Saturday, October 12, 2013

3 Days in Cambodia - Part One

Siem Reap, Cambodia, has been on our to-do list for a while now.  That is the location for the famous Angkor Wat temple, remnants of a civilization that rival Mayan ruins and Egyptian pyramids.  Alongside this complex of amazing Buddhist and Hindu temples is Third World reality, the aftermath of a bloody civil war and genocide.  Everywhere we turned we were overwhelmed, by beauty and poverty, by richness and meagerness, by art among dirt.

After we flew into the brand new, very efficient airport (visa and passport control were a breeze!)

We grabbed a taxi and got our first taste of a whole new world...the end of rainy season means floods everywhere!  We passed several vehicles, but this one was the most picture-worthy:
                        (In case you don't notice it, that is an intravenous bag hanging on the pole)

                                 Why not take advantage of the water and get the van washed:

And our first sighting of monks on  bikes and cows on the highway:

Our B & B, the KaraVanSara, (highly recommended by TripAdvisor) was a nice small hotel alongside the river, convenient to the center of town where the markets and restaurants were located.
                                            Local guys fishing near the bridge at our place:

Our first visit was to the Catholic Church for the English speaking Mass.  It was in a very old wooden structure, attended by  locals, Sisters of the Poor, expats, and a couple of groups of teenagers there on mission trips.  A nun asked John to help carry up the candles - notice the bare and stocking-feet and mats for seating on the floor.

The simple altar was set for the priest to be seated on the floor, local-style.  That is the nun who was getting everything ready before the service.  Notice that the tabernacle is in the style of a Spirit House.  So appropriate!!  The power went out in the middle of the sermon, but the priest didn't stop for a moment - I guess it is a regular occurrence.

The is the most beautiful Madonna;  she is about 5 feet tall, carved wood, and dressed in the traditional royal Khmer outfit:

The next morning (Sunday) was a temple tour day. For anyone interested in a detailed history, check out the websites I site. The whole area is so amazing.  An important  bit of history is that the Cambodian people (Khmer) were dominant from the 9th century, ruling what is now Cambodia, Thailand, southern China, and the Malay Peninsula.  It reminds me of the Mayans...

Our guide picked us up early and we headed out to Angkor Thom, the "city" where the Bayon temple is located.  The city was built in a square, with gates at each direction.  The square is surrounded by a moat; the bridges all have huge statues of devas and asuras (Hindu good and bad guys) holding the tail of the Naga, the serpent god of water.  These images come from a wonderful myth Vishnu and the Churning of the Milk Ocean.  It is the same scene that is depicted in the amazing statute at the departures area of the Bangkok airport (which I will have to blog about soon).

You can see how big these guys are - I think there are 16 on each side; when these ruins were discovered, there were very few heads left.  Slowly, with the help of NGOs, the heads are being restored.
Inside the gate you get a glimpse of what is to come:  the famous faces of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshavara, the guardians of the cardinal directions.  Our guide explained to us that they represent the 4 principals of the Buddhism, something to do with compassion, truth, equality, peace...

Angkor Thom consists of lots of Hindu and royal sites, but the major attraction is the Bayon Temple  It has 54 towers, each with the 4 faces.  It is the newest temple of these ancient ruins, and it was originally built Buddhist, not Hindu, by Jayavarman VII, the last great king of the Khmer Empire.

Just feast your eyes on some of the sites we saw.  We were early enough to miss the big bunches of tourist buses (Koreans and Chinese) and the heat.

The temple would have been originally filled with Buddha statues and shrines; all, of course, have been robbed by looters over the centuries.  But a few spots have been restored as spots for meditation, such as this one.

Here is the older Hindu temple that is slowly being repaired:

Beside this temple was the royal palace, long gone because it was made of wood.  However, the Elephant Terrace is still standing and, again, slowly being repaired by newly-trained local artisans:

Nearby is the temple built by J...VII for his mother.  Ta Prohm  is familiar to many of my readers (boys) as the location for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.  It was found being "eaten" by the jungle; many of the trees are being left to do their destruction, but others have been cleared so we tourists can have great photo ops!

This is the famous photo spot...we got ours just across the courtyard:

One of the coolest things to look for are the doorway lintels; they tell stories about the gods and are detailed in the museums, indicating how old they are.

And then on to the plas de resistance (or however you spell that, adding a french accent), Angkor Wat. I will start with a stock photo to give us a bearing:

This temple complex is an older one, originally Hindu, as all the bas relief and architectural details display.  Its  square moat is 16 kilometers (!) around.  We walked across the moat bridge, then stopped at the outer wall for these photos:
Here we are inside the outer wall, inside the moat, but still so far from the temples.

Then we got to the inside square wall, where our guide gave us a briefing on its architecture and history.  Looking down one side of the outer gallery wall:

The inner gallery wall is covered with the most amazing bas reliefs I have ever seen. They cover 13,000 square feet of wall space, perfectly preserved and gorgeous!  Here is one square foot that my camera doesn't do justice to:

Other views to give you some idea:

View from the top tower:

John and the buddha sheltered by Naga

Our guide, Mr. Suk Son, who was the first official guide of the sites, starting in 1989:

As we left out the back gate, I tried to get a shot of this man on his bicycle with such a huge I was turning on the camera, a scooter came from the other direction with the monk...

We are only up to noon, but we will pause for a lunch break.  More to come tomorrow!!  I hope you are enjoying your trip!!

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