Sunday, May 13, 2012

Angkor Wat

While in Siem Reap, we stayed at the lovely New Angkorland Hotel

Our visit didn't start well. When we arrived, the desk clerk informed us that they were overbooked and that they had arranged for us to stay in another hotel. John and Jimmy took a quick look at the proposed accom-modations and promptly vetoed that plan.

In the meantime, Nine called her relative who had recommended the New Angkorland and who knew the owner. In about half an hour, we had rooms as originally promised. The next day, John and I (who were staying in what must have been the hotel's overflow room) were moved to a nicer room. We had a lovely stay there and enjoyed a trip to their spa for a massage as well.

Cambodia is roughly the size of Missouri, and has a colorful and chaotic history. Its population is said to be one of Southeast Asia's most homogeneous, with over 90% of the people being Khmers (ethnic Cambodians). Our guide book tells us that from the first to the sixth centuries, much of what is now Cambodia was part of the Funan Kingdom. In the early days, Funan accepted the Hindu religion. In spite of the fact that most of the people now follow Theravada Buddhism, there are many evidences of Hindu influence, especially in the area around Angkor where the first Cambodian empire was based.

During the 11th and 12th centuries, the Khmer empire conquered Burma, Vietnam, Laos, and Malaysia. It was a powerful nation and was recognized for its achievements in art and architecture (such as the temples at Angkor Wat), as well as an innovative irrigation system which allowed a large number of people to occupy a relatively small area.

We had come to Siem Reap so that we could visit Angkor Wat and the adjacent temples that were built during this time. Angkor Wat, the "city temple," was built in the late 12th century as a funerary temple and to honor the Hindu god Vishnu. It is the largest of the temples at Angkor.

Jimmy and I rose early in order to be at the temple complex to photograph the towers at sunrise. Accompanied by a guide, after a short tuk-tuk ride we entered the temple complex in full darkness and navigated the grounds by flashlight. However, as early as we were, we were not the first to arrive. The primo spot for photography is directly in front of the temple complex, looking across a reflecting pool toward the rising sun. I don't know how many others were there for the daily ritual, but by sunrise there was quite a crowd, as you can see. 

Fortunately or unfortunately, the grounds open every day before sunrise, so there is no real opportunity to get a private tour or special entry. Even staking out a great spot is no guarantee someone with a cell phone or point-and-shoot camera won't step out in front of you and spoil the shot.

We did get some lovely images, however. The sun rose in a clear sky, with just enough clouds to make it interesting. It was a great start to our day.

Jimmy and I saw plenty to marvel at, and to photograph.  Here he is, resting in the shade of a temple doorway.

John and Nine joined us a little later in the morning for a tour of the main Angkor complex.  They are in the background, with our guide, near the gate leading to another part of the complex.

The temple complex is vast, with a number of buildings. Below is a shot of the main gate seen from inside the complex.

This building stands apart, and we are told was a library.

All the structures are intricately carved. Battle scenes such as these cover many of the walls.

A number of the buildings feature carvings of female dancing girls known as Apsaras. These are figures from Hindu mythology, and there are said to be some 1,800 of them in the Angkor Wat temple. These are within reach of visitors, and their breasts have been rubbed to a sheen by many hands.

We prowled among the ruins, up and down the corridors,

and through the rooms and courtyards.

The monks were holding an audience in one of the alcoves.

Our day was far from done, however, and after lunch we moved on to see more.

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