Here I am again with the 2nd part of our trip to Indochine, the amazing country of Cambodia!! Well, the first part of it, as we stayed there 4 whole days. A lot of parts I know… but I wanted to divide the posts so that it won’t be tiring to follow the story.
So, as I told you before, it was a very intensive trip, a lot of places to see compressed in so little time. We had a lot of flights and we weren’t sleeping enough, at least at the beggining of the excursion…so my first day at Cambodia I got sick! You can’t imagine my frustrution, I wanted so much to see everything but had no power to follow and with all that heat and humidity got me crazy. I ended up taking some cambodian medication (whaat) which thankfully got me better!
In Cambodia we stayed for 3 days at Siem Reap and one day at Phnom Penh. Siem Reap is a small city near the famous archeological sites of Angkor and the ancient city of Angkor Thom, so it’s very popular. It was really cute and very vivid, quite touristic in some parts but not in a bad way. It had a lot of local character and was very vivid.
Our first morning (well, before morning actually…) in the country was surreal!! We woke up very early to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The beauty of it was beyond words… Watching the sun rising in such a beautiful and old monument was sacramental.
Angkor is the old town of the kingdom of the Khmer’s dynasty. It’s a large area with a lot of beautiful temples, the most important of them is Angkor Wat. It’s a real architectural wonder and we were very lucky to start one day of our lives there.
We strolled around the courtyard, admiring everything around us, until we went inside the ancient complex to learn its history. We were very lucky to have a good guide that told us so many interesting thing, of which I remember almost nothing to convey to you!
Angkor Wat actually, this ancient city, with its magnificent monuments and the most clever irrigation system in the rice fields, remained “lost” for centuries until a French explorer discovered it in the jungle at 1860.
It’s the largest religious monument in the world and was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century, as his state temple and eventual mausoleum. It was built as a representation of Mount Meru, the mythical sacred center of Hinduism and was dedicated to the god Vishnu, as a Hindu temple at first and gradually trandformed into a Buddhist temple towards the end of 12th century.
The temple is at the top of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. It has become such a symbol of Cambodia that it appears on its national flag. At the higher level of the complex, where only the priests and the king were allowed to enter, there stand four corner towers and a temple at the centre of them 65m height above the ground. Inside, it is fully decorated with many figures of their mythology and Buddha illustrations. What impressed me a lot was the system of shading at the window openings, with these stone crafted columns that left the sun slipping through them and enlighten different parts of the interior place, creating a magical atmosphere with golden lines.
When we went out again at the courtyard, the sun was dominant already and we were walking to the exit, trying to adjust all this remarkably beauty…until we met the monkeys!! It was the back to earth element that connected us again with the terrestrial. They were so cute and clever!! They were trying all the time to get food from tourists, grabing their sodas from their hands or sneaking inside their stuff! You should be very careful not to carry food or drinks out in the open, because you were a lost cause…
Our next stop was the great Bayon temple! It stands in the exact centre of the city of Angkor Thom. Very different this one, with all these huge, stone heads of Buddha at the top of the towers, with peaceful and smiling faces. On the bridge outside the complex there is on your left a series of smiling Buddhas and on your right a series of sad Buddhas, representing life I suppose.
Some say that the Khmer empire was divided into 54 provinces at the time of Bayon’s construction, that’s the reason for the 54 pairs of all-seeing eyes watchin the kingdom.
Unfortunately for me, I was feeling so sick when visiting Bayon that I didn’t have the strengh to go inside the temple and see more of it. Instead, I sat on a rock and tried to rest as the others continued the tour.
Eventually, I slept for real, there, sitting on a rock of ruins that was actually a door and some tourists walked over me to pass through and at some point I think some monkeys too!!
The third surreal monument we visited was Ta Prohm. Or the so-called ”Tomb Raider temple”! Here was the place where all the world fell in love with Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft in that movie. Or the place where Mowgli from the Jungle Book was living!
What makes Ta Prohm so exquisite, is its strangler figs’ silvery roots completely taking over some of the breathtaking temples. It’s a heavily damaged temple complex, where ancient trees grow through the masonry, sometimes the stones and trees are so intertwined that they would not withstand any separation.
You may wonder how this has happened. That I can tell you because I asked the same question our guide: Birds did it! They were leaving seeds when they’re standing on the stones and these seeds (of course with the help of humidity) grew up and became trees!
Undoubtedly the most atmospheric ruin at Angkor. Its appeal lies in the fact that, unlike the other monuments of Angkor, it has been swallowed by the jungle, and looks very much the way most of the monuments of Angkor appeared when European explorers first stumbled upon them.
Built from 1186 and originally known as Rajavihara (Monastery of the King), Ta Prohm was a Buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of Jayavarman VII. It is one of the few temples in the Angkor region where an inscription provides information about the temple’s dependents and inhabitants. Almost 80,000 people were required to maintain or attend at the temple, among them more than 2700 officials and 615 dancers.
If Angkor Wat is testimony to the genius of the ancient Khmers, Ta Prohm reminds us equally of the awesome fertility and power of the jungle. It’s amazing afterall what nature and man created together, a whole new piece of art!
Stay tuned for the next posts about our trip to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh!