Angkor (I) The Main Sights

The reason most people (including me) come to Cambodia: Angkor Wat! Or to be more precise, something I learned from my book: Angkor Wat is actually the name for ‘just’ the main temple. Angkor refers to the old capital of the kingdom of Cambodia during most parts of the Angkorian Period (802-1432). A long time. While Angkor Wat is so magnificient that the Cologne Cathedral looks like child play (except for one thing…we’ll come back to that…hm, maybe two ;)), 600 years are sufficient to build a lot more. The city of Angkor, Angkor Thom, was close by and has been built and abandoned twice. Some remains, those built from stone, the material reserved for the gods, can still be seen. The rest was made from wood, and it doesn’t need much imagination to figure out what happened to that. Hence, I put these documents under its own category “Angkor”, as this in fact is a city’s name.

Various kings at various times built various more temples, so that we in the end talk about some 20 temples in the vincinity of Angkor. You will now start to understand why there is not only a standard day ticket (I believe rarely sold), but also a 3-day and a 7-day pass. I bought a 3-day pass, which even includes a picture, which nowadays is made directly at the office while buying with the help of a webcam. No passport photo needed any longer.

My moto driver drove me around, just the ‘standard’ small circle, starting with the magnificent Angkor Wat, then visiting smaller and smaller places. While there certainly is the danger that after Angkor Wat everything else looks boring I must admit that I did enjoy also the small sites very much. They are a bit more quiet, it’s more relaxed to walk around and find good photo spots. In fact, given the grandeur of Angkor Wat, it is astonishing that how comparably simple the photos are. (Weather didn’t help…all day full overcast.) I made the better ones at other places. But see for yourself:

Angkor Wat

Impossible to show the grandeur of this temple…of this “site” is probably the better name…without a professional camera and a photo print the size of your living room wall. I have seen such pictures in shops, they do convey the right message. Well…for the moment we have to deal with these ‘detail’ shots:

SR_20071007_083138.jpg: My outside pictures are crap…so here I entered already the outer wall, together with a lot of other tourists and we are slowly heading on the causeway for the main buildings.

SR_20071007_083412.jpg: An outer part of the south library in front, the spires of Angkor Wat in the back.

SR_20071007_083502.jpg: From within the library building: Outside some Chinese play the usual “I was here, and even on a horse, take a photo of me!” game. They do that everywhere…horses weren’t quite original. Elephants would be more correct 😉

SR_20071007_083743.jpg: Dark silhouette of Angkor Wat’s main buildings, mirrored in the southern pool. Most other tourist…ehm, all of them…chose the northern pool for this mirroring picture. Maybe because the northern pool is full of water lilies. But then there’s no room for the mirroring effect any longer…

SR_20071007_084600.jpg: A big thing around Angkor: Stone carvings, especially these Bas-Reliefs. This particular one is said to tell an epical story, which could be recovered, but nowadays is forgotten amongst the Cambodian people.

SR_20071007_084644.jpg: Detail out of the above.

SR_20071007_084913.jpg: Basically still the same place, the relief is right next to the left row of columns. Here, I want to show the details of the columns within the ‘windows’.

SR_20071007_085155.jpg: Inner part of Angkor Wat, probably Gallery of a Thousand Buddhas.

SR_20071007_090434.jpg: The core, the third level of the temple. Unfortunately for the tourists, luckily for the building: Nowadays closed to the public. We couldn’t climb up these steep stairs. My guesthouse manager was specifically asking me about this as he had heard rumors that only very recently, like a week or two ago, the third level had been closed. As a matter of fact: It is closed.

SR_20071007_090535.jpg: Nice hip shot: One of the ‘security’ guards playing with a monkey. Earlier, another (male) guard tried to chase away another monkey. This here looks more pleasant, doesn’t it?

SR_20071007_090709.jpg: Row of ‘windows’ and their supporting/decorating columns in the east inner wall.

SR_20071007_092533.jpg: The North Gate. Not part of the main temple, but a gate in the outer wall. Was a bit spooky…because there was absolutely nobody around. There were, however, very well visible dirt tracks leading there, so I went. And inbetween (about 7-8 minutes walking from the inner wall to the outer wall…that site is huge) only jungle. Well…a bit of jungle. But you suddenly feel very alone and keep hearing voices and sounds everywhere.

SR_20071007_092733.jpg: The moat surrounding the outer wall. Forget about any German water castles (or whatever ‘Wasserschloß’ translates to)…they would just fit completely into a corner of Angkor Wat’s moat.

SR_20071007_092818.jpg: The Nort Gate, seen from the moat side.

SR_20071007_093211.jpg: Walking back towards the main buildings: The north side of main Angkor Wat.

Angkor Thom: Bayon

Now we enter the old city. Nothing much left, but city walls…then you drive on and on and on, with constant 40km/h, one or the other minute…and then you hit already the center. Quite big this city. Said to have housed about a million people (including surrounding regions) at some point in time.

