Jeff's Mid-Life Crisis goes Round the World (RTW)
About Me (1)
HONG KONG (2)
* ST. ANDREWS
* FROM TRAVELER TO TOURIST?
* HONG KONG
* BANGKOK TO HONG KONG
* BANGKOK TO PHUKET
* PHNOM PENH
* ANGKOR AND SIEM REAP #2
* ANGKOR AND SIEM REAP #1
* CHANGES IN LATITUDE CHANGES IN ATTITUDE
* VANG VIENE
* LUANG PRABANG #2
* LUANG PRABANG #1
February 11, 2005
ANGKOR AND SIEM REAP #1
Today is Saturday, February 12th and I am in Patong Beach on Phuket Island, Thailand. Many of you will recall that Phuket Island was particularly hard hit by the Tsunami on December 26th. I got into town yesterday afternoon and the Tsunami's damage was immediately apparent. All along the beaches of Patong I could see areas where hotels and homes and shops used to be and my driver pointed out other areas of devastation that were a long way from the ocean. All the beachfront structures were ruined.
The construction in the area is incredible. Everywhere you go along the shore you see people trying to get Patong back to the way it used to be. Patong is a very famous beach resort area and is reminiscent of Hawaii but with bit of an edge (this is a third world country despite the beauty). This place is very, very beautiful and a great place to relax.
This entry is about my visit to the town of Siem Reap in Cambodia primarily to visit the temples and palaces of Angkor. I'm breaking this adventure into two parts.
Angkor is the area outside Siem Reap in which the thousand plus year old temples are situated. The temples here were built by the great Khmer kings between the years 800 AD and 1200 AD.
Angkor literally means "Holy City" or "Capital City" and Khmer refers to the dominant ethnic group in modern and ancient Cambodia. Angkor was the capital city of the Khmer Empire between the 9th and 12th centuries. The temple ruins in the area of Siem Reap are the remnants of the Angkorian capitals and represent the pinnacle of the ancient Khmer architecture, art and civilization.
At it's height, the Age of Angkor was a time when the capital area contained more than a million people (compared to around 25,000 now), when Khmer kings constructed vast waterworks and grand temples and when Angkor's military, economic and cultural dominance held sway over the area of modern Cambodia and much of Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.
The temples are now designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (same as Luang Prabang in Laos - see Luang Prabang entry). The Angkor Archaeological Park encompasses dozens and dozens of temple ruins whose artistic and archaeological significance and visual impact put them in a class with the Pyramids, Machu Picchu and the Taj Mahal.
Unlike many other world class monuments, the ruins of Angkor are not yet spoiled by over-development, although that is changing fast - there are many 5-star type resorts in Siem Reap and a lot more being built.
That's enough history, I wanted to let my readers know a bit about what Angkor is and some history. It's tough to do in a few short paragraphs because the entire history of this area is so detailed and so fascinating. If anyone has interest in learning more about Angkor and the temples go to Google.com and type in Angkor Wat.
Much of this blog will be pictures as visuals are the best way to experience the wonders of this place and I will intersperse the pictures with the story of my five days in Siem Reap.
I flew into Siem Reap from Saigon and stayed at the Earthwalkers Guesthouse a couple of kilometers outside the city center. I chose to stay there because I liked the name of this place and it was recommended on a couple of traveler websites. Earthwalkers (click on for weblink) is a small guesthouse owned by Norweigans and was a perfect place to stay and I would recommend it to anyone who goes to Siem Reap and wants an authentic guesthouse experience. I paid about $11 for my room and it included air conditioning and hot water. The range of what you can pay in Siem Reap is from about $5 up to over $1,000 a night depending on where you stay. The staff was excellent, the food was good the beer was cold (Angkor Beer is one of the national beers of Cambodia) and I met some real fun and interesting people hanging out in the common area. Plus, there were no TV's anywhere which was cool.
I got to Siem Reap in the early afternoon and got a motorcycle ride to Earthwalkers from a guy named Wie. Wie is a 21 year old Cambodian who speaks English very well (although, like all Asians, has a hard time with many English words and interpretations). He is a single guy, which is unusual for a Cambodian male of his age. He says he likes American and European women and that Cambodian women are too bossy. Plus he wants to save up money to buy a tuk-tuk and he knows if he gets married his wife will spend all his money. He told me it would cost about $500 to buy a good used tuk-tuk that he could pull with his 100 CC moto. $500 is ALOT of money here, Wie told me that on a good day hustling for fares on his moto he'll make $5.00. I adopted him as my moto-dude for the days I was there and he gave me alot of good advice and good ideas on where to go beyond the Angkor temples. I took care of him, bought him meals and paid and tipped him well in excess of what he'd normally earn in a day. He is a great kid.
Wie is from the country and only moved to Siem Reap a few years ago. He has an arrangement with Earthwalkers and few other guesthouses whereby he is on call for them as a moto guy they can trust. He told me when he first came to the city the owners of Earthwalkers bought him some clean clothes, coached him on hygiene and cleanliness and got him a cell phone. This happens regularly throughout Siem Reap and what a great thing for these people!
