I found they had left, so the hostel guy rang the car guy and they had been muddling around Siem Reap trying to find my hostel (the name of my hostel had not been remembered correctly!), they were not far out of town and were going to wait. The hostel got me a motorbike so helmetless (as is the norm for passengers) I was soon screaming through the back streets of town out to the car.

There was four of us on the trip, the driver, who spoke pretty good English, myself, Cheeba and the  tuk tuk driver Cheeba had been using as he had never been to the site. The drive took about three and half hours over a not too bad road, better than I had expected anyway and our driver was very safe, which was great! We only had to swerve for roaming cattle twice – and once for a pig on the way back..

As mentioned the temple is on the top of a hill and you cannot take a car up there so you have to hire a 4wd drive at the outrageous rate of $35US. This is a business that is dying as the road is being rebuilt. It is not a hard road, but very steep at the top.At the top there was a lot of soldiers and gun emplacements, no big guns in sight, though I am sure they are around, I did see machine gun nests close to the border though. You have to have a soldier take you on a tour – private revenue generation ! and ours had very little English but he did point well.

We got to the start of the temple site and Cheeba had to lie down, she had been feeling unwell on the way up, so I went off down the temple stairs to the border for a look.

The bottom of the stairs are less than 50 metres from the barbed wire, so it really is close to Thailand. The tree is in Cambodia and the stairs are in Thailand.

And they are serious about keeping it…Saw this little critter on the way back up.Cheeba wasn’t feeling any better after a rest so I went off with my soldier to explore the temple site.My favourite bit of carving at Preah VihearThe holes apparently held large candles ?My guideSome war damageThe token monk shot

This soldier wanted a photo taken of us : )

The driver and tuk tuk guy, as you can see there was very little view, it was quite smoky,dusty and cloudy.

My guide took this photo on the cliff edge, the two Cambodian tourists both wanted a photo of me with them, not uncommon, but weird….

These are cliff faces where the Thai troops forced 42,000 refugees over, with 3000 confirmed dead and 7000 missing at the end of that tragic day. : (

There was not a lot to look at the temple, most of the carvings had been looted and I was told the gold Buddha had been stolen by the Thais. But the site was pretty cool, I liked the location and I liked that there was only about 20 people there. Apart from about 50 soldiers, mostly without weapons, and all very friendly, I think that they like it when foreigners come to ‘their’ site.After an hour or so of wandering around I went back down to where Cheeba was and she was not in a good way, fevers and aches, our soldier guide and the car driver had to help her walk back down to the 4wd for a very high speed and dusty drive back down to the car. The ride back to Siem Reap was marked by quite a long rain shower, not heavy rain fortunately, but enough to create a massive puddle in one of the towns we passed through which three small children were paddling in.

Apart from a couple of deep fried somethings, that were possibly rice ? I had no idea, I knew it had no meat ! I had not eaten all day, I was also extremely thirsty having run out of water an hour or so ago. I gulped a very welcome can of Angkor lager as soon as I walked in the hostel door, then had a shower and made Mike go out for an early dinner. After a few days of procrastination we finally purchased some souvenirs from the market and went for dinner at Temple again (free wifi of course). It was soooo  good to eat…

An Indy (Jones) day

Day 62, Tuesday 06 March 2012, Siem Reap – Beng Mealea.

Today was going to be our final day in Siem Reap and therefore our final temple visit.  We chose Beng Mealea as it is about 60k from town, so a visit chews up a large portion of the day, especially when travelling by tuk tuk ! I have enjoyed this slow and open aired method of travel, especially on these trips out of the core of the Angkor sites. Even though they are dusty and probably hazardous you do get a better ‘feel’ for the places you drive through and the air con works very well, well the air part, there is not a lot of conditioning going on.

Beng Mealea (BM) was built in the 12th century during the reign of Suryavaman II and had the same floor plan as Angkor Wat, but appears smaller in size ?  There is very little information about the build as there are very few inscriptions in the stone work that provide details to the historians. The site is outside the main Angkor area and currently also out of the control of the Angkor management and is run by local people.

