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Siam Reap – Angkor Wat

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

Please note: There will be no Angkor What jokes in this post.

Sad i know, but i really do have a ‘100 things to do before i die’ list (remember Tara and Amelia?) This year has seen me tick off a fair few. One of the entries was to visit Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Ever since i saw their majestic splendour in photographs (which fail to them justice) i knew i had to visit them. So now i was back in Siam Reap. It was a pleasant five hour journey from Phnom Penh, but only because i refused to have no leg room and laid down the aisle much to the bemusement of the Cambodians on the coach who proceeded to stare at me laying on the floor for the next half hour.

After a day when the other five (Ruth, Susan, Louis, Tony and Raymondo) visited the Landmine Museum, which i had already seen on my previous trip, we hired two rickshaws for three days, a bargain at 15 dollars each.

Angkor is the heart and soul of Cambodia, a source of immense national pride. The largest temple is featured on the flag, and the name appears on businesses, hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and even the national beer (which is one hell of a tasty sud). They are world-class monuments on par with the pyramids of Giza and other wonders of the world that have survived into the modern era.

The temples of Angkor were the ancient capital of the Khmer empire and were constructed over a period of five hundred years, from the 9th to 13th centuries. They represent the pinnacle of Khmer art, architecture and civilization. Although the maverick psuedo-archeologist Graham Hancock argues the main temple was built by a progenitor civilization predating the age and empires of antiquity, it is unquestioned that the temples were the sacred political, religious and social heart of the Khmer empire whose economy, culture and military dominated the region until the 1200’s. Ironically these fusions of creative vision and spitirual devotion weakened the empire; the effort, materials and sheer cost of such epic endeavours undermined and bankrupted the imperial crown.

Secular buildings, including houses, palaces and public buildings have long since decayed as the right to dwell in stone was a privilege reserved solely for the gods. As such it was hard to appreciate the epic scale of this city which, at its peak boasted a population of one million people. In comparison ‘mighty’ London numbered around 50,000.

The temple ruins number in the hundreds. The Cambodian god kings (devaraja) strove to better their ancestors in size, scale and wonder culminating in the world’s largest religious building, Angkor Wat. It was here we would begin our journey.

Few who have seen Angkor Wat in the flesh would argue that i am being hyperbolic when i call the temple one of the most spectacular monuments ever conceived and built. It is artistically and aesthetically breathtaking, evoking power, harmony and balance through its sublime arrangement and proportions.

For the rest of this post, please go here.

Phnom Penh – Bon Om Tuk Water Fetival

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

After visiting S-21 in the morning, Phnom Penh delighted us in the evening as the country celebrated Bon Om Tuk – the water festival.

Bon Om Tuk is one of the largest events in Cambodia and marks the end of the rainy season, occuring in November for three nights during the full moon. The festival is a thanksgiving to the Mekong River for rich, fertile land and abundant fish.

In Khmer Bon Om Tuk literally means ‘the festival of the boat races’. Villages from all over the country send teams with their dragon boats to compete for three days of races which take place until sunset. Over 350 boats participate annually competing for a grand first prize of…100 dollars (around fifty pounds). That pot of gold is then shared between as many as 70 rowers.

For the rest of this post please go here.

Phnom Penh – “the place where people went in, but never came out”

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007
Another day in Phnom Penh, and another chance to explore the dark recesses of the human psyche. Security Prison 21, also known as Tuol Sleng (an apt name that translates as Hill of the Poisonous Trees) was a complex that nearby ... [Continue reading this entry]

Phnom Penh – Field of Death

Monday, January 29th, 2007
PHNOM PENH - "TO KEEP YOU IS NO BENEFIT, TO DESTROY YOU IS NO LOSS" ============================================= It is impossible to visit Cambodia and begin to understand or get a feel for the country, its history, present, and people without visiting the ... [Continue reading this entry]

Phnom Penh – Bling, Grand Palace Style

Monday, January 29th, 2007
Sightseeing with a group of people can be stressful. Thankfully we were all in agreement - we would take it easy, give the national museum a miss and concentrate our day on the Cambodian Grand Palace and Silver Pagoda; the ... [Continue reading this entry]

Phnom Penh – Lakeside after light

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007
Our first destination in Cambodia was the capital, Phnom Penh. Every backpacker you meet pronounces the name differently: 1) Penom Pen 2) Fnom Pen 3) Nom Pen 4) Fnom Fen (?) The locals pronounce the name similar to number one but with the stress ... [Continue reading this entry]

Cambodia: Beauty and Darkness?

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007
So, back to Cambodia. A small country of almost 15 million people with a chaotic modern history that reads like an international relations textbook; chapters range from colonialism and indepence to war, coup d'etats, invasions and mass genocide. One could ... [Continue reading this entry]

Laos to Cambodia: Corruption at the Border Crossing

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007
LAOS TO CAMBODIA - CORRUPTION AT THE CROSSING ============================================= Ruth and I were once again part of a group. We all rose early and set off in the minibus to another town and another country. Cambodia. After some thrilling card games (travellers ... [Continue reading this entry]

Si Phan Don – Four Thousand Island (Dressing)

Saturday, January 20th, 2007
Si Phan Don. The name literally translates as 'four thousand islands'. Here the Mekong, until now a wide expanse of water, branches out into an intricate web of channels producing a 14km wide mosaic of sandbars (see definition below), islets ... [Continue reading this entry]

Luang Prubang – Royal Palace Museum and Phu Si Hill

Saturday, January 20th, 2007
For days we debated what to do. Visit the Plain of Jars or not. Should i visit another archeological site of world importance or take the stunning journey back to Vientiane. It's not often in life that one is faced ... [Continue reading this entry]