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Welcome to Paul and Tracy's main blog. Here you can keep track of what we've been up to, and join us on our adventures.

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Monday, March 9, 2009


A Day at the Temples...

As a result of me spending most of the night catapulting Tracy out of the bouncy bed as a result of my violent coughing fits, it was 8am before we rose, showered and headed up to the 6th floor balcony for breakfast. With the ever-attentive staff ensuring that we had a good view, and that our coffee/tea and pancakes were to our liking (they were), breakfast was a relaxed affair. Even my coughing seemed to chill out for a while...

Breakfast on the balcony...

After eating as much of the pancake as we could (about a third in my case, Tracy managed almost half), we headed down to reception and booked a taxi to take us round the temples. A few minutes later our driver, Andy (real name Vandy, but everyone calls me Andy) arrived to drive us round for the day. First stop was the ticket booth where we intended buying a 2-day pass, only to realise that we'd not come out with sufficient cash (2 or 3 day passes are $40 each), so we bought one-day passes instead (only $20). As we'd left it fairly late in the day to set off, Andy suggested that we modify the traditional order and go to Angkor Thom first, then Ta Prohm and finally Angkor Wat after lunch. We'd chosen these 3 main temples despite having seen them before, as we wanted a little more time to explore then – last time seemed so rushed.

Whilst Siem Reap may have changed beyond all recognition, the area around Angkor hasn't, and looked very familiar. First, we arrived at the bridge leading to the South Gate of the Angkor Thom, the great walled city which covers some 10sq Km. The bridges are decorated with asura (devils) on one side and deva (gods) on the other, each pulling on a Naga (5 or 7-headed mythical snake). The bridge crosses a moat that surrounds the walls, and is somewhat more impressive than moats around castles in England...

Bridge leading to South Gate, Angkor Thom

A deva head overlooking the moat round Angkor Thom

Once inside the city, we headed for the first major temple – the Baron. Built sometime in the 12th century, this remarkable temple comprises 54 gothic towers, each hosting 4 faces (believed to be of the god-king Avalokiteshvara), one on each side, staring out to the 4 corners of the compass. Wherever you are within the temple complex, these faces seem to be looking down on you, watching your every move. The temple itself is a mass of narrow corridors and steep steps, which lead to upper levels from which the views are fantastic.

The Bayon temple

Tracy gets the feeling she's being watched...

Like most of the temples at Angkor, the Bayon is decoratively carved all over – wherever the stone-work is visible, it is carved with intricate patterns, or of dancing Apsara (heavenly nymphs). It's the sort of place you can easily lose a whole day looking round, and use up an entire memory card taking endless photographs of...

Dancing Apsara, Bayon Temple...

But we didn't. Well, we do have a lot more photos, and I'll create a Gallery for them later, but we needed to move on. Leaving the Bayon and heading North took us straight to the Baphuon, which is still being reconstructed – so that gives us an excuse to return in a few more years – and on to the Terrace of Elephants. This is a 350-metre long terrace which was used a giant stage for public ceremonies and overlooks a large flat area that's mostly used for parking now, but would have been filled with people during these ceremonies – must have been quite a sight. The terrace itself is also beautifully carved, with carvings of elephants all along the walls, and large statues of elephants emerging from the walls.

The Elephant Terrace

From here we climbed down and rejoined Andy, who had been relaxing in the shade with his fellow taxi drivers, and made our way over to Ta Prohm. Apart from Angkor Wat, this is probably the most famous of the Cambodian temples, as it's the one used in Tomb Raider, where Angelina Jolie gets lead into the depths of the temple, which is partly-hidden by massive trees, by a little girl. It was also my favourite from our last visit, as it still gave the impression of having only just been discovered, as the main temple buildings and walls were covered in tree roots, and there were massive trees growing everywhere. The only thing that had partially spoilt it last time, was the gaggle of Japanese tourists pouring over the place taking endless photographs of the same spot and pushing everyone else out of their way. Well, that's not changed (although now its groups of Koreans and Russians), but the temple has. It seems they've decided to try and restore it. Which has meant that many of the trees that made it so special have gone. And scaffolding has been erected inside the temple buildings to hold them up. And now there are wooden walkways everywhere to prevent tourists from tripping (and suing?) on the rubble. So now it's lost a lot of its charm and become just another temple, but without the intricate carvings of the Bayon, or the storyboard carvings of Angkor Wat, I don't think it's going to remain a “must-see” for too long... Especially when the most famous part is surrounded by whooping Koreans having their photos taken...