The site is pretty much as discovered with no restoration work having taken place, unlike Ta Prohm which is ‘controlled’ chaos Beng Melea is chaotic ! A walkway was built through part of the site for the filming of the movie “Two brothers” but apart from that there is no path through and most of the site is only accessible by clambering over ruins, walking across roof tops and jumping down from walls – I was in heaven! Being so far away from the core of the ancient Khymer sites meant far less tourism and less damage to the ruins. Though I enjoyed being able to romp all over the place, I am sure it is not doing these ancient stone works any good.

The day started at 7.30 again when Mr Lin picked us up in his tuk tuk. We decided to not go back to the bakery we had been too for the past couple of days due to the slowly declining freshness of its food. Mr Lin took us to the Blue Pumpkin, which is a very European bakery with very European pricing – well not really, but a lot more expensive than the local one, but the food was fabbo – and even better it had some wholegrain bread !

Filling my face with pastries we started off on the two hour tuk tuk ride to BM, it was a pretty good journey, lots to see and the further we got away from the lake the dryer the land became. Due to its different management, BM is not included in the Angkor Wat ticket so we had to pay a further $5USD, which I was very cool with, the site is amazing and this is a key source of income to the local villages, in a very poor country.

Like Angkor Wat the site is surrounded by a moat, but here it is also a source of food for the local village (though I am sure they fish in Angkor’s moat away from the tourists), it is also a place for the buffalo to cool down.

P1090618

Like a lot of the temple sites BM was used as a camp by the Khmer Rouge during the war with Vietnam because the international community had requested/ordered/paid/something to Vietnam to prevent them from shelling the ruins.  Mines have been and even 40 years later,are still an issue here and the advice is not to stray from clear paths around the site. Sadly this is true for much of rural Cambodia.

The first view of the site is the south gate, but you cannot really enter through there.

The guide book suggested walking around the site to the east where there is an entrance boardwalk on the north wall. There was not a lot of wall carvings here, on the south /east corner were these carvings, apparently the carving of the apsara cupping a breast is unique to BM.

At the east gate I climbed on top of the wall and clambered along before jumping down into the site to meet Mike, who had taken the traditional method of entry by the boardwalk. This tree was growing on top of the wall, and I loved how its roots were tunnelling through the stone work.

Inside the walls it is a riot of trees and rocks, with root systems through and over and around (and destroying) the buildings. It was a lot of fun exploring all the different buildings. There were a few tourists here but it is quite off the beaten track.

Coming from somewhere like New Zealand, which is quite free of dangerous animals, it never really occurred to me to take any care as we clambered around the ruins – even though snakebite is very common in Cambodia.

At the end of the boardwalk system there is an entrance into one of buildings and as we made an approach a local guide came and joined us. He led us on a trail through the middle of the site, that was up and over collapsed roofs, down through rubble filled doorways, through dark corridors and back up onto roofs, it was all great fun and we saw a few things we would have missed on our own, so very worth the couple of bucks we each gave him.

At the western wall we ran into a Canadian woman, Cheeba, who we started talking to and she wanted to know if we were interested in going up to Preah Vehear on Thursday. This temple is on a cliff top near the Thai border and is hotly contested with Thailand (in fact they were shelling each other over it in Feb 2011!). I was immediately keen, but we had planned on leaving town on Wednesday, I got the name of her hotel and promised to confirm or otherwise later in the day, but yeah I am going !!

According to our guide the Khmer Rouge took offence to the head on this particular carving, so cut it off !

I loved BM ! a lot of fun, not so much to see in the way of detail and intricate carvings, but being able to romp around was certainly interesting anyway.

After a drink of water and a coke we hopped back onto the tuk tuk for a warm ride back to Siem Reap. We stopped for gas just out of the site – is Johnnie Walker Black petrol better than Red ?

I shot a couple of scenery shots on the way back to the main highway, it was great to see the schools were very well used. These photos do show the conditions that the rural people of Cambodia – and most of SE Asia, live in.  No power, no running water etc. It is a hard life.

