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Published: March 3rd 2008
There really is a force of life that runs deep within the veins of Siem Reap province in North West Cambodia. The name of the city means “Siamese defeated”, corresponding to the first and only victory of the Khmer Empire over the Thai kingdom in the 17th century. The Cambodians appear to be remembered for two things, their ancient temples and their more recent civil tragedies of the last thirty years thanks to the evil Pol Pot regime. But these people have maintained an inner strength and warmth within their very core essence.
I have learnt to appreciate the ruins origins, the beauty within their crafts. These Angkorian ruins are very special, it’s not just a bunch of old bricks, it is true craft, it is a colorful vibrancy of temples and pagodas, old traditions kept alive and safe within its small communities, its ancient secrets passed down from its respected elders, it’s progressive philosophies which are becoming more accepted as modern day world religions. I felt a real kinship with this entire place, especially on our first day here which happened to be my birthday. I sat quietly and made a wish for my year ahead. I really felt
as if I have lived here before, but many many moon cycles previous to my current birth.
Sadly, when the Khmer rouge meaning communist red Cambodia took control back in 1975 and were busy killing over two million of its citizens in cold blooded murder, purposely causing its people to suffer severe malnutrition which lead to wide spread disease and even more death and devastation for years to come. A lot of the temples and ruins were also looted of its gold and history and was literally defaced as impressive Apsara and Buddha images had their faces hacked at or stolen, today I could not believe that within the various sites we were allowed to walk so freely in, around and all over the discarded stones and dilapidated buildings, there is no thought to the overall safety risks as ambulances whizzed past us several times, nor is there any long term thoughts to its overall preservation. But I did have knowledge that this kind of mindless tourism was actually keeping my boys at HOA fully employed, by logging all the damaged stones for the next 100 years, which is a good thing.
It is already reaching an uncomfortable
heat, strong enough to bleach a monks robe and sizzle fragile white skin. During the day most of the Angkorian sites feel like a day out at Royal Ascot as the variety of sun hats on offer are compulsory, worn in order to protect against UV rays of sunshine and the tornado of flying dust.
Sunrise at Angkor Wat is the number one activity to do here. This temple is the largest temple and mausoleum ever to be constructed at the peak of the Khmer empire in the first half of the 12th century; it was built for King Suryavarman II, a Hindu. The five towers symbolise Mount Meru's five peaks and the central monument represents the mythical Mount Meru, the holy mountain at the center of the universe, which was home to the Hindu god Vishnu. These days it is considered a Buddhist temple. It stands proud in the middle of a 190 meter wide moat. We got up at 4am to make sure we had a great view/shot of this amazing event, us and one million keen others gathered, Angkor Wat faces west so the sun rises behind it in full on techno colour.
all the sites, Banteay Srey the pink temple, but it’s not actually Barbie pink which I somehow expected, it’s more of a sandstone earth pink. Angkor Thom I fell in love with, it was built by King Jayavarman VII in the 12th century it has stone carvings of over 1000 carved faces, I loved the faces carved in stone. This was a cool King he cared about his people; he built ‘firehouses’ which today are better known as hospitals. King Jayavarman VII brought Mahayana Buddhism to Cambodia, which after his death was disputed, today Theravada Buddhism is widely practised, but his memory and image is still greatly respected.
I spotted elderly monks sitting in a circle on the floor, then a bunch of young boy monks that excitedly ran around this one temple, but something felt familiar about this situation. I noticed a freshly ironed large stack of orange robes sitting upon each other, next to them a wardrobe department of two that hovered in the side lines with a massive haberdashery kit. I noticed a catering truck, a dolly and tracks, a boom holder, sound man, sparks and chippies. I asked the man with 'RUNNER' written on his
Fig trees dominate the temples
back what was going on; he told me they were shooting a Nikon commercial.
When they were shooting the film I was trapped behind the set so I walked around the rest of the temple and came across a small girl who was selling postcards, these tiny sellers are word perfect in their pleas for you to buy stuff from them, 'whereyoufromlady-primeminister-GordonBrown-capital-London-QueenElizabeth-buckinghampalace-buy my postcards lady one doooollllllaaaarrrrrr'?" she said with the saddest eyes staring right up at me. But this little girl was great, she was six years old and looked like a grown up already. She was thirsty as her mouth was visibly dry; she had an empty bottle that she smacked against the wall. I had a full litre of water, so I filled her bottle up. She was as pleased as it was mid afternoon and really steaming hot, we both gulped our water together. I gave her a dollar, she didn't know what to do as she had already taken the water as payment for me taking her picture, so she gave me 3 free postcards, which I gave her back as I didn't need them. She continued to look troubled as I wiped the
sweat from the back of my neck, she ingeniously started to fan the postcards in front of my face to cool me down, her mission complete. We both burst out laughing, even the security lady was laughing, I wanted to take her with me she was so sweet.
There are many activities to do here at Angkor Wat, you can ride the big black tired looking elephants around the Bayon and South gate of Angkor Thom areas, which I didn't do as I felt sorry for them. They all looked big, strong and powerful but within their eyes they felt sad and very vulnerable. At sunset there is a small hill to oversee the views of the Wats ahead, this area is Phnom (hill) Bakheng, but like everywhere else it was packed with tourists. I sat on an old stone at the very top in the shade, waiting for the sun to go down, when I spotted a French boy to my near right who was taking very sneaky pictures of the two robed monks who were looking the other way and were both sat to my far left, but then I noticed one of the monks had a
Nikon coolpix camera and he also had it poised and hidden amidst his robes and the monk also took sneaky pictures of the extended family of loud Koreans stood ahead of me, who were oblivious to this sneaky triangle of image taking going on all around them.
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