Monday, June 13, 2016

The Kingdom of Kampuchea

Kampuchea, now widely known as Cambodia. It was once known also as the Khmer Empire. It's located at the southern portion of the Indochina peninsula, bordered by Thailand, Laos, Vietnam  and the Gulf of Thailand. The capital is Phnom Penh. Language spoken is Khmer and their currency is Riel. 

One of their famous places is Siem Reap, probably the most-visited part of Cambodia. About a 6-hour bus ride from the capital city Phnom Penh. It's a resort town in the northwestern part of Cambodia. The site of the world famous Angkor Wat, the capital of the Khmer city in its heyday. Angkor Wat is Sanskrit for "City of Temples." It boasts of more than 162 hectares of temple complex built in the early 12th century as a Hindu temple for the Khmer Empire. The sandstones used for the construction were taken from the mountains and were transported by raft. It's really a wonder of engineering and architecture.

Visiting Cambodia and seeing Angkot Wat was part of my bucket list. I have always been intrigued by ruins, really old temples and lost civilizations. It was March in 2011. The trip was via Saigon (Ho Chi Mihn City, Vietnam) since there were no direct flights yet to Siem Reap. From Saigon, we took a 12-hour limousine bus ride to Siem Reap. Yes, 12 hours, but it was a very relaxing ride. One thing to remember when in Cambodia, there is no hurry. Our driver just took his leisurely pace. No need to overtake or step on the gas. I think stress is not in their vocabulary. It was probably the easiest yet the longest ride of our lives. And this trip was my most memorable yet.

Enjoy the ride...

The Vietnam- Cambodia border--our passports  were stamped and we were granted entry to Cambodia. I officially welcome you all to Cambodia!

Cambodia border by

Welcome to Cambodia!

Right outside the border is a city of casinos. Makes me wonder who goes to these casinos. As far as I know the people in Cambodia are not rich. Tourists, probably?

casinos at the Cambodian border by

First Stop: Phnom Penh

Welcome to the Capital City. This was just a quick stop. After a 6-hour ride from Saigon, we have reached Phnom Penh. From here is another 6-hour trip to Siem Reap, our final destination. From here is another tourist destination--Sihanoukville, a coastal city at the southwest tip of the Peninsula. It's a 3-hour ride from the capital. Some Europeans who were on our bus were headed for the beaches of Sihanoukville. No, we didn't know about this place. It was not part of our itinerary. 

Here are a few things we saw.

This gold-domed structure is Phnom Penh's central market. It is said to be the biggest market in Asia.
Phnom Penh's central market by

A jade-colored temple we passed by on our way. This looked to be just recently built and very modern.
Jade-colored temple by

Our bus has to get on a barge to cross over a part of Mekong River to get to the opposite bank and continue on our journey to Siem Reap.

barge ride to Siem Reap by

One of the older temples seen along the roads of Phnom Penh.

oldern temples Phnom Penh by

Around Cambodia, altars like this can be seen in almost outside every home.

altars around Cambodia by

This is how their house looked like. Mostly situated above ground. No ground floors. These were mostly seen on the countryside.

houses Cambodia by

These are more modern houses that are up to three or four floors up. These were commonly seen in the city. I think they have a fetish for heights.

modern houses Cambodia by

These arches are so common in Cambodia. They come in different designs.They are like welcome signs for every place or village. Probably, like an indication for each barangay (smallest settlement) in the Philippines.

arches Cambodia by

Second Stop: Siem Reap

We have arrived. When we got to our hotel, we were received warmly. We were offered pineapple drinks and handed complimentary scarves which were good souvenirs also. We rested to be ready for the next day's adventures.

Below are some of the pictures I took. 

This was a lucky shot. I spotted this head of a statue. I took this while the bus was on the go.

head of a statue siem reap by

One of the buildings in Siem Reap. Again, with an arch. Welcome to Siem Reap!

Siem Repa building by

Angkor Wat visitor center. This is also where we bought our tickets for the tour. Tourists can choose from various options-three, two and a day tour. There is even a week. We had the day tour. Our guide was Nokia. He was contacted by Mother Goose Guesthouse (our booked hotel) to accompany us for the whole day.