I really like these, but have yet to get a good picture as they are really long…  belt drive single piston, two stroke farm implement, with a big trailer on the back, often with a dozen people stacked on top.

After a shower and a lie down we wandered down to the main bar/restaurant strip in Siem Reap, Pub St for dinner and went to Temple club, the food was good, more expensive than the 5 Suns as you would expect. I did have some fresh spring rolls, not fried, not baked, no fat or oil, just fresh vege, heavenly – I am so sick of fried food….  We spent some time wandering around the markets looking for souvenirs and not buying anything. We did however, get a foot massage from the blind masseurs in the market.

When we got back to the GH I really felt like a scotch, but not having any I had water instead.

Angkor Thom, Part 2 – Bayon

Day 61, Monday 05 March 2012, Siem Reap – Angkor Thom, Part 2 of 2

I have split today into two posts as we saw an awful lot and I took a massive amount of pictures. I have also made a separate post just with some of the faces from Bayon as they were stunning and would have made uploading this post too slow – and reading it pretty slow too I guess.

It was a pretty awesome day!

After a wee break in the shade we wandered around the Terrace of the Leper King. The terrace is about fifty metres long and seven high and is covered in murals, when we got to the end of terrace we discovered it is actually in two layers, with the back layer containing some of the more original condition carvings.

The leper king terrace is joined to the Terrace of Elephants, which is of similar height , but 350 metres long and has a small section in two layers. The terrace of the elephants was a viewing platform for royal ceremonies.

From the flat terraces we crossed over the road to Prasat Sour Prat (temple of the tightrope dancers). These are twelve towers that were supposedly used by performers on tightropes to entertain the king.

There were a large number of people cleaning the area of leaves and rubbish, all too much for some. I will say all the sites we have visited have been extremely tidy, there must be an army of people out early everyday cleaning.

Prasat Bayon!!

Wow Bayon !  I had been looking forward to Bayon all day and had deliberately kept it to last so I could savour the anticipation, and the temple itself – however, having said that after four hours of walking in the sun and heat looking at temples I was a wee bit worn out. I should have planned on a third day.

Bayon is constructed of three levels, the first two are square and the top is circular, with the top layer containing fifty four towers, and each of the towers has four faces on it. The faces are supposed to be of the Bodhisattva (enlightened being ) Avalokiteshvria but also have an uncanny resemblance to king Jayavarman VII. The 216 faces stare down at all his subjects from all angles.

The bas reliefs on the outside of Bayon measure over 1.2 km and contain more than 11,000 figures that describe everyday life around Angkor.

As well as the fifty four towers which were very cool, Bayon was also a rabbit warren of narrow inter-connected corridors and alleyways, it was quite fun just wandering around turning left and right and popping up and down very steep little staircases to see where you would pop out – and how many faces would be staring at you. I loved it all. It is a truly magical place.

I am not sure how Mr Lin (our tuk tuk driver) knew it, but he has obviously had a lot of experience with tourists. Even though we were not doing the conventional tour of Angkor Thom and we were certainly not clock watching, when he dropped us off at 8.00 this morning he said  he would see us at 1.00.  At 1.05 I arrived at the tuk tuk !  He has predicted what seems like to the minute, how long we would take to see each temple. Awesome.

We got back to the GH about 2.00 and for me that was the end of the day, I had a lot of photos to review and posts to update, so after a shower and some clothes washing I sat around in the nice cool air conned room for a while and then had a good Skype and FB message session with a friend and my son Dom. After that it was back to the Five Suns for a burger and fries for dinner and then an early night as I was really tired.

It was a truly awesome day, I have loved all the places we have visited in the vast Angkor complex, but those faces of Bayon.  Wow, take a look…..

7.30 start again tomorrow,  and the final Angkor temple site.

I would like to assure everyone, especially mum, that though it appears I am wearing the same shirt most days I am washing shirts every day at the moment! So they are clean(ish).

