Hobbes (kitling) wrote,
Hobbes
kitling

Travel Diary - Cambodia Day 2

Day 2 began with meeting our driver and a guide, again part of the package. We started with a guided tour of Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is the big one, it’s the main temple, one of the largest and in the best condition. It was built in the 12th Century as a monument to Vishnu and to the King. However, as Buddhism rose to prominence, much of the Hindu iconography has been adapted to suit Buddha. The temples are all in the same basic design. Square walled compounds, often with a moat, and gates and causeways in the four cardinal directions. The number of towers and levels vary, but the higher the tower, the closer to god. Angkor Wat has nine towers. Apparently even numbers are unlucky. They also have separate buildings called libraries, I think I liked these structures the best.

Tiggrr climbing the library

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Nearly every inch of the temple has been carved, everything is patterned and engraved and every carving has meaning and a story.

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Our guide was very informative, providing a comprehensive history of Hinduism and Buddhism and the Khmer empire. There are official guides and unofficial guides, its best to get one of the official ones, they undergo extensive certification and pay for their license each year, which they get tested regularly. The unofficial guides might be cheaper, but you get what you pay for, and the unofficial guides are also illegal.

The temple of Angkor Wat itself is huge, its hard to know how to describe, it really needs to be seen.

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There were crowds everywhere, so many crowds.

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It's very hard to provide a sense of scale.

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A lot of the temple has been subject to conservation works, if you know what you are looking for its easy to see the repaired bits. The quality of the conservation work also varies greatly in places. There are bits in the front wall were you can see the damaged caused by gun fire and even bullets embedded in the stone. This is a casualty of the civil war.

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Some galleries have Buddha statues in them. In these you can pray, there are people handing out incense and red wrist bands, which bring luck, a donation is expected if you pray. There are exquisitely carved walls along galleries telling the story of wars between gods, wars between good and evil, wars between the Khmer and their neighbours.

In some courtyards there are small piles of stone, I asked the guide what these were and he said the local people sometimes build their own towers for luck.

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I built one.

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There were both children and I am assuming mothers wandering around the temple with deformed babies, while they weren’t asking for money, they were making sure they were visible. I am assuming the showing the baby to the tourists was a form of begging. This was very hard to both see and harder to walk away from. I will didn't take photos of this. The tourist police also patrol regularly chasing away the beggers and the illegal sellers.

Our walking tour of Angkor Wat took half a day, we could have spent a lot more time there.

For lunch we returned to the driver, who had lunch ready for us, this was cold drinks, sandwiches wrapped in palm leaf (local gladwrap), rice paper rolls and fresh fruit. This was inhaled and then it was off to our next temple.

From Angkor Wat we went to the south gate of Angkor Thom. Here was got to view a display on the repair work being done on the temples. Got to see a replica machine used to move the blocks, a clever rope and wood lever system. This is what you use before heavy machinery was invented or when the budget doesn't stretch to cranes.

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Different teams from different parts of the world are working on different temples. This team could afford a crane. We also got to see repair work in action.

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All the temples are guarded by lions out the front, Naga on the balustrades, Garuda on the cornices (like a gargoyle). Angkor Thom Gate had three trunked elephants.

From Angkor Thom we headed to Bayon. This is a fairly small temple, and there are large piles of stone laid around everywhere. The stone was dismantled as part of the conservation works, everything carefully numbered and recorded, however, then the civil war happened and much of the records were lost, creating a massive jigsaw puzzle. Currently new computer aided design technology is being used to model how to put the jigsaw back together. Bayon feels rawer than Angkor Wat, it also had a lot less tourists. Bayon has 54 towers, one for each province, but the towers are smaller, and 54 is an odd number because 5+4=9.

This is Bayon

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From Bayon we headed to Baphuon, another temple, this one constructed later than Bayon. This temple was made of latterite rather than sandstone like the others and had an amazing view from the top. From here were wandered along the terrace of the elephants, decorated with you guessed elephant motifs, and the terrace of the leper king which was decorated with demon motifs on one side and god motifs on the other.

This has to be one of the worlds largest jigsaw puzzles.

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We then headed back to the resort for a shower and a rest.

That evening we headed into Siem Reap to find some dinner and to a concert by Beatocello. This is a ‘free’ concert held at the Children’s Hospital by a Swiss guy who plays the cello and is one of the doctors who established the hospital. The hospital is one of five free children’s hospitals in Cambodia all run by the same team. This hospital receives some funding from the Swiss government but is largely dependant on donations. The guy played some cello numbers and talked about the work the hospital does and asked for donations. He got quite a few. These hospitals are the only free health care Cambodian's can get, and the only first world quality health care facilities available. Most people can't afford medicine and disease is rife. They also encourage people to donate blood. There is currently an outbreak of Haemorragic Dengue Fever in Cambodia - this kills unless blood transfusions can be done. You can donate money here http://www.beat-richner.ch/ Don't watch the videos on that website unless you like being depressed.

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