Angkor Wat visitor center by

Yes, it cost us USD20 for the day tour. They took our picture to put into pass. This is like your passport to the Angkor City and I kept this as souvenir too.

Ankor one day pass by

Temple Hopping

Baksei Cham Krong 

It means under the bird's wing. It was the first temple we visited. It was near the south gate of Bayon Temple. The temple has four entrances from each side. We tried going up the stairs to reach the top but they were so steep and most of the steps were eroded already. We stayed up to the 1st flight only. Better safe than sorry.

Baksei Cham Krong by

I don't know who took this picture as all us where in it including our tour guide. Oh, it was Merly.

groupie at Baksei Cham Krong by gurlayas,

One of the lesser temples near Baksei Cham Krong.

lesser temple Baksei Cham Krong by

Side view of Baksei Cham Krong.

side view Baksei Cham Krong by

The ruins of another lesser temple in the compound of Baksei Cham Krong. This was near the lagoon. Yes, that thing poking in the middle is a male organ. Most of the temples in Angkor have statues of male and female reproductive organs. I guess, for fertility.
ruins Baksei Cham Krong by

A replica of a royal boat that was resting at the edge of the lagoon.

royal barge by

Bayon Temple

Bayon is one of the largest temples in Angkor City. It sits in the center of the of the capital of the city of Angkor which is Angkor Thom. In the old days, there were designated entrances for different classes - for common people the south, the priests the west, the dead the east side, the royal family, the soldiers and so on. The temple entrance is bordered on the right side (going in) by the statues of bad spirits and the statues of good spirits on the left. The famous feature of Bayon are the smiling serene stone faces.

The  main gate of the Bayon Temple. 

main gate Bayon Temple by

A closer look at the face on top of the gate.

top of the gate Bayon Temple by

The statues of bad spirits on the right side of the gate of Bayon. It overlooks the river.

bad spirits statue Bayon temple by

The other side of the gate. This is the view when you are facing the gate and if you are about to go out.
gate Bayon temple by

One of the entrances to the temple.

other entrances Bayon temple by

Another side of the temple. Don't ask me what side? I have no idea.

other side of Bayon temple by

A must-do picture when inside the Bayon--nose to nose with one of the stone faces.

nose to nose Bayon Temple by

Be ready to climb rickety and make-shift ladders to access the higher levels of the temple. Yes, there were a lot of climbing involved.

stairs Bayon temple by

Another lesser temple within the compound of Bayon.

lesser temple Bayon by

A shot of one of the serene stone faces taken from one of the temple windows.

stone face by the window by

These two stone faces are in cheek to cheek while the others were minding their own business.

cheeck to cheek Bayon temple by

The Bayon is a good subject for a thousand pictures. The outer walls of the temple alone feature a series of bas-reliefs depicting everyday life like cock-fighting, dog-fighting, people playing their version of chess and other things. 

Ta Prohm

Remember Angelina Jolie's movie Tomb Raider Cradle of Life? This was where one of the most memorable scenes of the movie was shot. The part where she found the jasmine. Yes, it was Ta Prohm.  This temple is located in the middle of the jungle. The temples have survived with the large trees and roots growing enormously within the compound. It was like a on-going battle of wills between the centuries-old temples and trees. Who shall be left standing? 

This exact spot was in the movie. I was contemplating to do a Lara Croft pose.