Which is more than I can say for my feet after a dusty day of walking…

Angkor Thom P1

Day 61, Monday 05 March 2012, Siem Reap – Angkor Thom, Part 1 of 2

I have been looking forward to today’s temple visit (though I must admit I have looked forward to everything I have done around Siem Reap) but Bayon for me is another one of the big ones.  We started the day with our regular tuk  tuk  at 7.30 and went to the same bakery for breakfast, which appeared to feature exactly the same food as yesterday, and I mean the same…. wont go back there tomorrow !

Amongst many other features Bayon sits inside the large Angkor Thom site and I wanted to have a bit more of a casual stroll around Angkor Thom rather than usual rush around the key bits inside. So Mike and I decided to follow a Lonely Planet recommendation and walk some of the outer wall before heading in to the good bits. We had our tuk tuk driver (Mr Lin) drop us off at the main south gate, where you can obviously do an elephant tour.

Angkor Thom (Great city) was the last of the great Khmer cities and was started in the late 12th century by Jayavarman VII and abandoned sometime in the 16th. The site is surrounded by a twelve kilometre wall, eight metres high with four main gates. Throughout the site there are many large carvings of a face, supposedly of the bodhisattva (enlightened being) Avalokiteshvara, but apparently they look more like the king himself!  The site as a number of key features within its wall so we were expecting to take about five hours to do the tour. It was hot by 8.30 !

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor_Thom

Our first stop was just outside the Angkor Thom wall, Baksei Chamkrong was built in the 10th century and is the last remaining pyramid temple around Phnom Bakheng (central mountain) a small hill in the area. At the top of the incredibly steep staircase was quite a well preserved sleeping Buddha.

From there we crossed the bridge over the moat.

Through the South gate with its great carving of the bodhisattva  and a massive line of tourist buses, vans and tuk tuks trying to get in (and out) of the single narrow gate.  

This has to be the way to see Angkor, it must be amazing from up there, a whole different perspective.

We walked along the top of the wall for abut three kms to the west gate.

I have not seen too many creepy crawlies since leaving Borneo all those weeks ago, and no snakes apart from the ones in the market in Bangkok – and I haven’t seen any today either, but I did find a sign of snakes…

At the west gate (you can see how narrow these are)

From the gate we started into the main Angkor Thom site and after a five hundred metre walk we started to see the traffic moving along the main road so we took a left down a dirt track to the first of the temple sites – Baphoun.  Baphoun was completed sometime in the mid 1000’s by Udayadityavarman ii and was a representation of the mythical  home of the gods, Mt Meru – similar to Angkor Wat.

Baphoun has been described as the worlds largest jigsaw puzzle !

The site was the key focus of a French restoration project and taken apart piece by piece, when war broke out the work was stopped and all the records were destroyed, leaving 300,000 pieces to be put back into place.

The restoration work restarted in 1995 and continues now. The site is very popular and so was a little hard to move around.

Though great views from the top

And some cool carvings (of course)

From there we followed the herd and moved over to Phimeanakas (Celestial Palace) was a temple built next to and inside the royal palace. Only temples were built from stone, even the royal palace was made of wood, so there are no remains. I clambered up the steep stairs to the top (not these ones as they were closed, but just as steep).

Where there was a small Buddha and this woman sold me an incense stick and wished me luck for a dollar… (she is wishing someone else luck in the photo)

After clambering back down through a mob of Chinese tourists who obviously were in such a rush they could not wait the 35 seconds for me to descend, Mike and I braves the touts, bought a can of Pepsi and some water and sat down to consume the last of the snacks from the morning bakery stop, for me half a loaf of sweet bread. Some archaeological excavation was going on nearby but they were rather vague about what for.

I love the carvings and have taken a lot of photos of them, I have posted a range of the different types of carvings I have seen  so you can get an idea of the talent of the people who made these temples.  In fact I loved the whole place, in fact all of the places I have seen around Siem Reap. The magnitude of the building work that took place a thousand years ago is just amazing. That it has survived this long, through a nasty civil war and a war with Vietnam is equally amazing.

