Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Chuseok 2013 in Cambodia: The Temples of Angkor


If MsCaroline were the scrapbooking type, she would be doing so many creative things with this.  But she's not.

So, dear readers, at long last we come to the reason for MsCaroline's journey to Cambodia:  Angkor Wat.  Or, more correctly, the temples of Angkor.  If you have slogged patiently through all of MsCaroline's nattering about shopping, eating, sleeping, crocodiles, and MrL's delusions of grandeur harmless maharaja game all because you just want to see the photos, then the time is at hand and your patience shall be rewarded - at last.

Angkor Wat.  Finally.

But first, a few notes about Angkor Wat (Ha! Killing you, isn't it?)

Note:  If you have already been to Angkor Wat, you probably already know this and should just jump to the end, since it's likely you have all the same photos that MsCaroline does.  But if you have not been to Angkor Wat and would like to learn more, or if you have been there and are a masochist would simply like to refresh your memory, read on.

Angkor vs. Angkor Wat:  While most of us can agree that Angkor Wat is pretty amazing, few of us (count MsC among them until last week) know much else about it, which seems sort of odd when so many people (like MsCaroline) have it on their bucket list.  What MsCaroline knew - that you probably do, too - is that Angkor Wat (the structure pictured above) is a really cool old enormous temple finished sometime in the 12th century in Cambodia, and (maybe) that it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Given that there are UNESCO World Heritage Sites all over the world, many of them older than Angkor Wat, and that MsC's knowledge about most of them is minimal, MsCaroline is not sure why she was initially so keen to visit Angkor Wat as opposed to, say, the Monastery of Geghard (which, is, as we all know,a UNESCO site in Armenia) - because her level of knowledge about both of them was roughly the same:  nonexistent.  In any case, once she got to Angkor, she realized that - no matter how fabulous that Armenian monastery might be, it would probably be impossible to come up with something more awe-inspiring than Angkor Wat - even in the rain.
Walking across the moat bridge that leads to Angkor Wat.  The bridge is presently being restored.


The point is, what MsC knew about Angkor Wat was, at best, minimal.  However, now that she has been dragged through more temples than she can remember educated, she is ready and willing to pass on her newly-gained information to you, loyal readers.  She will do you the favor, though, of providing you with the Cliff's Notes highly-condensed version in a few succinct bullet points (MsC loves bullet points.)

Angkor Wat:  A Very Brief Primer:

  • A wat is a temple. Angkor means 'capitol city' - it was the former capitol of the Khmer (Cambodian) empire.  Therefore, Angkor Wat is the 'City (or Capitol City) Temple' or (if one wants to be more dramatic, the 'Temple of the Capitol City'.)  It served as the state temple for King Suryavarman the Second, who caused it to be built in around 1124, and also had many other temples built as well.
  • There are many, many temples in and around Angkor, although the best known, largest, and best-preserved one is Angkor Wat.   'Angkor' itself is now a National Park, no longer a city, although people do still live on park grounds, and one sees houses and shops along the roads as one travels from temple to temple within Angkor.  As mentioned earlier, the closest modern city is Siem Reap, about a  5-10 minute drive away. Some of the other well-known temples in Angkor were built by Suryavarman's successor, Jayavarman the 7th, a devout Buddhist, including the famous temple of Bayon.
  • Angkor Wat was originally a Hindu temple;  over the years, it gradually became a Buddhist temple and monastery as the general population converted to Buddhism.  Unlike many of the temples in the Angkor complex, it has been used more or less continuously since its construction, and is still considered to be a sacred place of worship.  Regular use, as well as the fact that Angkor Wat is surrounded by a moat (which protected it somewhat from the encroaching jungle) is part of what kept this temple in relatively good shape compared to others of similar age. Angkor Wat has a monastery on its grounds, which was very busy the day we were there, as it was the first day of the 15-day Pchum Ben holiday period (more on this later.)
Angkor Wat:  The biggest and the best.  Less charming (one imagines) in the rain, but verdantly green and (according to our guide) not really very crowded.  The temple itself is an enormous, sprawling complex surrounded by a moat and outer walls, sort of like a medieval city. Within the walls are countless towers, turrets, hallways, niches, nooks, and crannies.  Many parts of the temple are under active restoration.  


One of two libraries flanking the main temple complex

Looking across the grounds toward the front of the temple

The highest and most holy part of the temple was closed due to rain.  The stairs - already treacherous - were judged too dangerous to be climbed.

That's how steep they were.  That steep.

Our guide told us that, as it was a Hindu temple, a yogi was carved at the base of every column in the temple.

