Wednesday, November 01, 2006

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA

Literally Siem Reap means Siam Defeated, based on a war that the ancient Khmer civilization of Cambodia had with the Thai kingdom. Siem Reap today stands as the gateway town to the World famous, UNESCO World Heritage site of Angkor Wat and all the other numerous temples, complexes and archaeological sites of the Angkor dynasties.
We took a vacation to Cambodia recently, spending five full days there. We left Singapore, having paid for a really cheap air ticket on JetStar from Singapore having made reservations at Angkor Star hotel, a nice air-conditioned three star variety, also for a song. We flew in early morning over thick jungles and Asia’s largest fresh water lake called Ton Le Sap. The season was just right; we caught the tail end of the lean season that also happened to be the tail end of the monsoon season as well. Perfect timing indeed.

Getting in through Siem Reap International Airport, a really nice local architecture based complex, was a piece of cake. Visa was on arrival, one needs to pay $20 bucks for it and submit a photograph and fill up a form. We did not find that tedious at all. We took a cab into town and the driver was so good that we hired him for the rest of the trip to take us around. The cabs are generally used Toyota’s that are air conditioned. Costs $25 per day and nothing extra and worth it. Budget travelers may opt for the Tuk Tuk, a different version than the ones you’d find in Bangkok.
Angkor Thom South Entrance
The first day we managed to visit Angkor Thom, the Bayon temple, Bapuon and the Phimeneakas. These were built in the late 12th Century C.E. by Jayavarman the VII. Details of these sites may be found on various websites and a book that is locally available called “Ancient Angkor”.

The "Face Towers"
Angkor Thom is the famous temple complex having the “face towers”. The Angkor kings started by being Hindu religion dominating Cambodia and this is evident from all the intricate stories of the Ramayana and some Mahabharata and other Hindu mythology carved in stone at various Angkor temples and sites. Buddhism replaced Hinduism in later years and today Cambodia is mostly a Buddhist country. One can see that their art, crafts, dances and culture is still rooted in Hinduism and stories that figure in Hinduism.

Angkor Wat Complex

We went next, to the Ta Phrom Temple, where Indian Archaeologists, still working at the site, have managed to push back the jungle. It is this spot that is featured in movies, simply because of the massive silk-cotton trees that literally grow out of the stone monuments as one can see from the pictures. I’ve seen similar trees growing out of stone “temples” on the other side of the World at the Copan Ruinas in Honduras, those being the remains of an ancient Mayan Civilization. Striking similarities between two different civilizations or maybe it’s my perception and a theory that perhaps ancient civilizations had some contact between them. The aliens from space built all this, in my opinion (Just a joke!!!).


Ta Phrom Temple Complex with the Silk-cotton Trees growing out of the stone complex


The Phimeneakas, Kings Palace, Angkor Thom

The entire afternoon we spent at Angkor Wat temple, the World’s largest religious complex. This huge edifice was built with a huge moat surrounding it. All Angkor kingdom sites have moats surrounding the temples and complexes. Angkor Wat can be grueling, especially on a hot afternoon. This is perhaps the best time, though, since most tourists are away. The huge complex needs a lot of time, a lot of climbing very steep steps.

Angkor Wat was constructed in early 12th Century (between 1113 and 1150 C.E.) with later additions. The towering temples are massive and the central tower or “gopura” represents the holy Hindu mountain called Mount Meru, symbolizing the centre of the universe in Hindu mythology. Later additions included Buddhist relief’s and a hall called the “hall of a thousand Buddhas”, self explanatory!

I’ve got to continue the rest of the story in the next blog piece. The downside of visiting Cambodia is the street kids and adults who want to sell you everything (except Angkor Wat!) and almost everything is quoted at $1. I suppose that is typical of any developing country. But, the people are very nice, friendly and always smiling and the upside to visiting Cambodia and Siem Reap is far greater than the downside. Actually, I should not even call this a down side.

We had loads of fun in this country and will definitely go back and I will recommend all those with or without interest in history and archaeology, to visit the country, it’s worth the trip, every cent of it. More details of the other sites and our experiences in the next blog piece, I’ll call that piece “Beyond Angkor Wat”.


9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Incredible! Cambodia is one of the many places that I have always wanted to visit. I have a particular fondness for Asia. I also have a thing for trees so loved the picture of the tree growing out of the temple. Really amazing. Glad you had a fun trip!

Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Thanks Quodlibet. We did have a lot of fun. I am having problems with blogger too and I don't have the option to switch to Beta at the moment. I am going to post two more pieces on the rest of the Siem Reap trip, was going to be too long to put in one piece. Hope you enjoy those pictures.

Quodlibet said...

...I was that top anonymous person...not sure why I was anonymous though!!

Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

I don't know what happened there first time, maybe it appeared that way after I just swithced over to beta. I replied to your comment by name that time because on the comment moderatr your identity did show up. Thanks Quodlibet for checking in. I am about a day away from putting up my second post on Cambodia and Siem Reap with more pictures.

Quodlibet said...

Interestingly enough, a day or two after I read your Cambodia post I was looking for something to watch on tv and as I flipped the channel it showed that very tree at that very temple; it was a show on Cambodia! Very good, but it was nearly over at that point. I just thought that was so funny!

Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Its funny, I too caught the last bit of a show on Discovery Travel and Living, a few days back. They were showing the tree at the Ta Phrom temple, every one takes a shot of that tree in particular, a vey popular tree indeed. The TV show I was watching ended up showing a remote tribe in Cambodia doing some sort of a dnace with a guy wearing what looked like cattle horns. If its the same program we were watching, boy what a coincidence!

Anonymous said...

Angkor What?

Paresh said...

I should say that you really spare a lot of time writing about your experience, which surely helps lots of them in planning their trip to these places.

Its very interesting. Keep it up.

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Thanks Paresh, for your kind comment. I hope you do get the time to read the other travel blog pieces I have written. Hope you enjoy reading them.