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3 Dec. Angkor Wat

Tuesday, December 3rd

sunny 34 °C

Early Tuesday morning:

We sat for an early breakfast, as we had arranged to go to Angkor Wat early, not having known that classes would start at 8 for all the days of December. Danielle was chuckling when I came to the table. She had heard people at the next table, a man and two women. One French woman greeted him in French and he responded. She asked if he spoke French and he replied in French "Un Peu", which continued the conversation until he looked bewildered. They all switched to German, which Danielle translated for me. There were a few fumbles, then of course, they all decide to speak English. Boy, am I ever glad that the Americans were so pig-headed about learning any foreign language, and that their economic success has ended in most of the world agreeing that English is the language of communication. If it were not, I wouldn't have this wonderful opportunity in Cambodia.

Our tuk tuk driver arrived at 8:30 - a quiet, cheerful man. We had a refreshing ride of about 5 km out to Angkor Wat. We saw many local people enjoying this world heritage site. Cambodians don't pay - A great idea. Cambodians get to enjoy their own heritage for free. We noticed a couple in traditional wedding garments having pictures taken with Angkor Wat as a backdrop, and we saw plenty of local picnicers. Our entrance fee was $20, high by local standards, but when one sees the restoration (before and after pics) it seems more than reasonable. Danielle was impressed with the efficiency of recieving passes with our photos taken and included on our entrance ticket for all temples in a matter of minutes. We are going to see only a very few of the hundreds of temples in this area: Angkor Wat, Bayon, the Elephant Terrace and Angkor Tom. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

Our driver was ready to set off for our adventure with us in the tuk tuk and he on the motorbike.

We skipped the long line of tourists buying 3 day and one week passes. One day is perfect to visit the 4 most exciting sites.

At the beginning of the 9th century AD the two states that covered the territory of modern Cambodia were united by Jayavarman II, who laid the foundations of the Khmer Empire, the major power in south-east Asia for nearly five centuries. The permanent capital of the Khmer Empire, in Cambodia’s northern province of Siem Reap, was given the name Angkor. Angkor extends over approximately 400 square kilometres and consists of scores of temples, hydraulic structures (basins, dykes, reservoirs, canals) as well as communication routes. It is now one of the most important archaeological sites of Southeast Asia.
The accession of Suryavarman II in 1113 began the next great phase of building. It was he who was responsible for the greatest of all Khmer monuments,. Angkor Wat, first a Hindu then subsequently , a Buddhist temple complex and the largest religious monument in the world. This is the first temple we are going to visit.

We sit on the bank overlooking the 200 metre wide moat and the west entrance to Angkor Wat.
Unlike most Khmer temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west rather than the east. Some scholars suggest that its alignment was due to its dedication to the Hindu deity, Vishnu, who was associated with the west.

Many tourists. . . . . Tourism provides some of the funds for maintenance—as of 2000 approximately 28% of ticket revenues across the whole Angkor site was spent on the temples—although most work is carried out by foreign government-sponsored teams rather than by the Cambodian authorities.

We approach Angkor Wat Temple. The wide road feels a bit like walking on the Great Wall of China.

The Seven-Headed Nāga serpents depicted as statues on Cambodian temples, such as Angkor Wat, apparently represent the seven races within Nāga society, which has a mythological, or symbolic, association with "the seven colors of the rainbow".

Nāgas are considered nature spirits and the protectors of springs, wells and rivers. They bring rain, and thus fertility, but are also thought to bring disasters such as floods and drought.

Since the 1990s, Angkor Wat has seen continued conservation efforts and a massive increase in tourism. The temple is part of the Angkor World Heritage Site, established in 1992, which has provided some funding and has encouraged the Cambodian government to protect the site.
It is essential to consider that the areas of jungle between the brick and stone monuments constitute a reserve of buried archaeological remains of immense importance in the study and interpretation of Khmer culture.

The scale of these buildings can only be appreciated when one gets up close.

A massive statue of Buddha greets us as we first enter the temple.

