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The Gem of Cambodia

Angkor Wat

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Pictures just simply doesn't do it justice. It is so majestic and awe-inspiring to be standing at any of the temples within the boundaries of Angkor Archaeological Park; the most famous of which is Angkor Wat. I was shocked to learn that Angkor Wat was one of dozens of temples! The archaeological park encompasses an area of over 400 km2 very similar size to London Ontario the city where I spent my teenage years. London has a present population of about 365,000, the Khmer Empire at the height of its glory was estimated to have had over a million inhabitants. I had trouble visualizing the level of sophistication necessary for planning a city of that size and density, but it existed and I was standing in its remnants. The park was filled with these magnificent remains which got a bit overwhelming and I can understand why they suggest to take a break between your visits so you don't experience "temple burnout".

I purchased a 3 day pass to be used within a week's time and joined what they call the short circuit tour to introduce me to the grounds. I'll keep the words to a minimum as I have numerous photos to share. Just promise me that if ever you find yourself in SE Asia get creative, fly, bus, hitch-hike and get yourself to Siem Reap to feast your eyes on this UNESCO treasure.
The guardians of Angkor Thom's South Gate
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A glimpse between them down the moat which protected this ancient city.
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The watchful heads above the entrance.
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I shared my experience with many, many, many others. It was officially Chinese New Year and they came a-flocking for some spiritual enlightenment. Our guide noted that during the lunar new year holidays, it was much busier than normal. How lovely!
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An overview of Bayon temple inside Angkor Thom.
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Bayon temple is known for it's giant face carvings infused with gentle knowing smiles.
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Ancient costumes of Apsara dancers.
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Apsara carvings are found through out all temple ruins within Angkor park. I've been told no two are ever found alike.
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This was a microsecond snap shot whereby no tourist was in view. The feeling suggested from the photos is very different than the sweaty & pushy crowds that I endured.
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A glimpse of the corridors below.
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A lintel, by definition is a load-bearing building component, a decorative architectural element, or a combined ornamented structural item. It is often found over portals, doors, and windows. All lintels are intricately sculpted, none are left bare.
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More overviews.
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I loved seeing the temples and its surrounding jungle, akin to what it must have been like a thousand years ago. I think the phrase used throughout South East Asia applies adequately here "Same Same, But Different".
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This is Baphuon, being the dry season, the water level is quite low, but the reflection is still quite pretty.
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I lost the guide at this moment, not sure what these repeated stones are in the open plaza.
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All the pretty colours.
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Bas-Reliefs. Definition: a piece of artwork that is sculpted, carved or molded in such a way that it barely protrudes from the background flat surface. I wish my knowledge allowed me to understand the stories and myths being told.
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At the very top level of Baphuon, well over 100 feet above ground in a tranquil passage way.
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A heavily used incense holder.
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This is Phimeanakas, which served as the King's Temple. By this time of day (nearing noon), factoring in the sun and the fact that we've been climbing each & every colossal temple, my entire group tour (5 in total) all took a rest break but 1 brave soul. We had already started to feel the soreness in our legs & butts after 3 hours.
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Elephant terrace.
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We've now arrived to one of my favourite temples, Ta Prohm, which every guide and local refers to as Angelina Jolie's Tomb Raider as some parts were filmedhere.
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This is why I love it; the grounds were largely covered by massive overgrowths. I was told they were either fig, cotton-silk trees, but when I looked it up on google, neither resemble what I saw. LIES!
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I love how the trunk and root skirt out.
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Everyone was speechless to see the intimate mix of nature & culture.
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Seriously? I've seen it in person, but I'm still impressed over the photo.
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A little peep from the overgrowth.
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This was an intriguing part of the temple where they come to pray. When you stand along the inset nook and pound your fist to your chest, the entire chamber resonated. Loudly. I watched a Japanese tour guide take his group through and demonstrated that the resonating phenomenon did not occur if you shouted, snapped your fingers, clapped your hands or pound other parts of your body. Only when you took your fist to your chest did it resonate throughout the chamber. It was magical. There are times that I do not care to understand the science behind strange phenomenons, but rather be in awe.
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Our tour guide saved the best for last, Angkor Wat.
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The lower corridors eerily empty yet filled with light.
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This lengthy bas-relief told the tale of the Churning of the Sea of Milk along Angkor Wat's inner eastern wall. Different tales continued to be detailed for nearly 1km in perimeter.
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A serene view of the secular grounds.
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The layout was very symmetrical.
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Often times adorable Cambodian kids are part of the highlight, I don't know why but this little boy was ignored at everyone's foot.
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More Apsaras. It's kind of juvenile, but their breasts are often very shiny from the constant rubbings.
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Monks taking a much needed rest when touring the grounds.
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We were taken to the top of a mountain as the hot spot for viewing sunsets, unfortunately it was too packed so I had to settle with something offsite. The moment was still enjoyable.
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4 of us from the group decided to meet up for dinner to watch an Apsara dance performance. It was free as long as you consumed something. Their movements were generally slow and focused on the delicate positioning of their hands and fingers. We couldn't come to a consensus on how old the girls were, we guessed between the range of 14-21. (My guess was 21, as my caucasian friends obviously don't understand the tricks of having Asian genes, haha!)
