Monday, 31 March 2014

Angkor Wat

The reason for our visit to Cambodia was Angkor Wat, the ancient temple built in the 12th century and rediscovered by the French in the mid 19th century.  Restoration work continued (with interruptions) to this day and when we visited, parts of the temples are still being restored.  

It is considered the largest religious monument in the world and huge crowds visit throughout the year. February is the last month of the dry season so the place was packed but apparently not as bad as in the really high season from November to January.  Picture-taking under the circumstances was an interesting logistical challenge - it did take longer than if there were no crowds but I was constantly surprised by how patience was often rewarded - somehow there would always be a break in the crowd if you wait long enough.  Sometimes I had to weigh whether it was worth waiting for a people-less structure when in fact, the building could look more interesting with some people on the steps.  On the other hand, not every tourist would fit the bill for a suitable adornment for the stunning stones.

It helped that our guide knew every corner of the grounds and was able to take us via quieter routes to our various sights.  I mentioned to him my frustration of being unable to take a people-less shot of a long corridor and he found me a similar corridor in a less frequented part of the temple.  I was incredulous, ecstatic, when I saw the empty corridor and took several shots of it.  Ironically the one I finally picked was one that had a person appearing at the other end of the corridor (see below)!

Our first glimpse of Angkor Wat across the river.

A closer view through the window of the library building on the grounds
One of two libraries on the grounds of the main temple - it's a great spot for sunrise in Angkor Wat (which this crowd just finished watching)

Some of  the gorgeous bas reliefs on the walls of the temple - these depict Apsaras (supernatural female dancers)

The temple stands on terraces, each higher than the other above the city at ground level.  These steep steps take visitors up to the second level - symbolic of how hard it is to go up to the kingdom of god.  Once you get up there to the second level terrace, there are more steps going up to the highest level of the temple.  

The temple is active and appropriate attire is required of visitors.  The statues of the gods are dressed up for worship.  

A long list of things that are not allowed at the Angkor site

Looking up at the top of the tower on the highest terrace

Looking down from the top level at the two sets of walls that enclose the temple from the forests beyond
Lotus bud shaped central tower

The beautiful central courtyard on the upper level

Looking down on the tourists who chose not to climb the steps up to the topmost level

Detail of the decorative mouldings around the portals

Long corridor completely covered with bas relief frieze depicting Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata
The bas-relief of the Churning of the Sea of Milk shows Vishnu in the centre, his turtle Avatar Kurma below, asuras and devas to left and right, and apsaras and Indra above - tug of war using the snake.

The eastern aspect of the complex 

The temple is supposed to represent Mount Meru, the home of the Hindu gods: the central towers symbolise the five peaks of the mountain, and the walls and moat, the surrounding mountain ranges and ocean.  Sunrise over Mount Meru is a sight worth getting up for. Everyone in the crowd that started gathering at five o'clock when it was still dark seemed to think so.  It was quite a party and the hawkers were able to sell many coffees and pancake breakfasts, taking orders and delivering them to customers at their respective viewing spots at minimal costs.

Worth getting up for!

Next post:  Beyond the main temple

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Siem Reap, Cambodia

We embarked on a six week trip to South-east Asia in February - our first destination was Siem Reap in Cambodia.  Siem Reap is the gateway to the ancient temples of Angkor Wat and has survived as a vibrant town because of the booming tourist industry generated by the temples.  We arrived on a sizzling hot afternoon (30 degrees Celsius) - quite a shock as it was after the subzero temperatures of Toronto but the short walk from our hotel to the busy market was a further jolt to our senses.

Scooters, motorbikes and tuktuks, with unusual loads, shared the road.

An entire food stall transported by motorbike
The roadside was lined with food stands selling all kinds of foods - from buns to snails!

"Woodfired" stuffed cakes

The covered market 

All kinds of shrimps and clams

Lots of fruits, but the only ones that are local are the papayas and mangoes (both super sweet and juicy!) - must tries

 and the pomelos (the one we had was not so sweet)

This is local but a little too mushy and bland for my taste

Cambodian rolled cakes and sausages

This is where many locals eat, just sitting in front of the stall.   Dessert beans and soups - takeouts were sold in plastic bags.

Squids are plentiful - these are dried


Crocodile everything - they farm them specifically for this purpose - the meat is just a sideline

Drive through key maker!

The walk was actually a scouting mission for dinner.  In spite of the hot weather, we opted to try the Cambodian Barbeque - read about it on my post on Foodsparks.

Next post:  Angkor Wat