Tomb Raider movie spot Ta Prohm by

Notice the platforms and the rope barricade? People are not allowed to get near and go into some of the temples for fear of the roof falling over because of the weight of the roots sitting on them.

ropes and barricades Ta Prohm by

Another one of those chicken-feet like tree roots that is trying to overrun the temple.

chicken-feet-like trees Ta Prohm by

A bas-relief of a face that is on a wall of one of the temples. This looks like a woman peeking out from the tree root. Peek-a-boo.

peek-a-boo Ta Prohm by

One of the temples in the Ta Prohm compound.

temples Ta Prohm by

A tree that has grown over a temple. It looks like a giant foot crushing the temple. At least the tree made sure that it didn't cover the door.

tree over a temple Ta Prohm by gurlayas,

Angkor Wat

The City of Angkor. The City of the Gods. It  used to be a school 2000 years ago.  There were a lot of amazing wall paintings of the Indian literature like Mahabharata, Ramayana and of the King Suryavarman II, the King who built Angkor Wat. According to our guide, Angkor Wat used to be known as Nokor--Sanskrit for Nagara meaning Capital City. Angkor is actually a mispronunciation of the word "friend".  The temple is made of sandstone from the mountains brought to its location by raft and human labor.

The entrance to the capital city. You have to pass through this bridge over a river to get to the Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat by

The main temple of the City of Angkor. It was very vast, a lot of hallways you can get lost to. Walls were full of Sanskrit text and decorated with bas-relief images.

main temple Angkor Wat by

One of the rare bas-reliefs on the Angkor City temple walls. This woman was smiling and showing her teeth. This is very uncommon.

smiling bas-relief Angkor Wat by

Really steep steps. No one is allowed to climb since the steps have eroded. Not anymore safe.

steep steps Angkor Wat by

Back view of one of the temple wings.

back of a temple Angkor Wat by

The stairs of most temples have succumbed to destruction. They have replaced the used to be stone steps with wooden stairs to allow visitors to explore the interiors.

wooden stairs Angkor Wat by

This is a temple where visitors can go in and offer prayers. It was close when we were there. You should wear the proper dress code if you plan to go up there, that is if you are not afraid of heights. The stairs are so steep and it seemed like it would take you straight to heaven. No shorts pants and sleeveless shirts please. 

prayer temple Angkor Wat by

Sunset on the Mount

The last agenda for the day is to watch the sunset. What would be a better way to end our day? We were asked by our guide if we wanted to watch it from the lagoon or from the top of one of the temples. Of course, we chose the latter. We had to take a 5-minute walk (about 300 meters) to reach the Temple on the Mount. Then, we climbed four storeys of really steep and narrow steps to reach the top. It felt more like wall-climbing. We had to catch our breath after the climb but the view was breathtaking. It was all worth it. The next challenge was to climb down without tripping. 

Yes, this was where we watched the sunset. Start climbing.

climbing stairs Sunet on the mount by

At the top of the mount. Almost all of the tourists ended up here to watch the sunset. It was crowded. You need to find your own spot to sit down.

top of the mount by

Sit anywhere. Make yourselves comfortable. Just make sure not to fall off.

sit anywhere top of the mount by

Here comes the sun. He was bidding goodbye to a long but very amazing day. One of the most amazing days of my life.

sunset at the mount by

Look at that vibrant color. Ah, divine.

divine sunset at the mount by

Oh, the sun is out. Time to go down. Reverse wall-climbing. 

reverse wall-climbing at the mount by

On the ground at last. Safe and sound.

on the ground the mount by

Elephant ride anyone? Last call.

elephant ride by

Apart from all the temples I have mentioned, there are still a lot of other temples in the Angkor City. If you opt for a 3-day pass, you will surely be able to explore them. Maybe, someday I will actually be able to do that. It would be so exciting to be able to visit those other remote temples and take really stunning and enchanting pictures.

After the tour, we had a buffet dinner at Angkor Mordial Restaurant and we were treated to a cultural show. The Apsara dance, the dance for the gods. The dancers were called celestial dancers. The steps consisted mainly of hand movements, not very complicated. It can't be compared to our Singkil and Tinikling (folk dances in the Philippines). They have their own version of the Manlalatik (dance using coconut shells) and the fishing dance. We enjoyed the dinner buffet rather than the dancing.

apsara dance by

So long. Plan your trip to Cambodia now!

Information source is Wikipedia. All pictures were taken from my Olympus Tough 8000. In memoriam. Oly my friend, you have captured and immortalized thousands of the best moments of my life. Thank you. You had been a really great companion for all my adventures.

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