The second part of the day will be blogged soon!

The triple S, Shower, Shave and Stilt villages

Day 60 – Sunday 04 March 2012, Siem Reap – Tonle Sap lake and Kompong Phhluk

Today was a day off from temples and walking around in the heat, with a planned visit to the stilt village of Kompon Phhluk and the floating villages on Tonle Sap lake. Again we were paying for a tuk tuk to take us there, I am sure we could find other transport and probably cheaper, but it is still a reasonable price at $15 for both of us for about two half hours of tuk tuking. The accommodation and food maybe cheap but we are making up for it with tours !

The tuk tuk was again waiting for us at the arranged time of 8.00 am, we hadn’t managed to get breakfast so we grabbed a few things from a local bakery and set off on the hour or so journey to Tonle Sap lake.  I took a whole load of photos on the way there and back and have posted them separately.

After pounding down a rough dirt road and through a local village we arrived at the ticket office for the boats, we were pretty disappointed to hear it was $20 USD EACH for the boat ride, I was expecting maybe $20 for the boat, there was no haggling and this was the only way so we stumped up with the cash.  Life out here is pretty tough, with nothing we take for granted in the cities. Though being close to the lake means there is a lot of water for irrigating vegetable gardens and rice paddies and there is a lot of fish caught and eaten. I am hoping some of my money goes to the local people.

From the ticket office we had a further ten tough minutes in the tuk tuk to the river side where we got on our dungy old boat for the tour. The driver was not exactly forth coming with information about what we saw, and the boat was so loud it would have been a fruitless monologue if he had tried!

I loved the complex steering mechanism, everything is so basic and functional here, so very cool, I wish NZ was like this.

We passed a number of young men net fishing in the  very muddy river, not quite sure what they were catching but there was a lot of them doing it and it involved being in the river.

Fishing is life here, so net repair is crucial.

Past the fishermen we came round a corner in the river and caught our first glimpse of Kompong Phhluk  (yes it has two h;s and Kompong means village). Wow – amazing!

The village is all on stilts and not just a few feet off the ground either, these are all 7 or 8 metres high, designed to protect the village during the rainy season – if obviously rains a lot here. In fact most of the area surrounding here is a vast flood plain, arid during the dry season and flooded during the wet, with very little in between. We spent about fifteen minutes cruising up the river and through the village, the villagers totally ignored us, a couple of the kids waived, but largely they must be sick of the hundreds of tourists that come through every day.

The shrine up a tree!

House with granny flat ?

These floating pens hold pigs and chickens when the place is flooded, you can just see chickens on top of it.

After the village we motored up stream for a few minutes to the edge of Tonle Sap lake and the mandatory stop at a cafe where we had coffee and fruit. We were offered an additional canoe ride through a flooded forest for another $10 but declined as the faces of the people who were doing it read “boring”  ! Plus I get sick of being upsold things all the time, it was worth maybe $2… The boat boy had a wee wash while we had coffee.

I was really disappointed when we got to the lake as the floating villages were not there, they do move around the lake a bit, so I was not utterly surprised, but this was the main reason we came. I do believe they should tell you first !!  There was one floating house.After the lake we powered back up the river to the start where we got out and back into our tuk tuk for the return to Siem Reap.

I was disappointed with the day, it was the most expensive activity we have done and I feel ripped off. We had no information on what we were seeing and the floating village was not there. The village on stilts was amazing so I am glad I came but….

Once back in town and clean from all the dust we had lunch at the Purple Elephant Thai restaurant. This was the place run by Sam who I met last night. I had a vege dish (name eludes me now) that I have not tried before and a mango shake. The food was excellent ! and my meal cost $2 including drink. I really wonder how people make money, will go back there for lunch tomorrow as well.

Mike enjoying having his photo taken at lunch.

