Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Travels to Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia: Part II

Thank you for your patience in anticipation for the update on my Travels to Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia post. I have been busy selecting and doing editing to present the nicer photos from the 8Gigs of photos, admist my busy work schedule.
You probably have got a rather clear idea of Siem Reap, Cambodia from the information and links that I posted in Travels to Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia: Part I.
Now, I share share with you the places that I have visited for Day 2 of my trip.

We would need to wake up at 7am (Cambodia time: GMT +7h), have our American breakfast at our gh and Sakhorn will pick us up at 8am. We hoped on the all-so-familiar red tuk-tuk and headed out to the Angkor temples. I managed to snap a few shots of the locals on the roads to work. On the Siem Reap town roads, there are only a few traffic lights and there are no visible floor markings but just tar roads. The traffic can get rather hectic, with lots of motorists and cyclists going using one stretch of road. The common Toyota CAMRY are all left-hand drive and the vehicles usually keep to their right. Horns are sounded all the time, but people are not offended as the horns serve as warning signals to cyclists/motorists, when one is approaching from behind and intending to overtake from their left. Horns are also sounded when there are blind spots. Despite their traffic traditions, there is hardly any accidents as most motorists travel at 50-60km/h, cars and coaches slightly faster. Most importantly, they all have mutual understanding and know when to let others go first. Something that our Singapore drivers should learn.
We stopped by the checkpoint where we had our Angkor Tour passes made. A passport-sized face-shot is required, however, you can get a snapshot on the spot with their webcam. I was prepared with our nice face-shots to make our passes look good throughout our trip. There are 1 day, 3 days and 5 days passes. We bought the 3 days pass for $40 per head (fixed). We did not wait long for our passes to be laminated and given to us. We hoped back on our tuk-tuk , got our passes checked and on we go.

The first stop is the South Gate of Angkor Thom. Learn more about Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom is not a temple itself, but encompasses a few temples. It was a capital of the Khmer Empire during Jayavarman VII's rule. The architechural style is refered to as Bayon.

We hopped back on the tuk-tuk and Sakhorn drove us up north to The Bayon. Learn more about The Bayon. The Bayon was the last state temple built by Jayavarman VII in Angkor. It was intended to be dedicated to Mahayana Buddhism during construction and was later 'remodelled' to be Theravada Buddhism. Much of the exterior of The Bayon was under restoration work when I was there. On the outer gallery walls of The Bayon, there are plenty of interesting bas-relief (stone carvings) documenting the historical events of the Khmer Empire and War of the Khmers and Chams. I did not have much time to explore the bas-relief only until Day 4.

The next stop was Phimeanakas. Learn more about Phimeanakas. This small Hindu temple tower built in a Khleang style.

Next, we headed skipped the Terrace of the Elephants and headed straight for the Terrace of the Leper King. Learn more about Terrace of the Leper King. We approached the terrace from the bottom admiring the fantastic work of religious bas-relief. On top of the terrace, sits Lord Yama who is the Hindu God of Death, he is also known as 閻羅王 or Emperor of Hades by the Chinese. When the statue of Lord Yama was first discovered, there was a lot of discolouration and moss growing on this statue in particular, making it look like it had leprosy, hence the origination of the name Leper King. On the contrary, the bottom of the terrace which is like a small maze with walls filled of interesting bas-relief, represents hell; The top of the terrace where Lord Yama sits represents heaven. After visiting the Terrace of the Leper King, we back-tracked a bit to catch a glimpse of the Terrace of the Elephants. Learn more about the Terrace of the Elephants.

We got back on the tuk-tuk and Sakhorn brought us back to our gh where we deposited our barang barang. We then took a small adventure walk to the Phsar Chas (Old Market). We used our Siem Reap town map and found our way to Center Market, a newer mall dedicated to attracting tourists. Sadly, the Center Market did not receive much attention compared to Old Market. Along the Center Market west perimeter, there was a row of street stalls selling fresh fruits. We thought we really needed some fibre, so we bought ourselves a kilo of mangosteens for US$1.25. Mangosteens were chosen over the more popular mangos and bananas because mangosteens are 'cooling' and good for this climate.
We found the Old Market within a 7-8 minutes walk. We walked around the Old Market precint and decided to have lunch at a highly recommended restaurant, The Blue Pumpkin. The price of the food is reasonable and the ambience is great to unwind in a hot and dry afternoon. One can spot tourists here surfing on the free WIFI connection on the laptops. On the ground floor, there is a nice display of pastries, bread, cakes and fruits for selection. Mid-way up the stairs, there is one small corner lined with mirrors with short coffee tables and coffee-coloured bean bags on the floor. The second level is called the Cool Lounge, which is a fantastic place to chill out. The menu offered breakfast, sandwiches, local Khmer food, pastas and pizzas. The food in The Blue Pumpkin are not expensive at all, at least not for me. Each dish costs about US$4 and drinks at standard US$1-2, slightly more for juices. The lunch was fantastic and told myself that I would return again!

