Angkor What!

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July 22nd 2012
Published: July 29th 2012
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25 days in.....

As my guide would say,

Angkor What!

To begin, I want to say that my writing and photography will not do this site justice. It is my pleasure to give a try though.

Angkor Wat. The largest religious building in the world, complimented by miles and miles of similarly jaw-dropping structures of Buddhist-Hindu blends of stonework that have survived over 1,000 years of wars, torrential rains and an ever growing jungle forest.

My stay in Siem Reap/Angkor was two and a half days. However, the amateur theologian, historian or just hardy traveler could easily spend a week tuk-tuk'ing from one sacred site to the next. It truly is mind boggling how extensive the ruins are here, and I've got to say that it makes a place like Machu Picchu seem sort of small in comparison.

Some background on the origins of Angkor is necessary, as well an explanation of recent events which give clarity as to why it has sort of been off the tourist's radar during the latter part of the 20th century. The Temples of Angkor were created by the late Khmer Empire, and are the ultimate fusion of creative ambition and spiritual
Ta ProhmTa ProhmTa Prohm

aka "Tomb Raider Temple"
devotion. Centered in north Cambodia, it would be hard to argue against the Khmer being the most remarkable civilization to ever flourish in Southeast Asia, with the period of their rule happening roughly from the 8th to 13th century. A curious succession of both Hindu and Buddhist "god" kings created these innumerable temples of sandstone from quarries 25 miles away, by both raft along the river and being drug be elephants to each individual site. The sandstone really was the catalyst for Khmer's creativity too, as it supports very fine detailed carvings. In my pictures you'll find balusters that were carved using a foot-powered lathe, nearly 6,000 square feet of bas-relief panels (in just Angkor Wat) and many more intricate designs of gods and goddesses, animals, dancers, etc.

As you presumably read in my previous blog, Cambodia hasn't exactly been the safest place to travel in recent history due the rule of the Khmer Rouge. While here, we kept asking ourselves how could this place not be one of the New Seven Wonders? My only explanation for that is tourism here never really took hold until the mid to late 90's, not even becoming a UNESCO world heritage site until 1992. Besides the place just being cut off from the world, there are very tangible scars of the Khmer Rouge here. We saw many pock marks in the stone from gunshots, and many, many Buddha’s who had their heads knocked clean off by the henchmen of the Khmer Rouge looking to erase any and all evidence of a previous religion in the area. How despicable right?!?!

During my stay, I was able to make it to about twelve different sites. As I've already noted, a longer stay would have been worthwhile. Those twelve sites were seen during 12-14 hour days. In the hot, sweaty jungle, this is not easy. Luckily I had some friends along that had the same high ambitions as I and we left pretty satisfied. I think you all will enjoy my pictures more than my commentary, so I will leave you with a few of my favorite sites from the trip to north Cambodia and recommend you checking out each of the images below.

#1 Combination of the sunrise on the third morning, coming up over Mt. Meru (center tower of Angkor Wat) and the tour to follow in the afternoon. When first laying my eyes upon the hallways that create the perimeter, I got goose bumps. To put it simply, Angkor Wat is a pyramid of three levels, each one enclosed with a well developed gallery and four towers. It is also the only temple in the complex that has never been abandoned to the elements and has been in virtually continuous use since it was built in the 12th century. This was our grand finale. We had even gone as far as to blindfold ourselves the first two days when passing by the main attraction.

#2 The Bayon. The centerpiece of the city of Angkor Thom, it is a unique mass of “face-towers” that create a stone mountain of ascending peaks. I loved being up top, and everywhere you look there are the 10’ faces staring at you. The story board bas-reliefs around the edges were very cool too, as they depicted the daily life of the Khmer and really acted as an open history book to the observer.

#3 The one temple in the complex that was formally chosen to be left in its natural state, Ta Prohm is the quintessential jungle temple. The silk cotton and strangler fig trees have put a strangle hold around these structures with their massive roots; it is no wonder that this site was chosen as the set for Tomb Raider. *Get there early to miss the hoards of photo snapping tourists.

#4 Banteay Srei, or “Citadel of the Women”. Not necessarily a tribute to women, but rather a tribute to the delicacy and small size of this temple that is about 20km from the main attractions. Well worth the trip, we had a great time checking out the carvings that looked like they were created yesterday and trying to fit through the doorways that seemed to have been created for hobbits, not humans.

#5 Sunrise at Srah Srang. We did our first sunrise in the area here and were pleasantly surprised with how very little tourists were there. A couple people from the accompanying happily served us hot coffee while we snapped shots of the sunrise reflecting off of the beray (lake) and a couple of the locals wading through collecting freshwater clams.

Additional photos below
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My Nat Geo shot of the trip!My Nat Geo shot of the trip!
My Nat Geo shot of the trip!

This little duo actually fell out of a tree and hit another guy on the shoulder in front of me.
Decapitated BuddhaDecapitated Buddha
Decapitated Buddha

One of the many headless Buddhas, as a result of the Khmer Rouge

31st July 2012

Lost in History
"KK" Get Johaan out of there before he becomes a convert to the old,old time religion and ancient history. By the way,there's a word I've long forgotten that describes the contemplation of life etc. by the reclining Buddha as he watches a lily? sprouting from his stomach...I used to use it on day-dreaming employees.Maybe you can revive it for me. Love the blogs....JL
31st July 2012

Hi Johaan: We got your postcard today including the photo on elephant-back at the Golden Triangle in Thailand. So glad you guys enjoyed the experience! Can't wait to hear more about your adventures. We love looking at your blog photos. Enjoy the rest of your travels. Karen and Jeremy
23rd August 2012

Stunning photos, J!

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