Apsara dancers were performing in the courtyard and available for photo ops with tourists, like this one.
Traditional Apsara dancer, one of millions of finely-wrought carvings

Throughout the temples, religious and historical records were carved in Khmer and Sanskrit on the columns.  Our guide read some of them to us.  Notice the top of the head of the yogi directly below.
The Naga, a mythological snake/deity found in both Hinduism and Buddhism, symbolizes many different things that would take MsC too long to discuss, mostly good.  Nagas of all sizes are found throughout the temple complexes, and the Asia Vus got quite good at Naga-spotting.  This one (of a pair) at the entrance to the walkway, is a reproduction, made by (you guessed it) Artisans d'Angkor

Please do not sit on the Naga or any parts thereof
Our intrepid photographer, trying desperately to keep his camera dry.

One of many Buddhas found throughout the temple.  Most that have heads are reproductions, as many of the original heads had been removed from statues by early explorers or enterprising locals who sold them as souvenirs.  There are numerous headless statues throughout the temples.

Brief dry period - just long enough for the ubiquitous family photo.  
Ta Prohm:  Having seen Angkor Wat, the next stop was Ta Prohm, known to most of the world as the 'Tomb Raider Temple' made famous by the Angelina Jolie movie.  Unlike Angkor, Ta Prohm is overgrown with trees, vines, and foliage.  Huge blocks of stone have been pushed and tumbled over the years; giant tree roots run for meters along walls.  One sees sky and trees through gaping holes where walls have crumbled, and everything is covered with a patina of moss and lichen.  It is extremely Indiana Jones-ish and undoubtedly the 2nd most famous temple in Angkor.  It is actually located in part of the Angkor park known as Angkor Thom, which was an alternate capitol built by King Jaravarman IV when he came to power.

The Asia Vu's guide took them in, instead of the more commonly used front entrance, via the back way, down a jungle path:

This may have been telling people not to enter.  Fortunately, no one read Khmer, so it was not an issue.

Down the mud path into the jungle to Ta Prohm


This little girl selling postcards accosted MrL as he got out of his car and followed him all the way through the jungle and into this back entrance of the temple trying to get him to buy postcards.  She was waiting for him when he returned to the car.
 Since they had come in through the back of the temple complex with their guide, the Asia Vus had a few peaceful moments exploring in blissful solitude until the next swarm of tourists appeared.



 





Some of the tree roots were so huge that they had become part of the building and couldn't be removed without causing more damage.  
 While it is true that the temple was not particularly crowded in the rain, it was also true that one needed more space than usual in order to maneuver around everyone else's umbrellas.
One of numerous Chinese tour groups we encountered during our visit.  




#2 working his way through the rubble

Another break in the rain, another family photo.

After slogging through the mud back to the car, MsCaroline and co. agreed that a midday break was in order.  Their guide took them to a nearby restaurant which served excellent amok, as well as several more exotic dishes.
No, we did not try any of this.

Once refreshed, they were ready to face enjoy the last temple of the day:  Bayon.


6 comments:

Trish Burgess said...

I think I've just deleted my comment so will start again!

Thanks for telling me all about Angkor Wat, my knowledge was minimal too.
I'm amazed at the tree roots - never seen anything like that before.
How come your son appears to be flying across the rubble? Impressive!
You've also brought back bad memories of trying to get past the levels in the very old Playstation Tomb Raider game. That was my first and last foray into console games and I still shudder when I think about the time I wasted all those years ago..

MsCaroline said...

Trish - Isn't it strange that we all know we want to go there, but don't know anything about it? It is an incredibly imposing structure (especially when you think it was all done in a jungle without any heavy machinery) regardless, but you'd think there would be more general knowledge floating around. If you click into the photo, you can see that #2 is just perched on some rubble - not flying, although it would have been a useful skill in that temple! Lucky me, I never played 'Tomb Raider' so I had no bad memories to remove. I also managed to doze through 2 showings of the DVD in our hotel room. I think I was just destined to see Ta Prohm without any preconceived notions... ; )

broken biro said...

I missed your earlier 'natterings' but enjoyed revisiting the temples... I was there a few years ago and gob-smacked how many of them the are... I especially loved the smaller ones being consumed by the trees!

MsCaroline said...

BB - It's good to hear from you! I agree, the 'jungle' temples are by far the best! We took a trip out to Beng Mealea on our 3rd day - it was just opened to the public in 2006 and still relatively 'unspoiled.' It was by far, our favorite one.

BavarianSojourn said...

Wow... Thanks for taking us with you, and the education! What an amazing place! :)

MsCaroline said...

Emma - yes, it was pretty amazing, although I'm sure the 'education' I provided was pretty substandard....