SR_20071007_095458.jpg: This is probably the wrong foot wear. At least the lady was walking carefully already, trying different feet positions in the shoes. I was very glad to have used my hiking boots. Not only are they comfortable (though a bit warm), they make also climbing the various buildings easier and support the feet instead of allowing them to twist when stepping slightly wrong.

SR_20071007_101020.jpg: Bayon. Lonely Planet sayd in its usual charming way “the Bayon looks rather like a glorified pile of rubble from a distance.” True.

SR_20071007_101607.jpg: From close up it looks a bit bitter, but wasn’t exactly my favorite. I was missing clear structual elements.

But then came my finest half of an hour 😉 All these five quite OK looking pictures I made within the Bayon. They aren’t really about the temple’s architecture, but nonetheless cool detail shots. So I think at least.

SR_20071007_101931.jpg: In many temples there were still some buddha figures, likely brought in recently to support the idea that we visit a religious site. Sometimes, like here, these figures were even dressed in orange or dark yellow.

SR_20071007_101948.jpg: A guard smokes a cigarette. I believe that’s forbidden…but I liked the smoke anyway shining in the light.

SR_20071007_102930.jpg: A man watching a face, or the face watching the man. It’s up to you.

SR_20071007_103758.jpg: God’s spot light. This circle of light onto this mini scultpure was caused by a circular hole in the roof. God would need to work on the intensity, though: This shot required a full second exposure time 😉

SR_20071007_104534.jpg: The outer reaches of the temple: Another buddha figur, here dressed in yellow.

Angkor Thom: Baphuon

SR_20071007_105320.jpg: Baphuon, in the back, is at the moment not accessible to the public. Supposed to resemble Mt Meru, a religious believe of a mountain. Hm…I’ve heard “Mt Meru” before…where was that…yea! here: Tanzania 2004! A word on the man in the front: He cuts grass. Fine. With a sickel. Also fine…a bit rough there. But I have seen these men also cutting the grass on a huge lawn with sickles where you could easily use a lawnmower.

SR_20071007_105551.jpg: The elevated causeway leading up to Baphuon.

SR_20071007_110107.jpg: LP dubs Baphuon “the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle”: “The temple was taken apart piece by piece” for restauration efforts. But then all records of this taking apart were destroyed during the Khmer Rouge years. Now you understand why it’s currently closed to the public…the experts are still putting together the puzzle.

Chau Say Tevoda / Thommanon

SR_20071007_114647.jpg: My moto driver taking a nap. He made up the meeting points where I would find him after visiting various sites, here a simple restaurant along a strip of such places within Angkor Thom.

SR_20071007_123310.jpg: I had a quick lunch at that place, too. Next stop then were two more or less unimportant temples on the street out of Angkor Thom: Chau Say Tevoda on the southern and Thommanon on the northern side of the street. They aren’t exactly spectacular, but I mention them here to report on a kind of ‘restauration war’: Chau Say Tevoda is being restaurated “by the Chinese for years”…

SR_20071007_124039.jpg: …”to bring it up to the coniditon of its twin temple, Thommanon”, which “is in much better condition […] thanks to extensive work by the EFEO in the 1960s.” (LP) EFEO is the École française d’Extrême-Orient.

Ta Keo

Ta Keo has never been finished. Reasons unclear…maybe just an inauspicious lightning strike during construction works, more likely the death of the responsible king, Jayavarman V.

SR_20071007_125129.jpg: Once and for all: All the essential rules and warnings in just one convenient place.

SR_20071007_125304.jpg: The last warning, Climbing at your own risk, is there for good reasons: Stairs all over Angkor are steep, but these stairs are probably the steepest. In good condition, though. Not too many tourists venture to this place…

SR_20071007_125429.jpg: …though it’s tallness (50m) provides great views into the surrounding jungle.

Ta Prohm

This is the second-most imagined picture of Angkor: Everything’s overgrown with trees. As seen before: It’s not (or in many places: no longer) true, as restauration efforts certainly started with removing the plants. Angkor Wat itself has been restaurated around 1600 already and been used as a monastery. The other places have only been restaurated in the 20. century. Except for…Ta Prohm.

SR_20071007_132200.jpg: And that results in…

SR_20071007_133312.jpg: …some stunning picture of trees,…

SR_20071007_133424.jpg: …which reclaim the land man has taken from the jungle earlier.

SR_20071007_133936.jpg: Equally amazed: A young Vietnam-lover (t-shirt!) with better equippment (parents’) then I have.

SR_20071007_134150.jpg: More…

SR_20071007_134410.jpg: …trees.

SR_20071007_134614.jpg: Yea…also tree roots visible, but otherwise its really mostly about an arch way.

Ah…I wanted to mention two aspects, in which the Cologne Cathedral (and many many other grand churches) surpasses Angkor’s buildings:

1. Archs. The Angkorian constructors were unable to build large archs. They haven’t invented the European way of putting stones together, finishing with the central arch stone, a method the Greek used already. But the Angkorians mostly just put stones horizontally one above the other, slightly shifted. And that works out for a limited number of shifted stones only. Makes their arch ways quite narrow.