After lunch I finally dragged my sorry arse to a barber and got a haircut, I am 99% sure he spoke no English, but luckily short hair is short hair and he did a good job. He offered me a shave as well so I took the opportunity to get my first straight razor shave ever, and yes I did have thoughts of Sweeny Todd!! He also offered me the chance to visit the massage parlour upstairs, which I declined : )

We did not do much else for the rest of the day, so I got to blog yesterdays temple visits and then back to the five suns for dinner, though I did go for a burger rather than Cambodian food  as they looked very good.

Tomorrow we visit Bayon, I am so excited !!!

Banteay Kdei

Day 59 – Saturday, 03 March 2012, Part 3  of 3- Siem Reap – Banteay Kdei

More photos on Flickr…

Tuk tuk jam on the way out of Ta Prohm.

On the way back to the GH from Ta Prohm I asked to stop at another Wat site as we passed, Banteay Kdei (citadel of chambers). Banteay Kdei was a large monastery that was started in the late 1100’s though it was never fully finished and built quite hastily causing it to now be in a rather tumbled state.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banteay_Kdei

The site was reasonably small, and quite low down compared to the multi-layered Angkor Wat and the larger Ta Prohm. We spent an interesting forty five minutes walking around and snapped a few photos of the carvings.

One of side gates

There were some great carvings here amongst the ruins.

I really liked these, almost all that was left.

This was my favourite shot from the site, I really like these faces and am looking forward to going to Bayon in a couple of days. This clearly shows how these are constructed, it is probably two meters high and five off the ground.After the very early morning spent walking in the heat, we had a late lunch at the same place we had breakfast and I took a whole load of photos of life passing by the cafe.I have posted a load of the bicycles already, but this was my favourite, the cafe is almost over the road from a local clinic.

This was followed by some serious time in air conditioning and a shower to wash away the layers of red dust.

For dinner we went to the five suns restaurant where we ate the previous two nights, the food there is great, I have had a Khmer curry, green mango salad and tonight I had another local meal amok, which again was just so tasty. I almost feel guilty eating these wonderful meals that cost about $3 NZ. We do leave a small tip each night ! I was just settling into a vodka and tonic (change from beer) when a guy in an arsenal shirt came in and asked the staff to put the TV on ESPN. Arsenal V Liverpool live was just about to start, so Mike went back to the GH and I joined the English guy in front of the TV for the next couple of hours. We were soon joined by Sam another young English guy who now lives in Seim Reap and runs a small Thai cafe up the road. Arsenal won 2-1 so it was a great game ! Though my ankles got massacred by small flying biting things. It was a long, but awesome day.

Wat Ta Prohm

Day 59 – Saturday, 03 March 2012, Part 2  of 3- Siem Reap – Ta Promh

After a late breakfast at the local cafe and a photo snapping session of people passing by, followed by a quick pick up of the last of my charged camera batteries we headed back out in our tuk-tuk to Ta Prohm Wat. Ta Prohm is one of my big picks of things to see in the area as it has been left reasonably alone since being ‘discovered’. It still has an element of jungle authenticity about it. It has also featured in Indiana Jones and Lara Croft movies…

Construction of Ta Prohm was started in 1186 and the temple was dedicated to the mother of King Jayavarnan VII. The site is smaller than Angkor Wat and has been significantly damaged by the elements, so passages are blocked with fallen rock and trees grow on, in and around the ruins.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ta_Prohm

Our first introduction to the site was a mob of tourist buses, tuk tuks and touts – it was not a great start to a day of quiet browsing.

The main entry point, the west gate, was under renovation so we had to enter the site through some temporary steps in the midst of a Chinese tour group – complete with loud hailer – I was not feeling good about this I can tell you!

Once inside the outer wall I again followed the strategy I used at Anglor Wat, walk the outer ring, then the middle ring before entering the centre courtyard. The site is visually stunning !

I would liked to have been there a bit earlier or later in the day to get the sun at a different angles, but it was still only ten am when we arrived so it was not too harsh, though the brightness of the sun made a few photos unusable.