Devatas, Hindu deities, and other bas-reliefs decorate the temple.

Danielle poses next to bas-reliefs of men: craftsmen? worshipers?

I've stopped to look at some more stone carvings: soldiers? dancers?

We have passed through the outer part of the temple, and come out onto a stone courtyard.

The building in the centre of the courtyard has many steep steps to its top. Danielle decided to climb to the top to have a look.

The top of the structure is considered the most sacred part of Angkor Wat.

In the most venerated spot is this statue of Buddha, backed by the Seven-Headed Nāga serpents.

Well preserved stone carvings of deities are also in view.

The view from the top. There are a dizzying number of steps to get here.

Meantime, while Danielle is having a chat with Buddha, I am in the courtyard finding other things on the go. These young people are dressed in the costumes of traditional Khmer dancers. In front: peacock dancers. In back: White monkey king, mermaid from the monkey dance, me, apsara dancer, a second apsara dancer and a demon.

When Danielle returns from her visit to the top, we both take this unusual photo op.

As we leave Angkor Wat, we see many of the local people employed in the grounds of this wonderful World Heritage Site

We find our tuk tuk driver, relaxing in the shade and ready to take us on to Bayon, just ten minutes away.

As we approach the entrance gates, we see elephants and their riders in a line approaching the gates.

All the other traffic comes to a stop to allow these fellows through.

The Bayon's most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and massive stone faces (over 200 of them)
on the many towers which jut out from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak

As we left Bayon Temple, Danielle spotted a monkey. She had kept part of a mango and thought it might be just what a momkey would like.

"Please, Sir, May I have some more."

Danielle said that the monkey's hands were just like a baby's - soft and delicate.

Soon, a little baby came out of the bushes to get a little treat.

I believe that if Danielle had had a large purse, she would have taken this little baby home as her own!

  • ************************ We continued on our way to Ta Prohm Temple. ************************************

This is the temple that you may have seen in recent movie. It was the site for the filming of "Tomb Raider" with Angelina Jolie. it was founded by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Buddhist monastery and university in the late 12th century.

There is a wonderful array of corridors and bas-relief on all the walls.

I thought that some of the artwork had eroded due to the elements, but it turns out that the depictions much of the temple's original Buddhist narrative artwork must have been destroyed by Hindu iconoclasts following the death of Jayavarman VII. Here you see an empty border that most likely framed a Buddhist deity.

Large tree roots have overgrown all parts of the temple.

Susan and the Strangler Fig. Laura Croft ran through these doorways in the Hollywood film, but tourists just have to settle for a bit less.

After the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 17th century, the temple of Ta Prohm was abandoned and neglected for centuries. When the effort to conserve and restore the temples of Angkor began in the early 21st century, the École française d'Extrême-Orient decided that Ta Prohm would be left largely as it had been found. Ta Prohm was singled out because it was "one of the most imposing [temples] and the one which had best merged with the jungle, but not yet to the point of becoming a part of it". Much work has been done to stabilize the ruins, to permit access, and to maintain "this condition of apparent neglect."

Restoration of this temple has been extensive. The placard shows the site about ten years ago and its present state of restoration.

You may wish to read about the painstaking extensive work that is still ongoing at Ta Prom.

This is the South wing of the gallery that was shown on the placard, above.
I was amazed by the restoration of this splendid temple. I wondered: Where were my savage ancestors living when this was begun in 1186?

. **************************** The Elephant Terrace ******************************

The Elephant Terrace is part of the walled city of Ta Prohm. This place was used as a ceremonial area, where the king stood on a platform to receive visitors and his victorious returning army. In the courtyard below, elephants were trained. Spectacles were performed here too, with musicians and dancers.

The stone elephants flank the steps of the raised viewing platform.

The Elephant Terrace is part of the temple complex of Ta Prohm. These are some of the elephants that flank the extensive stand that was used by King Jayavarman VII and his entourage to view his returning troops. The story is told by stone carvings on the walls of the stands.