After lunch, we headed back to Angkor Archaeological Park to visit the world famous Angkor Wat. Learn more about Angkor Wat. For your information, Angkor is in one of the nominated New 7 Wonders of the World. Nominate for Angkor here. Angkor Wat is the main attraction among the Angkor, no wonder it found its way onto the present Cambodian flag. Angkor Wat is built by Suryavarman II. The Angkor Wat is designed with much influence from Hinduism and hence explaining the bas-relief depicting important events of Hindism. Angkor Wat is completely surrounded by a huge moat and can be accessed only by the west causeway. Like all religious temples, Angkor Wat is built such that all libraries and gallerys have doors open towards the west. Angkor Wat is always crowded with tourist, making photo-taking a pain-in-the-ass. Angkor Wat is definitely an impressive work of mankind and left me awed. It took me quite a while to absorb the aura of superiority.
We did not have much time to explore the religious bas-relief, which I later done so on Day 4. We went into the inner enclosure straight and took on the tall temple in the heart of Angkor Wat. There are tall flights of narrow steps that lead up to the central temple. We chose one quiet one and crawled up the approximately two to three storeys tall steps, like babies. It was just impossible to stand upright and climb. When we finally reach the top of the temple, we were rewarded with a magnificent sight. Within the temple premises, there is a lingering smell of atypical of old buildings. In the central tower, there are four sides, each with a small chapel. Within each chapel, a buddha statue is being worshipped. We briefly admired the surrounding and wanted to get down so that we can catch the sunset from Phnom Bakheng. We spent quite some time going around the galleries, most of the stairs down seem very dangerous to climb down. The gradient of the steeps are about 67.5 degrees, in my own opinion. With my bulky load, I don't think I can make it down by 'baby descent' (action of going down steps by sitting down and descending one step at a time). We finally found a long queue which apparantly was one that leads to the middle stairs on the southern side of the temple. It is the only flight of stairs with iron rods mounted into the stones, as hand railings. We put our faith in the flimsy railings and made our slow descent. During this moment, I felt that I should be selling away my Crumpler 7 Million Dollar Home and get a backpack instead. The Crumpler 7MDH though useful and a good camera bag offering the best protection, can be rather cumbersome due to its shape and it being a slingbag.

Our last stop for the day was at Phnom Bakheng. Learn more about Phnom Bakheng also known as the Temple Mountain. This temple dedicated to Hindu god, Shiva, was not the main highlight of the day. The attraction of Phnom Bakheng which makes visitors trek for a good 15-20 mins up the hill tracks, is the sunset view. The main central steps up the hill was blocked off due to its poor conditions and making climbing hazardous. We were finally rewarded by a magnificent aerial view of the Angkor Archaeological Park. Angkor Wat can be seen in the south eastern corner of Phnom Bakheng. In the middle, stood the temple dedicated to Shiva. I immediately setup my Manfrotto tripod at a good spot and held out until the sun starts to set. There were a lot of people here trying to catch a glimpse of the beautiful setting sun. I snapped a lot of shots of the setting sun and present here the better shots.

We went back to town for dinner. We decided to pay a well-reviewed Dead Fish Tower. Learn more about the Dead Fish Tower. This unique restaurant is made famous by their multi-'floating' platforms. We chose one of the floating platform at the top of the tower and had a dinner table solely for us. There were cushions and small bolsters around for guests to sit and relax. We had reasonably priced but excellent Khmer food and traditional Khmer performances.
We ordered 3 dishes, each about US$3-4. There was the famous Amok Fish, Beef with stir-fry cabbage and Tom Yum soup with prawns.


Keep watching this blog for more updates. Next up is Day 3 where I give an account of my visit to more of the Angkor Temples.

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BigBadBenny said...

Monster post!
C'mon what do you really seek in a bag to keep up with this activity? :-)

WILLIAM said...

I cannot be contended easily...LOL
I will take my time to find the right bag, most likely a backpack.