Like Angkor Wat the outer courtyards of the temple were fairly empty of tourists and I managed to get a few good photos sans the hoard.

The inner ring was just packed ! I think the tour groups just charge through the middle of the sites, out the other side and back on to their air conned bus – good for them – suits me perfectly !

49 year old legs, 5 month old Keen Sandals, 800 year old carving in a sandstone block ! Like the other sites we were allowed reasonable access to most places inside and outside the walls.

The exit

What an awesome site !!!

Angkor Wat !!!

Day 59 – Saturday, 03 March 2012, Part 1 of 3 – Siem Reap – Angkor Wat

This will be a three part post as a big morning with lots of photos taken sites at three sites around siem reap. I will put the bulk on  to Flickr as it is easier to mass upload there.

It was a cool day !(well it was a damn hot day really, I merely can dream of cool days)   I have wanted to see the temples of Angkor for many years and this was one of the two key reasons for coming to South East Asia, the other was seeing the orang-utans which I did in Borneo.

Angkor Wat (Temple that is a city) is huge ! it is the largest religious structure in the world, it surrounded by a moat that is 190m wide and is 1.5km long and 1.3km wide. The structure was started in the 1100’s and has never been abandoned to the jungle which has resulted in a its remarkable condition. I wont go into the detail of how and why it was built here as that is a huge story in itself – worth reading.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor_Wat

We elected to do Angkor Wat as a sunrise visit, which meant getting up at 4.15 and being collected by our tuk tuk driver at 4.30, the ride out to the site was for me full of anticipation !  When we arrived there were not too many people about and I bought a coffee off of one of the touts and then threw it away as it was disgusting… grrrr.  There is no signposting anywhere and stupidly we had failed to read up on the site so wandered blindly (I had a torch) around in the dark for about twenty minutes, crossing paths with a number of other tourists also blindly wandering around. I had made an assumption on where east was based on a light glow on the horizon, which did not match the direction of the book when we finally read it. Mike then realised the glow was the wash from the town and not the slwoly rising sun, Doh! So we went and joined the ever growing hoards on the bank of a large pond.

The sunrise was highly unspectacular and was verging on being a waste of a lie in, but once the sun was high enough to see by we started our tour of the site while it was cool and before the mass of tourists arrived. 

My plan was to do the outside of the site first, followed by the inner ring and then finally the centre where the towers were, with this in mind we walked the almost km to the far eastern wall to catch some of the early morning light.

I had read in the guide book, that the bulk of the early morning visitors disappear back to their hotels for breakfast after the sunrise, and this proved to be the case. For the first hour it almost appeared as if we had Angkor Wat to ourselves and I managed to get a lot of photos with no people in them. We pretty much followed my plan outside first with a visit to the eastern gate.

Followed by  a walk around the outer wall rim which is one large bas relief almost 1.2km long. The detail carved into the stone is astounding and most of it is in phenomenally good condition.

From there we ventured into the site itself and checked out more of the carvings and statues.

The crowd was starting to pick up at 7.30, when we were almost first into the queue to climb the central tower which is fifty five metres high and has incredibly steep stairs. The view from the top was pretty good.

As was the Buddha.

For seem reason my camera was chewing through batteries and I used two batteries before we left Angkor Wat and I only took a hundred or so photos, I can understand the twenty second exposures sucking battery life but not normal shooting. I had to use my phone for a the last few shots.

After Angkor we went back to the GH so I could get my third battery for the visit to Ta Promh. I also took the view finder off as this uses some power – fortunately, apart from dropping my camera, I had no issues at Ta Promh.

As we left Angkor we were faced with the hoards making their way in, a good time to leave.  It was a pretty awesome place, I will  definitely go back there one day, rainy season next time.

I posted more photos on Flickr as it is ony slightly less frustrating than posting photos here.

The Roluos Group of temples.

Day 58, Friday 02 March 2012, Siem Reap – The Roluos Group of temples.