The 350m-long Terrace of Elephants was used as a giant reviewing stand for public ceremonies and served as a base for the king's grand audience hall. These grounds were once trampled by hundreds of royal elephants. The stone carvings on the low walls show elephants and their trainers in daily life, ceremonies and battles.


Enough temples for the day. Many tourists return to watch the sun set over angkor wat. I hear that it is not so peaceful and serene - it becomes a bit crowded. I prefer to watch the sun rise over the meandering river in front of our hotel of watch the red dawn over the treetops of the coconut tree outside the kitchen on the hotel's terrace. Hoards of tourists are not always right.

Our tuk tuk driver had enjoyed a relaxing day and so had we. We found him sitting back and enjoying the shade. We hopped on board and jauntily rode to town. We had chosen to go to Terrasse de Elephants Restaurant for lunch.

  • ******************************* Terrasse de Elephants Hotel - Boutique Hotel and Restaurant *********************************

Terrasse de Elephants Hotel is a rather grand structure with a distinctively colonial atmosphere. Its decor mimics king Jayavarman VII 's Elephant Terrace and the three elephants flanking the platform.

The garden has a 20 foot high statue of an elephant and two riders in a jungle like setting.

Sweeping stairs leading up to a terrace with a view of the city. It made me think of a colonial era with stuffy British accents. We are led to a table where we relax and enjoy the view and a light breeze.

A piece of artwork on the wall is reminiscent of stories of the victorious armies returning to be viewed by king Jayavarman VII

Having started our day at 7 a.m., we had plenty of time to relax in the shade with a cool drink, and to plan the afternoon's classes. Today is an easy day. We did not do the a.m. classes because of our booking for visiting the temples. It means that Danielle and I each had just one class with the older students. I see that Danielle is loving this! The class loves he, and at the end of each class Chen always says "Thank you for teaching us today." Many of the others respectfully say the same. Classes over, so we walked the 7 - 8 minutes to our hotel. We had enough time to catch our breath, as we had booked at "Geneveve's" - The restaurant with the "singing waiter".

  • *********************************************************************************

We had made arrangements for supper, so that we would be visiting my former student Sovy.
The afternoon passed, and as it began to grow dark, Danielle and I headed out for our final full evening together in Siem Reap.
Geneveve's Restaurant is a little gem hidden in Sok San Road in the heart of Siem Reap.

We arrived at the restaurant, Geneveve's. It is down a small alley, behind a building. The approach is well executed: We walked down the tastefully lit corridor and into the intimate setting behind. Sovy greeted us warmly and showed us to our seats. We enjoyed relaxing and taking in the sounds and scents of a smoothly running dining establishment. We ordered drinks and meals, and chatted in the sultry surroundings. The owner Rick, then came to the tables and greeted us. He was happy to hear that I had known Sovy before he came to work at the restaurant. He shared his aspirations for Sovy and for other people he hoped to employ . He saw the restaurant as simply a stepping stone for them, and had hopes that many would go on to realize their dreams. I was delighted to read the back of the menu and see that there were some words about Sovy. I believe that the claim "More than Just a Restaurant" is very true.

All of this, and wonderful food and atmosphere too.

We sipped our drinks. We made plans for Danielle's last day. Our meal arrived - Yummy - Khmer spiced, served with sticky rice. Rick then asked for a moment from every one. He introduced Sovy and said a few complimentary words about him. Then he said that Sovy would sing a Khmer song and then an English one for our enjoyment. Sovy shyly stepped forward, and sang in a lovely tenor voice. He thanked the audience and retired to his other duties. Before we left, I spoke with Sovy and arranged to meet with him at the temple grounds after he finishes his English class with the monks.

I was thrilled to meet Sovy (Chaysovy) again.

Danielle and I had enjoyed another very full and enchanted day in Cambodia.

Time to head out. We ambled along through the night market and onto Pub Street, so Danielle could enjoy her last evening of "Twacking".

Posted by Sue McNicholas 05:21 Archived in Cambodia

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