2. Windows. Glass was probably not in use, while some of the greates effects christian churches achieve through their stained glass windows. (The Cologne Cathedral not long ago got a brand-new and very modern one. Looks fantastic by itself, but I personally thing it doesn’t mix well with the original classic windows.)

Sra Srang

Sra Srang is just a big artificial pond. Nothing spectacular. Opposite to it is Banteay Kdei, the ruins of a former monastery. Nice, but nothing new any longer. I just add this section for this little man here:

SR_20071007_142937.jpg: While everybody was taking photos of the lake I zoomed and lowered the camera a bit to get him. He holds some postcards in his hand, but did not actively try to sell them.

There were quite many children around the temples trying to sell this and that. It was mainly about postcards, amulets, t-shirts, and copied books. LP reminds everyone that these kids are often descendants of the former Angkor inhabitants and are probably those people having the most right to be there. Doesn’t mean to buy everything, but does mean to be friendly when refusing. And LP is also noting that the kids are sent by their parents to support the family. Speaking some friendly words with them (they learn English in school and are eager to practise!) might help them personally more than just throwing dollar notes around. I had quite some fun with some of the kids. They ask your country and name your capital…great. But I did end up with a pack of postcards and a new t-shirt. One girl was trying to play a game with me like if I can’t name the capital of Madagaskar or Estonia I must buy. Well…I can’t (they are Antananarivo and Tallinn, it pays to know that when coming to Cambodia ;)) but I didn’t buy from her either. I did buy the postcards just because I wanted them. And I did buy the t-shirt finally because I wanted to have it, too, to wear it tomorrow, so I can shake off more of the kids. And I bought it after a long long talk from a girl at the very end of Banteay Kdei, where noone else was around, so that no other kids chase me down thinking if I buy once I would buy again (a very unreasonable thought…but tell them that). On the way out of Banteay Kdei another girl tried selling t-shirts and I could use my just bought one already 😉 As always they said “One for two” (1 t-shirt 2 USD) and ask “Where do you come from?” I always answer truthfully “Germany”, nothing bad about that. But this time, after all these games about capitals, I turned it around: “I come from the country with the capital Berlin.” Smart girl! “Deutschland! Eins für zwei!” (saying “One for two” in German) and even some more German stuff. When I was pointing out that I had a t-shirt already she lowered the price: “One dollar.” Didn’t buy either. “Zwei für eins!”. “Oh, I said…be careful what you are saying!” Good laugh when realizing what she was offering…way under production price. See…she was happy for a brief moment despite not having sold a shirt to me.

Now it rains. It does so already for 2,5 hours straight, which is unusual. Monsoon usually means you get one or two heavy but quick rain showers a day. But it doesn’t seem to stop. My driver had brought me into town. I had to look for a new rain jacket. Ah yea….darn damn damn darn…seems I forgot my very good North Face rain/wind jacket in Phnom Penh. The first time ever that I forgot something in a guesthouse. And then not something simple like tooth brush or shower lotion. No, a really expensive jacket, which I particularly brought for cold and windy Buthan. F… I believe I left it even in the first guest house, Woolly Rhino (of which I just wrote a very bad review). I do remember I took the jacket out of the backpack there. It always lies on top in case I need it against rain. But I also remember I scanned the room before leaving, which I do everywhere twice. But I probably missed it there in the hurry. Can’t remember having seen it in the second guest house. F…f…

Back to Siem Reap: For Buthan I don’t urgently need such high flying expedition equippment, though it would have been nice to have. I just wanted to check out if I could find some reasonable rain coat. That’s why my driver brought me down-town in the evening. I didn’t find anything and need to hope for Bangkok now. (A very reasonable hope.) Had dinner…and then the rain started and didn’t stop. I couldn’t find my driver at the agreed meeting point. It was raining. Many other drivers were wanting to bring me home for good money. I wanted to get out of the rain. And I really mistook another driver for mine in the darkness. Became only clear when he after about 500m driving (in the right direction) asked me where I live. Darn…I told him, paid him, and just hope that my driver will be back here tomorrow at 8am. We had not yet agreed on a pick-up time. But as I had not paid my original driver it is another very reasonable hope that he will come.

If this damn rain stops. According to the weather forecast it will not. Thunderstorms, 60% chance of percipitation. Great.

Update: Just now while putting the final touches to the document, my driver appeared! Drenched in rain due to driving out here (well…that’s his own problem, with or without me, it did rain), he was waiting at the agreed spot for 1,5 hours! That will cost me an additional tip, I guess. He thinks it will be better tomorrow at 9am. Well, I not, but we’ll try anyway. I have only these three days.

Today’s Lesson: Also in a hurry check your room 3 times before leaving.

Categories: Asia, Angkor

Originally Created: 10/07/2007 02:14:03 PM
Last Edited: 10/07/2007

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