One of the cool things to do at Angkor is to visit the temples at sunset and at sunrise. The beauty is supposed to be unmatched seeing the sun move up or down against the various temples and watch them change colors as they are hit by various angles of the sun. A sunset over Angkor is a magical sunset indeed and one of the most famous in the world. Sunrises are supposed to be equally good however I felt it extremely unlikely that I would get my butt out of bed at 5:00 AM and head for the temples (although I hear many people do...) so I thought to make sure I hit the sunsets, plus I love sunsets!
Wie took me out to the temples about 5:00 PM my first day. The temples are about 10 KM outside Siem Reap. Obviously I wasn't he only one who had the idea of seeing the sun set this evening as their were hordes of tourists doing the same thing. There are just a few prime places to see the sun set and Wie took me to the edge of a hill and pointed up and said follow those people.
I looked up and it was huge hill to climb with a dirt path. I smiled and headed for the hill knowing I'm in good enough shape to get up it with no problems. The tough part was that it was still very hot (about 95 degrees) and there were hundreds (thousands?) of others heading up the hill. Now I can't really explain the hill and didn't get a good picture of it but it was loose dirt, steep with many rocks to be used for steps. There were alot of older and fatter men and women trying to climb this hill and the toughest part was trying to stay clear of them as I jogged up the hill. I didn't want to be below one of these guys when they fell. I do have to hand it to many of these clearly out of shape people who trucked up the hill. Oh, there was an option of an Elephant ride up another path for $25.
After getting to the top and working up a good sweat there was another climb, this time up a temple ruin.
For me the climb up the hill and up the temple (where the stairs were very steep and narrow) wasn't bad, I quite enjoyed it despite having sweated through my clothes by the time I got to the top). Unfortunately the evening turned hazy and we did not get to see a proper sunset that day, only saw the sun set into the haze.
Going down the temple and the hill in the twilight and then the dark with all these other people was another adventure!!
For the next day I decided to hire a guide so that I could get the most out of the temples and would surely learn more details than I would wandering around with just a guidebook and some history. Earthwalkers set up the guide and a tuk-tuk for us for the day. We got a bright and early start at 10:00 AM (I'm not an early riser when I'm on holiday!). The cost for going to the temples is $20.00 for one day, a 3-day pass for $40.00 or a 7-day pass for $60.00. I chose the 3-day pass as I knew I would be templed out after 2 or 3 days. I actually purchased my pass the day before as we rode up to see the sunset.
I definitely made the right decision in getting a guide. He (I can't pronounce or write his name) was a smart guy who spoke good, understandable English as long as I looked at him when he was talking. Guides are well trained and must pass a rigorous test for temple and historical knowledge and English to become certified. It costs $1,000 to take and pass the course (a fortune in Cambodia) but they get $20-$25 per day plus tips as guides. That is huge money here. The high season which lasts from December through March is the busiest and my guy said he worked just about everyday during this time period. The other eight months of the year are slower due to the extreme heat from April through July (often in the 100's and humid) and then the rainy season from July through October. So it's not a year round wage but it is something that many Cambodians aspire to become.
This day was full of temples. We started at the most famous one: Angkor Wat and that was simply amazing. Some of it has been restored through ongoing and time-consuming efforts by government and non-governmental agencies from all over the world under the auspices of UNESCO. Restoration efforts strive to bring portions of the temples back to their earlier grandeur and also serve the purpose of shoring up unstable and/or unsafe parts of the temples (most of these are over 1,000 years old remember so they are quite crumbly as you'll see in some of the pictures). The restoration efforts are by no means all-encompassing meaning they are not trying to fix up all the temples. Not only would that be historically the wrong thing to do but it would also be an impossibility based on the vast number of temples and their respective conditions.
The following pictures are of Angkor Wat and a couple of the surrounding temples. Some of the detail that you'll see is amazing in that it is still easy to see what the initial purpose of the carvings or buildings were all about. The temples and their interiors were all carved out of sandstone from quarries sited up to 100 kilometers away. Imagine people in 800 AD moving all these huge rock such distances!! It took thousands and thousands of laborers, artisans and architects to build each of these temples and it took thousands more to service and maintain them once completed. These kings were powerful indeed to have brought these enormous and complicated structures to fruition.
Awesome stuff, huh?
These next pictures are some of my favorites. The were taken at Ta Prohm, a couple of kilometers from Angkor Wat. Ta Prohm is significant in that it is being left to nature and no attempts are being made for restortation, only for safety purposes as this temple is the second most popular behind Angkor Wat. You'll see what it means by being left to nature as the jungle has been encroaching here since ancient times and the combination of trees and the ruins is stunning.
As it began to get dark my guide steered us back to Angkor Wat to see the sun set in the reflecting pools. I think the reflecting pools were built for just that purpose oh so many years ago as there is one that catches the sunset during all seasons and one that catches the sunrise during all seasons.
I was tired when this day was over. We saw so much and walked through so many temples it was amazing. I loved it. It was nice to get back to Earthwalkers and relax with a few Angkor beers afterwards!
I really like this picture. The experience of the guide framed the photo.
Angkor is amazing and a site everyone should aspire to see. If any of you out there want to come out here and see it I would love to go with you and see it again. Siem Reap is easy to get to via Bangkok, it's a painless trip to make. ANY TAKERS??? Anyone?, Anyone? Buehler??
This sign is here at Patong Beach and it cracked me up. Jason - There are two girls here in Patong that would love to meet you. Or should we set these two up with Leo??
Posted by Jeff on February 11, 2005 08:56 PM
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