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My breakfasts generally consisted of a fresh baguette that I'd pick up from the market with a jar of marmalade (I used to hate marmalade, but what do you know? I love it now). These 2 little boys came up to me finally on the 3rd morning and indicated that they'd like to have some baguette. I happily shared & dunked it full of jam.
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Towards the end of the baguette I pulled out my camera and they knew how photogenic they were and posed away.
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I took a break from Angkor park to stroll around and came across these oddly shaped flowers.
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Followed by these odd trees. It gives the impression they were shy to bare their trunks.
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Upon closer inspection.
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I visited one of the many temples and liked how apprehensive this little girl was trying to be careful with all the burning incense.
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The next day I rented a bike and felt confident in discovering the immense park on my own. I decided to go out to the cluster known as the Roluos group of temples. It states that it's only 13 km outside of Siem Reap. I forgot to factor in the additional 7km to exit the actual city itself. That was the day I'll remember as getting a tan. This is Preah Ko.
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These are little kids who beg for either candy or money. I got the impression they like the former more.
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Lintel adorning Preah Ko.
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This is Bakong.
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A goddess, not sure which one.
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Can you imagine living right behind a famous destination? It's practically attached.
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I didn't stay long to understand what they were doing, but only half was working, the other half observing.
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My bike ride back brought me a big surprise. This beast was just off the main road to Angkor park, meaning if I by chance was riding on gravel that hugged the paved road it probably would have leaped off it's 1.5 meter web and attacked me. It was much larger than the previous spider that visited my bedroom in the eco-lodge, well over the size of a grown man's hand. Like I said, a BEAST. Just look at those mandibles?! It totally would have pierced my neck & sucked out all my blood through my jugular, if given the chance.
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It's underside had these bright florescent yellow spots. Ugghh! Yet I stayed a solid 20 minutes observing it. I was fixated.
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The next day I had planned on getting up early & seeing the sunrise. Little did I know that they don't turn on the lamp posts at 5:15am in the morning. I rode my bike at a very slow pace in the pitch blackness, and tried to stay focused on the pavement rather than the images of florescent spiders with killer fangs that were imprinted in my mind. Thankfully I got some fleeting light from the cars & tuk-tuks that drove past me at intervals. I arrived unharmed at my destination.
Sunrise over Angkor Wat
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The colours were stunning.
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Here's the view from behind my camera lens. This was not a solo affair but a mega party.
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Another tranquil view of Angkor Wat.
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Apsaras
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The sun finally rose from behind the temple into the skies.
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Many buddahs are physically adorned with these bright orange cloths inside the temples.
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Naga, the serpent deity.
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Monkeys are found near the entrance to Angkor Wat, I caught them doing some monkey business.
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This was another one of my top favourites, Banteay Kdei for 2 main reasons: Firstly because it spontaneous, I was lost & I came across it. Secondly because I encountered only 2 people during my entire venture which made it very memorable for me.
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This temple was fairly narrow yet extremely long with short colourful columns throughout.
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It consisted of many chambers and doorways.
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This was one of the 2 people I saw, a monk in passing. The 2nd person I came across was a young girl of 11 who wanted to sell me flutes, bracelets and baskets. She spoke excellent English and initially started off her conversation by asking whether I already see where Tomb Raider was filmed and took hold of my hand to take me there. I told her, I've already seen every corner of the temple but thanked her anyway. She then started to sell everything she was carrying in a very sweet manner, playing a tune on the flute for me, displaying the bracelets on her wrist and opening & closing the small woven baskets to be used as gift boxes. When I kept reiterating thank you but I wasn't interested, she told me that she was hungry and that she was considered extremely small for her age. Didn't I want to give her money so that she could buy pencils and paper for her schooling? Oh, she tugged at my heart strings alright. But then she changed her tactic when I told her I was sorry but I truly wasn't interested and started to walk away. She challenged me on the fact that I had a camera and Nike shoes (she recognized the swoosh), I was stunned and didn't know what to reply. At my final utterance of "I'm sorry" and turning away, she started speaking Khmer in such a venomous way that it could only be interpreted as the following: "You stupid dirty cunt! Why the fuck don't you just buy something?!! Waste of my fucking time!" I'm not even exaggerating, I'm sure she probably injected even more appalling words if you saw the dagger death eyes she gave me.
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My last temple stop at Pre Rup, looking out at the vast expanse and imagining once more the empire that dwelled in this exact same heat amidst the same jungle terrain.
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From this vantage point I actually saw another temple top, East Mebon, about 2 km away (in the center just to the right). My energy was waning and I think I hit my point of "temple burnout".
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So I did what I love most and life's simple pleasure: Treated myself to a Cambodian delight of vegetarian Amok curry!
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Posted by chang2n 06:39 Archived in Cambodia

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Comments

I love all the pics, the sunrise pic is stunning. I am stuck on the fact you got a tan, that is crazy, next u will be telling me you are getting implants. Lol. I am glad you are back on track with the blog post, its been too long.

by juliet

I'm enjoying these Cambodia blogs - delayed. Tan, my ass! Oh my lotus flower. AS IF! Just embrace the sun. I love your story about the young Cambodian girl along the lines of your other "WHY YOU NO BUY?!!" story. Too classic for words. Little does she know you've worn those Nike shoes to death and beyond. By the time you're through with them they'll barely qualify as shoes! Beautiful pics.

by Jake

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