Heather's Thairy

Heather's journey to Bangkok, Thailand: a year of adventure!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Cambodia Continues

Andrea, Stephanie and I had a three day pass to the ruins of Angkor Wat; during that time, we managed to see the majority of the sites (even the ones that are located some km away, because we had the driver) as well as see a bit of Siam Riep. We visited an orphanage one afternoon and had a bit of a tour of the facility- we weren't sure that it was appropriate to take pictures so we didn't, just dropped off our donations and checked out the place. We visited a couple of markets and ate at a few very good, very inexpensive restaurants, but for the most part our time was spent exploring the ruins.

One of the temples is commonly referred to as the woman's temple, and it is made of pink stone instead of the beige or tan coloured stone. In all the temples there are delicate carvings all over the walls and especially over the doors. It is sometimes difficult to tell which are original and which are restorations.

Something we noticed that many of the temples have in common is the series of long corridors with doors that perfectly align. You can look from one end of the temple to the other with an unobstructed view through all the doorways. We asked our guide about it and I think that he said something about the doorways being arranged towards the sunrise and sunset, but I might be making that up. Sometimes I didn't listen to the guy.

Although elephants were the most common animal that we found in large statue form, we also saw cows and lions.

One of the more interesting parts of the Angkor temples was this long, deep hallway system with hundreds of carvings along the one side. It was very narrow and in one discussion I remember arguing that if I were to be chased through any of the temples, this would be the one that I would have no chance in. One of the other girls made a good point that the temple with hundreds of doors that all looked the same would be pretty awful too, since you wouldn't know which way to turn; at least in the long hallway you wouldn't have a choice where to go. I figured that I would try not to ever be in the temples with bad guys chasing me and I wouldn't have to test our theories.

On the last day of our touring of the ruins, we went back to Angkor Wat for another look, because it is SO large that truly, one cannot experience the whole thing in one visit. We had missed the entire outside ring of carved walls- very detailed, and almost always depicting epic battles between gods and demons. We spent a lot of time trying to decide exactly which ugly faces were gods and which ugly faces were demons...in one carving, we couldn't find any difference between them except for their ears were not the same size. Interesting...
Next up: Andrea and I head back to Bangkok for a night on Khao San Road, then it's off to Vietnam!
Until next time,

Monday, July 16, 2007

Travel Adventures: The Beginning

It's been about a month since I got back from Thailand and really it's about time that I put up some of my holiday pictures. My friend Andrea came when my contract was up at the end of April and she and I toured around SE Asia for a month and a bit. It was excellent- I got to see two more countries, several more cities, spent some time at a resort, got a great tan and hundreds of memories.
Here's the first look at what I was up to over there...
The first stop on our journey was Cambodia with Stephanie. We flew into Phnom Penh and decided that we should do all our journeying in one day so we almost immediately boarded a bus to Siam Riep, where we could go and visit Angkor ruins.
I had thought that Cambodia would be a ruined, devastated country; I had heard horror stories about the population being, as a whole, mutilated and deformed and destitute. While there are, unfortunately, a large number of people who have been harmed by landmines and other leftovers of the genocide, Cambodia is a refreshing surprise. The people are friendly and have a great spirit. It is true that it is in a state of rebuilding, and the population is startlingly young (as the older generation was all but wiped out by Pol Pot's policies), but I found Cambodia to be beautiful, inviting, and as accommodating as it can be given its history.
Siam Riep is a quaint little city with some bustling streets and markets, good restaurants and amazing bakeries, and nice hotels at cheap prices. We found a decent place to stay and arranged a driver to take us around the ruins for the next three days.

The temples of Angkor, with the largest being the amazing Angkor Wat, are accessed just outside of Siam Riep. Visitors can purchase a day pass, a two day pass, a three day pass or a seven day pass. The two and three day passes are the same price, and three days are definitely worth it to make the most of your visit.
It is incredible to think about how all these temples had been covered in jungle and vegetation and the restoration is still in progress. I had previously been blown away by the ruins at Ayuttaya; Angkor is on a level so far surpassing what I had already seen that I cannot really even describe it. I'll let my pictures do the talking for me!

Inside Angkor Wat, you can climb this terrifying staircase to get to the top of the tower: there is an incredible view from up there so the life risk is worth it. Apparently, when these temples were in use, monks would make this journey every day. I doubt that they used their hands, either. Yikes.

See that little guy in that doorway? That gives you an idea of the scale of these things. They're MONSTROUS. And there are literally hundreds of them, likely more to be discovered, scattered over the Cambodian countryside. The majority are within a few kilometers of the main complex.

Besides Angkor Wat, one of our favorites was Bayan Temple, the temple of four smiling faces. Our driver was completely fluent in English (generally, Cambodians speak very good English, making it remarkably easy to travel) and was very knowledgable anout the temples. He gave us a mini-history about each site and allowed us to walk about at our leisure while he slept in the car. It was SO hot and it was great to be able to dash back into an air-conditioned vehicle after each tour!

There are a lot of different styles around the Angkor Wat complex; for example, there is an "Elephant Wall" which features, you guessed it, elephant sculptures. Many of the temple walls are very detailed and there are thousands of beautiful carvings to be seen.

Another remarkable aspect of Angkor Wat is the delicate balance between nature and the ruins: at the Jungle Temple (the site where Tomb Raider was filmed, apparently) the trees have not been removed from the ruins as it was determined that they are now what holds the structures together. It's interesting how the trees have become a part of the temples: as they grew, they knocked over walls and towers and moved immense stones- now, they cannot be disturbed as the entire place will collapse. However, with time, the trees will continue to grow and likely will bring down more of the temples.

The temples of Angkor Wat provide some spectacular places to view both the sunset and the sunrise. Sunrise at Angkor Wat is a popular event, with thousands of early risers gathering to see the sun peek over the ruins. It makes for a wonderful picture. The summit of a mountain temple is THE place to be for sunset, with tourists, locals, monks and just about anyone else in the area climbing to the top to watch the sun disappear as night falls.

Our first day of touring the Angkor Wat complex was breathtaking- it is such an amazing place. We were worried that the amount of tour buses and people that we saw would gaurantee that it would be a rushed, loud expedition, but we found that the ruins are SO large that you can wander about at your own pace and often find yourself completely alone. We also found that we were not generally harassed by people or children selling things: we attributed this to the fact that we certainly did not look like the richest people around.
More on Cambodia and its fantastic ruins to come!
Until next time,