Siem Reap, Cambodia

During our KL holiday, Gareth and I also went over to Siem Reap for a few days and did an ancient temple tour. The temples were so very beautiful, and it’s amazing how well preserved some of them still are, despite being over a thousand years old. I think the way they’re weathered adds to their beauty, and the more ruined ones are sad and beautiful at the same time. We saw a lot of temples, and it was nice to compare the similarities and differences, although we did struggle to keep up with the timeline and which king built what. For me, what was also nice was that many of the temples were Hindu, and had carvings of gods and stories that I recognised. Buddhism was also a dominant religion in those days (and is today), so there were temples which were originally Hindu and then altered to be Buddhist, and vice versa as well, but also there were temples where the Hindu and Buddhist carvings remain together.

It was pretty intensive, with the number of temples we covered, and the heat, but mostly because they liked building them high, which means steps…steep, narrow, ancient steps. With and without handrails. Gareth agreed that these steps and ruined sections took a bit of effort, but I have to explain that I also have ‘issues’ with some steps. Normal indoor ones are fine, but with narrow, steep ones, or on hills where you have to go from one little rock to another, I don’t like letting go of a step or foothold to get to the next one. So having to do that many times to get to the top is pretty tricky for me, and then worse coming down (I’d call it a phobia but to be honest I don’t think a fear of falling from an uneven surface at a height is all that irrational). I took my time, Gareth and our tour guide were very patient, and it was all very worth it.

Bakong was the very first temple we visited
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And Banteay Srei has some of the most intact and intricate carvings.
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The goddess Lakshmi on a lintel at Banteay Srei
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Between temples on the first day we stopped for some traditionally made palm sugar. 2011-11-22 Siem Reap 07

We were also very impressed by this piggy and his chauffeur
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On day 2 we visited the Bayon temple, starting with an elephant ride from the South Gate all the way into the main temple grounds. Very exciting! The South Gate (taken from the elephant) has a depiction of the Churning of the Ocean, a Hindu story where the gods and demons came together to churn the ocean of milk to get the nectar of immortality. The statues lining the road on the left are the gods, and on the right are the demons.
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The temple itself is famed for the many giant smiling Buddha faces.
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There’s just something about them; they’re so beautiful, and peaceful, and reassuring. Gareth and I both decided that if we had to choose a favourite temple we’d go for this one.
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Later in the afternoon was the main attraction: Angkor Wat
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As with the other temples there were many apsaras (heavenly dancers) all round,
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and also fantastically long galleries of carvings, which is what they had instead of paintings, I guess. This section is a scene from the Hindu epic Ramayana, where the hero Rama is on the shoulders of his faithful half-monkey servant Hanuman, battling the demon king Ravana.
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Later on we visited a craft centre, Senteurs d’Angkor. They train and employ local people, and source their ingredients locally, several of which are grown at their centre. This is how they weave palm leaves into little boxes – many of their candles, soaps, and bottles of spices come in these boxes.
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In the evening we had dinner at a place that puts on traditional dance performances, including Apsara dances. I love the hand movements, and also the frangipani flowers that you find everywhere here.
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The next morning we got to Angkor Wat around 6am to catch the sunrise – just amazing. One photo can’t do it justice, but I do love the pinky-purple colours in this one.
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We then carried on to some other temples, including Ta Prohm, with That Tree that was in the Tombraider movie.
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Apart from being beautiful, the more overgrown temples were pretty amazing, but also slightly eerie, showing what nature can do if left undisturbed for a few hundred years…
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Finally, Pre Rup was the last temple we visited, which was built around 200 years before Angkor Wat, and looks rather like a prototype version of it.
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In the evenings we also went round the local night markets, and the aptly named Pub Street. There’s a bit of a Tombraider obsession around town, as Siem Reap’s location in the film is one of the things that put it on The Map. Most of the bars and restaurants there do a Tombraider cocktail: Cointreau, lime juice, and soda or tonic. Of course I tried it, at The Red Piano restaurant, which was frequented by the lady herself during filming. It’s been a while, but I did some haggling as well for some of our souvenirs. Admittedly the first day I got totally sweet talked into some overpriced scarves, but after that I got braver and held my ground.

On our last day we visited a more rural area. We went on an oxcart ride past traditional house and lots of rice fields, and stopped for a drink of coconut water with a local family.
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We also went on a boat trip on the Tonlé Sap lake, and visited one of the floating villages there. It’s the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia, but it also changes the direction of its flow – during the dry season water flows into the Mekong river, and during the monsoon water flows from the Mekong into the lake, greatly increasing its size. When we were there the dry season was just starting, but with the heavier than usual rains and flooding they’d been having in the region, there was still a lot of area under water.
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It was a long, relaxing trip on the lake, with beautiful views all round. A fine end to a lovely wee holiday.
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For more photos visit my Cambodia set on Flickr

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