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    Wednesday, 29 July 2009

    The splendor of Angkor

    Soviet's Tuk Tuk [Enlarge & More]
    We spent just over a week in Siem Reap, and on most of the days we were there we toured around various temple sites in the area of Angkor. Some were closer to Siem Reap than others, but our lives were made easier by having a friendly, flexible and helpful tuk tuk driver to show us around!

    Soviet was very good, and if anyone’s going to Siem Reap anytime soon then let us know and we’ll put you in touch with him. He normally hangs around next to the market near the river, and a lot of the times we walked past him he was practising his English in a scrapbook – so don’t go with one of those drivers who shout out “You want tuk tuk?” – go with him!

    Early Morning [Enlarge & More]
    On our first day of temples, Soviet took us on the traditional “short circuit” of temples, a 17km loop starting with Angkor Wat, and working in a loop through Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm and a number of other temples in between. We started with sunrise at the not-so-traditional starting point of Phnom Bakheng, which has a decent view of Angkor Wat and the surrounding countryside. Unfortunately, the sunrise was not great – it was a cloudy day. It was also the day of the eclipse across much of south-east Asia, and although it would only have been a partial eclipse in Cambodia, this may still have affected the light levels. However, the mist rising off of the surrounding jungle, the lack of people around and the soft light made it a very atmospheric start to the day.

    Nature Taking Hold [Enlarge & More]
    Following this, we made our first trip to Angkor Wat of the week. It was very quiet there so early in the morning, and it was good to wander around the complex in peace. Although much of it has been restored, it’s an impressive structure for one so old – but even more impressive are the carvings on the around the edge of the temple itself. Depicting Hindu legends, stories and deities, every carving is unique, and the whole thing is very interesting to view.

    Bayon, Angkor [Enlarge & More]
    Following this, we went to a number of other temples, including Angkor Thom (Bayon and the Terrace of Elephants), and Ta Prohm – a partially restored temple which has giant trees towering over it, and growing into some of the walls – hugely impressive. Some of the smaller temples were very impressive as well – one of the common aspects of them was that they all have extremely steep steps leading to the top. Some of them are not for the faint of heart – a step wrong could send you tumbling down the side of the temple with nothing to stop you! We ended the day (covered in sweat) at Sra Srang, a large basin filled with water, opposite Banteay Kdei.

    Bang Melea, Angkor[Enlarge & More]
    The first day was extremely tiring, even though we only finished our sight-seeing in the middle of the afternoon. The following day we did the “long circuit”, which takes in some of the sights we’d already seen such as Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, as well as a wider range of temples in a 26km route further afield. One of the most impressive and unique sights on day two was Preah Neak Pean, a large series of basins with an odd statue of a horse with eight human legs. Preah Khan was also impressive – largely ruined, filled with corridors and original carvings. We finished the second day with another visit to Angkor Wat for sunset – but low-lying clouds meant it wasn’t the best sunset!

    Tarzan, Kabal Spean [Enlarge & More]
    Following this, we had to have a day of rest because we were very tired (physically and of temples), but on the fourth day we arranged for Soviet to take us to Kbal Spean and Banteay Srei, much further afield than the temples we had already visited. Kbal Spean was one of the most impressive sights we’d seen. After a 1500m walk uphill through the jungle to reach it at 7:30am, we reached it – a river which had been paved with thousands of lingas, inscriptions and carvings. Although a lot of it has been worn or washed away, there is a lot still to see there, and combined with the early morning light and the lack of people, it was a very magical location. Banteay Srei was also good, but much busier and hotter by the time we got there.

    Angkor Wat, Sunset [Enlarge & More]
    On the fifth day, we visited another far-flung temple – Beng Melea. Famed for being unruly and overgrown, it was just that. We had a guide show us around the complex, which is largely in ruins and has not been restored at all. It did feel like the ultimate of “Indiana Jones” temples – being in ruins, it felt like you were exploring it for the first time even though there was an actual path leading through the ruins (albeit you had to duck and climb your way through). It was definitely a trip worth making.

    One Temple Too Many [Enlarge & More]
    On our final day exploring Angkor, we visited some of our favourite places again – Bayon, Ta Prohm and Angkor Wat. Bayon is brilliant, with giant faces of an ancient king covering the walls. In the late afternoon light, the faces really came out of the stone, giving you an impression of being watched. That evening, we finally had a worthy sunset at Angkor Wat – the colours were worth waiting for! We said goodbye to the temples of Angkor – sad, but slightly temple’d out!

    Video of Bakong Temple:

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