|Below is a small selection of photographs from various temple sites scattered around Angkor.|
|Apsara bas relief at Preah Khan. Unfortunately, the head of the Apsara has been removed, probably to be sold iIllegally on the international antiques market. This type of looting plagues many of the temples of Angkor.|
|Buddha statue in the central sancturary at Preah Khan.|
|The temple of Preah Khan (one of our favorites) has not been completely restored. Notice the blocks of sandstone that litter the ground.||A two story pavilion at Preah Khan, said to have once housed the “Sacred Sword” which proceeded the king in his processions. This pavilion is unique in its architectual design, more similar to Classical Western design than to typical Khmer design.|
|The central sanctuary at Phnom Bakheng. The view from the top of this temple is popular for watching the sunset over nearby Angkor Wat.|
|Part of the outlying Roluos Group of temples, the Bakong is believed to have been the state temple of Indravarman I before he moved the Khmer capital to the city of Angkor.|
|View of the central sanctuary of Ta Keo. This temple was never completed and therefore, does not contain any decoration.|
|One of the restored Garudas (a mythincal half-bird and half-man creature) at Preah Khan. A donation can help fully restore a Garuda through the World Monuments Fund’s (WMF), “Adopt a Garuda” Program.|
|Restoration work on Preah Ko’s main tower. Preah Ko is part of the outlying Rolous Group.||Many of the temples of Angkor are currently undergoing restoration including the main gopura or tower of Ta Som, pictured above.|
|Top of the entrance gate to Ta Som with its familiar faces looking in each cardinal direction.|
|There are five entrances to the ancient city of Angkor Thom. Pictured above is the Northern Gate. Centuries ago, these gates must have had a powerful effect on everyone who entered the city as they still do today.|
|Neak Pean served as a place where pilgrims could wash away their sins before entering the temples of Angkor. During the monsoon season, Neak Pean is filled with water.|
|Group of handicapped musicians performing at the entrance of Neak Pean. Hundreds of Cambodians are killed or maimed every year due to wartime unexploded ordinance and mines.|
|Banteay Srei, Angkor, Cambodia
Located 30km North West of Angkor Wat, Banteay Srei means “Citadel of the Women”. According to local folklore, this temple must have been creatd by women – the finely detailed carvings are too delicate to have come from the hand of a man. Constructed under the reign of King Rajendravarman II during the second half of the 10th century, Banteay Srei is unique in its use of pink sandstone which enabled the technique of highly detailed carving.
Banteay Srei is rather small is size when compared to the other temples of Angkor but it is the detailed carvings that give Banteay Srei its own unique personality.
|Detailed door lintel carving in pink sandstone.|
|View of the northeast corner of Banteay Srei overlooking a lotus pond.||East gopura (entry tower) of Banteay Srei. Notice the pinkish hues of the sandstone that make Banteay Srei so unique.|
|False doorway (an architectural feature common in Khmer temple design) of the north library.||Detail of balustrade and column adorning the false doorway of the north library (pictured left).|
|Detailed door lintel carving in pink sandstone. This is our favorite photograph of Banteay Srei. This detailed carving has survived in this immaculate condition for over a thousand years.|
|Detail of Sanskrit engraving giving clues as to the history and purpose of Banteay Srei.|
|Window balustrades (another architectural feature common in Khmer temple design) in the Foregound and the north library in the background.||The central sanctuary of Banteay Srei.|
|View of the main entrance to Banteay Srei. Notice the lack of tourists in this photograph, the result of a good dose of patience.|
|The central sanctuary of Banteay Srei.|
|Ta Prohm, Angkor, Cambodia
Engulfed by the surrounding forest, the temple of Ta Prohm was never restored (exceptions being made for structural strengthening to prevent further deterioration) and was left in the original state as when the first Europeans “discovered” Angkor in the middle of the 19th century. Since Ta Prohm was deserted several hundred years ago, the site has slowly been reclaimed by the forest. Parts of the temple have been eroded yet held in tact by the massive trees that grow upon its towers and walls. Ta Prohm provides an interesting glimpse into the unique marriage between the man-made world and the natural world.