The whooping Koreans get behind the barriers for that all important Ta Prohm photo...

Suitably depressed we headed back to Andy and then drove on to lunch in front of Angkor Wat. Neither Tracy nor I had much of an appetite, the searing heat sapping what little energy we had, but we did manage to guzzle our way through a litre-and-a-half of water washed down with iced tea (Tracy) and coffee (me). Back out in the heat we arranged to be back with Andy in an hour and headed across the bridge to Angkor Wat. This is the most famous of all Cambodian sights, and even appears on the Cambodian flag. It is also believed to be the largest religious structure anywhere in the world, and I can easily believe that to be true. It's simply massive. Surrounded by a rectangular moat that measures 1.5 x 1.3Km and is 190m wide, the approach is over a sandstone causeway and through the outer wall which leads into the main courtyard. From here a walkway leads towards the temple proper, with its impressive towers reaching up towards the sky...

Angkor Wat from inside the outer wall

All along the walkway there are steps leading down into the courtyard below, each with a naga (7-headed snake) head on either side. Then when you reach the temple walls, you have a choice – enter the temple or take a wall round the outer corridor which runs for 800m completely surrounding the inner temple courtyard. It's here that Angkor Wat has something really special – all along the walls are a series of carvings depicting scenes from ancient history, whether real or mythical.

One of the carvings, Heaven and Hell, depicting the 37 heavens on the top row and the 32 hells beneath

Our favourite is the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, which depicts a scene where 88 asura (devils) and 92 deva (gods) pull on either end of a naga snake, wrapped round Mt Mandala which sits in an ocean of milk, in a great tug of war, in order to release the elixir of immortality. Or cheese, as we call it.

Ok, I made that last bit up for a cheap laugh. The carving is beautiful, though.

Churning of the Ocean of Milk

By now it was getting unbearably hot, and we were getting very, very tired. And we were also late for our rendezvous with Andy, so we said our goodbyes to Angkor Wat, and headed back along the causeway to the exit. Where I nearly stood on a small furry animal that at first I thought was a cat, until it sat down and started picking at something held in its hands... it was a small monkey!

Angkor Wat

We got back to the car and Andy was nowhere to be seen. So we bought a cold drink and waited in the shade of a tree. When he still hadn't turned up 10 minutes later, Tracy asked another Taxi driver if he knew where he was. Fortunately, the driver recognised Andy's car and called him on his mobile phone. Within seconds, Andy was running towards us, shouting profuse apologies and trying to explain he'd positioned himself to see us leave the temple, but missed us. Reunited, we drove back to the hotel whilst en-route arranging our plans for tomorrow. We arranged for Andy to pick us up from the hotel at 8am so we could take a boat journey on the Tonle Sap lake to see the floating village.

And with that sorted, we were back at the hotel and in the bath. Well I was, because when in, I wasn't getting out again, and there wasn't room for Tracy. Once clean I managed to get out of the bath after much grunting, and we dressed and went upstairs to the rooftop restaurant for dinner. We still didn't have much of an appetite, but did manage to get through a fair amount of the delicious food we ordered – vegetable somosas to share, then I had Lamb curry with garlic naan and chips (desperate for some roughage!) and Tracy had chicken in mushroom sauce and chips. Washed down with a very acceptable bottle of South African Chardonnay...

And then to bed. Where my cough returned with a vengeance...

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