February 20, 2004

Thailand to Cambodia

After enjoying an afternoon and evening in Trang (very nice town!), I flew up to Bangkok. I stayed at a great hostel not the cheapest or cleanest place in town (don't assume it is expensive or dirt ;), but definately the coolest place to hang out with other travelers... I spent about a week sorting out a trip to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat and getting my teath worked on every day.... yikes :) I went to a very nice clinic that has very modern equipment and a really nice office. Compared to the US, prices were very reasonable and the dentists were fantastic! Everyone spoke great English and they were really gentle...

So that was probably pretty boring ;) but Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples has been really lovely. I flew from Bangkok directly to Siem Riep, which meant that I completely bypassed the road system in Cambodia, which I must confess gives me the heebee geebees ;) I am staying at a nice B&B in Siem Reap that's run by an English couple... It's their first season, and they already have great staff and a really friendly setup!

My first full day here, I hired a car and a guide for a solid introduction to some of the main temple complexes. We went to Ankor Wat, which is amazing, but I have to admit that I was not quite as awstruck as I thought I would be. I had imagined it bigger and more grand... I guess that comes from going to places like Orchha, Kujaraho and the Taj Mahal in India and some of the amazing temples in Japan... Still it is a very impressive stone mountain and with some really good sculptures. And I was more impressed on my second visit (day 2) when I didn't have the overblown expectations ;) The external stone at Angkor Wat is sandstone, some of which has lasted remakably well over the last 1,000 years. I think the ground are about 1.3km by 1.5km... which is HUGE by any standard. There is a moat that's about 300m wide then a large grass area with two stone libraries and two modern (16th century) Budhist temples. Apparently this area would have housed thousands of dancers and monks and grounds keepers, etc when the temple was in use. Then you get to the main structure. Which basically has several concentric walls with courtyards. The first wall has some really nice baise relief (sp?) sculptures. Mostly stories from Hindu mythology, but also some stories about the life of the king who built Angkor. All over the temples here there are carvings of lovely women called Apsara. There are two forms, either dancers or servers (apparently not servants... i.e. everyone was paid). The structure is setup with it's walls facing each of the primary directions. The top most enclosure has towers on all four corners of the walls and a larger tower in the center. These five towers are supposed to represent Mt. Meru, which is the 5 peaked mountain where the Hindu gods are supposed to live.

Most of the temples here are Hindu... There are several Budhist temples, but they were mostly defaced, presumably by Hindus, I beleive sometime in the 16th century. Our second temple was Banteay Srey, which is a very small temple that is unique in that it is made from mostly red and yellow sandstone. Also the sculptures are everywhere, and they are really lovely. Although it was small, and we didn't spend that much time there. It was my favorite temple. Again, it is hindu and it has the 5 towers, like Angkor Wat. But it seems to have a lot more of a Hindu mystical spirit enfused in it than any of the other temples (for me :)...

Temple 3 was Ta Prohm, which is famouse because they have not completely removed the jungle, so this is an amazing opportunity to see how nature and time can eat away at someting as fleeting (in eternal time) as a solid strong temple... If you have seen pictures of Angkor with trees growing out of or on temples, they are probably taken here... Also the cover of the Cambodia Lonely planet is taken here... I think this temple is one of the Buddhist temples that was re-apropriated by the Hindus a while back.... So all the Bodhisatvas have been chiseled out and lingas were placed where the Buddha statues used to be.... Quite a shame...

I wish I was here near the end of rainy season, rather than just before it... it's dry, so the trees look like they are having a hard time, and the temples that have ponds or that are built inside ponds... look a little bleak.

Temple 4 was Bayon, which used to have 54 towers, each one with 4 huge Buddha faces (one facing each primary direction) topped by a lotus flower. Apparently there are now about 34 towers... This place is probably my second favorit temple... So impressive, and the faces are so expressive... Fortinately when the Hindu reaction (that's what the guides all seem to call the defacement) happened, they took the Buddhas for faces of Brahman, so they survived... WOW!!!!!!

So that was day one, and I spent two more days looking around, revisiting places, etc. I have seen so many beautiful things over the last few days... however, today I stumbled (with the help of a very nice 12 year old cambodian girl) upon two Apsaras that she called Queens. They were bigger than the others, they were in very good condition, they even had diamond (not sure if they were real) jewels in their belly buttons, and they were stunning.... they were hidden down a few tunnels at a temple called Preah Khan... looked after by an old woman with black teeth... she provides insense and candles for people to pray... what an absolutely amazing, amazing experience!!!! All of it, the young girl, the old woman, the lovely statues, the insense, the praying... wow!!!!

Very much Love,

-- Bindu

Posted by binduwavell at 06:13 AM | Comments (0)
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