|Constructed under the reign of the proflific builder King Jayavarman VII in the mid 12th to early 13th centuries, Ta Prohm still retains a sense of discovery for the modern traveller similiar to that of the early European explorers. As you wander through the huge temple complex, you notice that some corridors have completely collapsed under the weight of time while others are held in place by the huge roots of centuries old trees. Each temple in Angkor has its own personality: Angkor Wat is powerfully overwhelming with its awesome size, the Bayon is mysterious with its omnipresent faces and Ta Prohm is romantic in its relationship with nature. Due to this romatic personality, Ta Prohm has proven to be a favorite with the visitors to Angkor.|
|A perfect example of Ta Prohm’s continuing struggle with nature.|
|A view just inside the western entrance to Ta Prohm.||The forest engulfing an inner gallery of Ta Prohm.|
|One of the towers of Ta Prohm. Notice how the top of the tower is providing a home for some shrubs and trees.||A banyan tree serving its dual role as destroyer and preserver of this beautiful doorway in Ta Prohm.|
|An engraving of an apsara (heavenly nymph or celestial dancer) in Ta Prohm. Notice how the sandstone blocks have been displaced by the passage of time.|
|Engravings of apsaras that adorn the walls of Ta Prohm.|
|Detailed bas relief depicting heavenly deities.|
|Example of the crumbling sandstone blocks that give Ta Prohm its unique charm.|
|View of the northeast corner of the inner gallery of Ta Prohm.|
|A gallery intertwined with the roots of a giant kapok tree.|
|Bayon, Angkor, Cambodia
The Bayon is situated in the exact center of the city of Angkor Thom. Whereas Angkor Wat amazed us by its sheer imensity and architectural symmetry, the Bayon, with its 216 omnipresent faces, evoked a sense of mystery within us. Everywhere you look, you are watched over by the serene yet powerful faces that make the Bayon so famous. As we rode our bicycles through the Southern Gate of Angkor Thom, the Bayon appeared on the horizon and we were struck with an awe that must have been similiar to how the Khmers felt upon witnessing this same site 800 years ago.
Constructed during the reign of King Jayavarman VII between 1181 and 1219, the Bayon was built upon an earlier temple structure and underwent many changes and additiions to its
|architectural layout. The faces of the Bayon are widely believed to have been designed in the likeness of King Jayavarman VII as a symbol of his omnipresence and power, however, some scholars believe the famous faces represent the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (a compassionate being who could become a Buddha, but postpones his nirvana and elects to stay on earth to help mankind achieve enlightenment). The mystery behind the true meaning of these faces further enhances any visit to the already breathtaking Bayon. For us, it was truly a magical experience that our photographs below can never replicate.|
|View of southeast corner of the Bayon from within the outer wall.||View of southeast corner of the Bayon.|
|Detail of one of the everpresent faces of Bayon.||Some of the many towers decorated with the all seeing faces pointing to the four cardinal directions.|
|Detail of the many apsaras (heavenly dancers or celestial nymphs) that adorn the walls of the Bayon.|
|Another beautiful apsara.|
|Bas reliefs of the outer gallery depicting scenes of daily Khmer life.||Bas reliefs of the outer north gallery depicting circus jugglers and acrobats.|
|View of the south inner gallery showing traditional Khmer architectural features, including the Corbelled vault roof design, sandstone floor and the rows of supporting columns. Notice the wooden roof supports added during a recent restoration.|
|Close-up of one of the many towers of the Bayon.|
|Angkor Wat, Angkor, Cambodia
The preeminant structure of all of the Angkor structures is Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world. The temple of Angkor Wat measures 1.5km by 1.3km and required the labor of thousands to build it. Constructed under the reign of King Suryavarman II between 1112 and 1152, Angkor Wat was built with stone quarried 50km away (from the district of Svay Leu) in what must have been one of the most complex logistical undertakings of all time.
|View of the southeast corner of Angkor Wat from inside the outer wall.||View of the northeast corner of Angkor Wat from inside the outer wall with pool in foreground.|
|Center view of Angkor Wat from the sandstone causeway inside the outer wall.||The north library as seen from the doorway of the hall of echoes.|
|View of several apsaras (heavenly nymphs or angelic dancers) in the main sanctuary of Angkor Wat.|
|Buddha statue in the Gallery of a Thousand Buddhas.|
|Detail of bas relief on the western section of the north gallery depicting the battle of the gods and demons.||Detail of Graceful Apsaras that Decorate Angkor Wat by the Thousands.|
|View of the upper level of Angkor Wat.||Detail of Sanskrit engraving in the Gallery of a Thousand Buddhas.|
For as long as we can remember, we have dreamed of visiting the Khmer temples of Angkor. Along with the Pyramids of Giza, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Bagan temples of Myanmar and the Taj Mahal in India, Angkor is truly one of the great wonders of the world. Angkor is the symbol of Cambodia and a source of great pride and inspiration for the Cambodian people as they rebuild their country after decades of war and opression.