I had a reasonable sleep last night and up earlyish for a free Nescafe down in the lobby area along with a quick net surf, not used to not having wifi in the room ! Though a waste of time as no interesting emails and nothing happened in my Facebook world either, LOL : ) We wandered up the road for breakfast and had attention lavished up on us by a tuk tuk driver in the cafe, ultimately to no avail. Breakfast was entirely average, though of course very cheap, but we wont go back there again – need to avoid the disappointed tuk tuk driver !

On the bus yesterday i came up with a plan for the things I wanted to see, based on the book I had, though of course I will consult locally now we are in town.  I wanted to ease into the sights and do a short day and some minor temples first, so last night we arranged with guesthouse (GH) for a tuk tuk to take us out to the Roluos group of temples for a three hour tour. I can guarantee we can get a better deal on the street but it is still cheap and we know we are at least getting a driver that has some cred with the GH.

The Roluos group is comprised of three sites about thirteen KM from Siem Reap and away from the main sites. Neither of the guide books we have explain what the Roluos bit  means, but the three sites in the order we visited them are Bakong, Preah Ko and Lolei.

We left at 9.00 am and the day was already warm ! On the way to the temples we stopped to buy a three day temple pass, at $40 USD as these are checked at all sites, hopefully some of the funds are invested in the maintenance of the temples and it was good to see each site did have some work going on, but not obtrusively so.We stopped for petrol on the way out.

The road from the highway to the temples was incredibly dusty and my grey shirt is now filthy and even a shower wash made no difference – and damnit I only had two days use out of the shirt, I could easily have got another day without having to wash it.The construction of the first temple we visited, Bakong, was started by Indravarman  in 881, and the temple is extremely cool ! We were allowed to walk all around the site and there were not too many other tourists getting in the way of me and my camera. Though i did spend the first twenty minutes taking photos on manual focus setting and getting some bad shots – delete, delete.

I climbed up one of the side ruins and was trying to pull myself up on top (other people had been there!) when the pillar I was using to haul myself up on started to fall over – OH SHIT ! I caught it and managed to straighten it up again and no-one noticed – I made a rapid retreat ! You cannot see from the photo, but there is a small bar holding the short pillar to the right of the frame, I knocked it out when I tried to pull myself up, I did manage to get it back in – lesson learned.

The remainder of the walk around the site was less dramatic, but nonetheless entirely enjoyable, I love being able to get in close to the detail. Impressive !

At all the temple sites we are approached by young girls selling price inflated cans of coke and other drinks (still cheaper than NZ) and men selling guide books and guide services, it takes a bit of the enjoyment away as, for me I like to enjoy these in peace. I did buy a coke at the last temple though. I am sure Angkor Wat is a lot worse ! As we were leaving the temple, the kids that were at school were riding home.

Moo.

The second temple we visited was Preah Ko, supposedly built in 880 again by Indrvarman 1. This was a smaller site, though equally interesting and with even less people, I managed to get a few shots with no one in them… the day was brutally hot and there was very little shade around this site so we did not stay too long.

The last temple in the group is Loliei started in 893 by Yasovarman 1 and is the smallest site by a long way. It does have a small new temple on site and an orphanage.

I am not sure on the whole orphanage thing and saw a number of posters in Thailand saying “orphanages are not tourism” which I do agree with, but it is a tough one as tourists do give money. However, where the money goes is a whole different subject and I suspect there is plenty of scamming going on, as well as far more unpleasant things.  I didn’t give.

There was a small village by the temple.Our tuk tuk for the day.

I need a shave again !

There are a couple more photos on Flickr.

After the temples we went back to town for a late pizza lunch in the main tourist drag, “Pub Street.Hired a couple of bikes for a ride around to see some more of Siem Reap, it was damn hot !!! Preah Promh Rath Monastery dates back around five hundred years and is longest continuously operating Wat in Siem Reap. It contains a replica of the Preah Ang Chang-han Hoy Buddha, who was revered by the Khmer people in the 13th and 14th century.

Up at 4.15 tomorrow, off for a sunrise over Angkor Wat, and the sun better rise if I am getting up that early.