Angkor was the capital of the mighty Khmer empire between the 9th and 14th centuries and contains over 100 temple sites. At its peak, the city of Angkor claimed approximately 1 million inhabitants (at the same time, the city of London claimed only 50,000 people.
|We will be publishing our visit to Angkor in a series of five articles:
– Part I, Angkor Wat
Our articles will predominately consist of photographs and brief descriptions. For more information about Angkor and the Khmer Empire, we suggest the following resources:
After visiting the temples of Angkor, we embarked on what we thought was a four hour trip by boat to the provincial capital of Battambang. This is one of the most scenic river journeys in Cambodia beginning on the Tonle Sap Lake and then meandering through the fishing villages located along the Sangker River. We started the trip in the usual manner, with ten other travellers on a small speedboat with two outboard motors. About thirty minutes into the journey, one of the engines started bellowing smoke and we stopped so that the driver could investigate the problem. His conclusion was to continue with one engine until we could reach the nearest floating gas station (on the Tonle Sap, everything floats including houses, schools, post offices and, as we found out, gas stations) and pull in for repairs. After repeated attempts to fix the engine, the driver’s conclusion was to continue with only one engine.
|One of the many floating houses on the Tonle Sap Lake.|
|As we slowly moved on, the driver’s assistant tried to fix the broken engine until it finally fell into the water and quickly disappeared into the murky depths of the Tonle Sap Lake. Eventually, the driver found a local with a larger, supposedly faster boat to finish the journey to Battambang. Five minutes after transferringto this boat, the propeller got snagged in a fisherman’s net. The new driver’s son, a very strong ten year old boy, managed to free us from our entanglement an we thus continued our journey. We made this trip during February, one of the driest months in Cambodia, therefore the river was at its lowest level causing our new, larger boat to continually get stuck on the river bottom. Everytime we go stuck, the driver and his son would work the boat back and forth to free us from the river bottom. On several occasions, we even thought that we would have to get out of the boat, jump in the river and help. Twelve hours from the start of our trip, we arrived in Battambang. It truly was one of the most interesting river journeys we have ever taken and all the passengers lightheartedly concluded that we all received a great bargain – we payed for four hours on the river and received an additional eight hours for free.|
|A very strong ten year old boy helping his father navigate our boat along the Sangkar River.|
|Battambang is the second largest city in Cambodia boasting 140,000 residents. During the French colonial period in Cambodia, Battambang was an important outpost for the French and, to this day, the city still contains many fine examples of French colonial architecture. Battambang is also a great place to explore the countryside and get a good taste of rural Cambodia. When exploring the rural areas of Cambodia, you must be extremely careful as this was once a stronghold of the Khmer Rouge and a hotly contested area in the subsequent civil wars that followed the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge. Thus, the landscape is littered with landmines and unexploded ordnance.|
|Artillery on Phnom Sampeau leftover from the days of civil war in Cambodia.|
|Example of some of the fine French colonial architecture in Battambang. although some of the buildings are in a state of neglect, we think that This adds to the charm of Battambang.|
|We wisely decided to hire two guides, Dara and Ro, to drive us around on their motorcycles. We visited various temples and sites throughout the Battambang region, one of wich was Wat Ek Phnom. There are two temples at Wat Ek Phnom, the old temple and the new temple. The old temple dates from the reign of Suryavarman I in the 11th century while the new temple, as our guide informed us, has a more recent history. Under the Khmer Rouge regime, religion was abolished and many Buddhist temples were either destroyed or turned into prisons. As we were discussing the beauty of the new Wat Ek Phnom, Dara nonchalantly informed us that, as a child, he was imprisoned in the temple turned jail on several occassions. While travelling through Cambodia, a country whose people are so friendly and generous, it is easy to forget the horrible tradgedies that have occurred during the last three decades. Spending the next few days with our guides, we were often reminded of this brutal history in this gentle land. Set amongst the many hilltop temples located at Phnom Sampeau, we also saw several artillery guns and the bones of hundreds of people who were killed when the hill was a Khmer Rouge stronghold in the 1970’s.|
|On a foreward looking note, we also visited a school sponsored by UNESCO (United Nations Education Science & Cultural Organization) that was teaching poor street children traditional Khmer arts and crafts that were almost lost during the time of the Khmer Rouge. It was a lively atmosphere with various activities going on such as cloth weaving of kramas (traditional Khmer scarves), traditional music instruction, literacy classes and the constant clatter of old manual Singer sewing machines.|
|On a fatter note, we also attempted to learn how to cook traditional Khmer food. While we are known to indulge ourselves in the final result of the culinary arts, neither one of us are very good cooks so we decided to sign up for a traditional Khmer cooking class at the Smokin’ Pot Restaurant. We arrived first thing in the morning and our teacher complimented us on being good students for showing up on time (apparently most students show up late). Whereupon we informed him that that is where the good students end because neither one of us know the first thing about cooking, we even have a hard time boiling water. As the day progressed, he soon came to agree with us. The course started with a visit to the bustling morning market where we procurred all of the ingredients needed for our gastronomic experiment. This was also useful in identifying all of the various fruits, vegetables and meats that we had eaten in the past few weeks. It is common to eat something without knowing exactly what it is, sometimes it’s better not to ask. Arriving back at the kitchen, we rolled up our sleeves, washed our hands and started to cook. We prepared three Khmer dishes: Lok Lak (a simple stir-fried beef dish with loads of pepper), Fish Amok (stir-fried fish with vegetables and spices) and Chicken Samla (a spicy soup with chicken and vegetables). After a fun and informative morning in the kitchen, we were pleased to eat our own creations and, although our teacher diplomatically declined to eat, we found the food not all that bad.|
|Karen scarring the hell out of our teacher by taking over the stove and cooking some fried potatoes.|
|Khmer woman selling a wide variety of fruits and vegetables (some of which our teacher could not even identify) in the central market of Battambang.||Chicken anyone?|
|The Smokin’ Pot Cooking School and Restaurant in Battambang.||One of our gastronomic delights, Fish Amok, a traditional Khmer dish of fish cooked in a coconut curry sauce.|
|Although many people would consider Battambang a boring destination because of its lack of major tourist attractions, we felt at home there and found it hard to leave after eight fulfilling days. This must be attributed to the wonderful spirit of the local people who helped us postpone our leaving day after day after day.|
|The Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The Royal Palace, located near the Tonle Sap River in central Phnom Penh, is the residence of King Sihanouk of Cambodia. It consists of several buildings including the magnificent Throne Hall, where coronations and official ceremomies take place, the Silver Pagoda (so named because the floor is covered with over 5000 silver tiles), an iron house given to King Norodom of Cambodia by Napoleon III of France, libraries, shrines dedicated to the past kings of Cambodia and several royal offices. Many of the precious items once displayed in the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. However, like all of Cambodia, the Royal Palace is undergoing a rebirth and a visit to these beautiful buildings is a must for any visitor to Phnom Penh.
|The Throne Hall at the Royal Palace.||A travellers palm located on the grounds of the Royal Palace.|
|Beautiful landscaping and sculptures on the grounds of the Royal Palace.||Iron house given to King Norodom of Cambodia by Napoleon III of France. King Norodom ruled Cambodia from 1860 to 1904.|
|Beautiful landscaping in front of the Throne Hall.||Building with an elephant hitching post and a platform for the king to dismount from his elephant.|
|Various shrines dedicated to the former kings of Cambodia in front of the Silver Pagoda.||Mural on the walls surrounding the Silver Pagoda depicting the Ramayana epic.|
|Detail of a glass panel at the Silver Pagoda.|
|Buddha image on a glass panel at the Silver Pagoda.|
|Ban Lung, Cambodia
Located in the remote northeast province of Ratanakiri, Ban Lung is reminiscent of the old wild west of the United States. Many of the inhabitants were displaced during the turbulent years of civil war in Cambodia and have only recently returned to resettle the area. Due to the removal of landmines four years ago, the land is now safe for farming and gem mining – the two main occupations of the area. None of the roads around Ban Lung are paved making it dusty in the dry season and muddy in the wet season.
Again, we hired two knowledgable guides to help us explore the area on thier motorcycles. Chum Rum Bei, a gem mining village north of Ban Lung, provided us with a totally unexpected glimpse into the gem mining industry of Ratanakiri. Although we have learned never to have expectations when travelling, upon hearing the term “gem mining”, we automatically assumed there would be a giant tunnel in the side of a mountain and, again, we learned never to have expectations when travelling. The gem mines, as it turns out, are a series of holes approximately 1 meter in diameter and approximately 15 meters deep with connecting tunnels underground. One person descends into the hole digging through the earth while another person operates a pulley apparatus to bring up buckets of dirt. The buckets are then emptied while a third person (or more than three people, usually it is a family operation) sifts through it to search for the gems, either amythest or zircon. This is a very dirty and dangerous undertaking. In fact, the week prior to our visit, two miners died when a tunnel collapsed. Although we did not climb down into the tunnels, we did get our hands dirty in the sifting and searching process. We managed to find many zircon gems that were worthless to the miners but priceless to us.
|Gem miners hard at work.||Brian hard at work searching for gems.|
|These zircon gems that Brian found are worthless to the miners because they are broken and too small.|
|These gems are being cleaned and sorted by their size and quality.|
|Another interesting site that our guides showed us were the cemetaries of the Kachon, one of Cambodia’s tribal groups. The Kachon graves are built under small structures and are decorated with effigies of the deceased. Husbands and wives are often buried together and the carved wooden effigies depict the likeness and profession of the deceased. For example, one woman died giving birth therefore her wooden effigy showed her large pregnant belly.|
|Our guides and Karen driving through a rubber plantation. Karen is wearing a krama, a traditional Cambodian scarf, to keep from breathing in dust.|
|Effigy of a Kachon tribal man, obviously he liked to smoke.|
|Back in the town of Ban Lung, we were fortunate enough to stay at the Ratanak Hotel, a lively and friendly place owned by a very special man, Mr. Leng. Every evening after exploring the wonderful Ratanakiri countryside, we would come back to the immense hospitality of Mr. Leng. A typical evening involved a gathering of various nationalities (usually a couple of Germans, French, Italians, Swiss, Mr. Leng and your humble narrators) around a table of many, many bottles of liquor. Our gracious host, Mr. Leng, would procure for us either a bottle of Hennessy, gin, wine or Mekong whiskey and the conversation would flow along with the booze. One night, Mr. Leng invited us to a friend’s wedding where we ate, drank and danced our way through the evening. Then, believe it or not, we wound up at the local disco. There are frequent power outages in Ban Lung so when the power went out in the disco, we were escorted to our table from the dance floor by the light of a kind gentleman’s cell phone. We all stayed in the dark laughing until some sober soul fired up the generator. Mr. Leng is a unique man with a kind and generous heart who made us feel like part of his family and was personally responsible for our lengthy 10 day visit (damn near 11 days after the send off party he gave us).|
|Brian and Mr. Leng after a long night of partying. Notice all of the empty bottles of liquor on the table.|
|One of the many waterfalls that dot the landscape of the Ratanakiri Province.|
|Oh yeah, by the way, Ban Lung also boasts the best swimming hole in Cambodia. Boeng Yaek Lom, a volcanic crater lake, offers a clean and refreshing swim after a hot, dusty day on motorcycles. You can walk around the lake on a path and watch the sun shine through the bamboo that surrounds the lake. Although remote and difficult to get to, Ban Lung was our favorite destination in Cambodia.
Thank you, Mr. Leng.
|Boeng Yeak Lom, the best fresh water swimming hole in Cambodia.||The sun shinning through some of the bamboo that surrounds Boeng Yeak Lom.|
Below is a pictorial of an average day spent in Sihanoukville, Southern Cambodia.
|Breakfast on the beach consists of a fresh tropical fruit salad served by the friendly and lovely fruit girls.|
|Fresh tropical fruit: dragon fruit, papaya, guava, pineapple, banana, watermelon and mango. Dragon fruit (pink with a white inside and tiny black seeds) is one of our favorites, a delicacy that we do not get at home.|
|A 2km walk down beautiful Ochheuteal Beach and we arrive at our private thatch hut on the beach, complete with hammock, table and two beach chairs.|
|The 2km walk is justified beacause, as you can see, there is nobody at this end of the beach. We can swing the day away on our hammock and not be disturbed.|
|Brian swinging the day away in the hammock and enjoying the unspoiled view of the beach.|