Courtesy of John Borland http://www.morffed.com/2013/Cambodia/28441160_X7Czv4#!i=2409053941&k=RJtg25T
Preah Vihear was to be the start of a few days visiting temples. Every few miles or so in Thailand and to a lesser extent in Laos I passed temples without really thinking of visiting them. They are all quite small and similar in design with seemingly very little apart from the choice of which colour to complement the gold to tell them apart. This temple complex promised to be different though. Whereas modern temples are functional, the older ones tend to be grandiose affairs, giving a show of importance and authority. Predating Angkor Wat - making them about 1100 years old - Preah Vihear is much more in tact than a similarly dated structure near Champasac that I had visited in Laos, and without many tourists. It also helped that I slept next to the ticket office and was therefore the first visitor of the day.  These pictures are of Preah Vihear.
_After a night spent looking at the mountain upon which the temples sat I caught a lift to the top on a scooter, thoughtfully provided for a fee of $5 by the ticket office. Entrance to the temples themselves is free of charge but I was disappointed not to be able to ride up there myself. I had been kicking myself for telling them I wanted to sleep on the mountain, thinking that I cold have sneaked up and found somewhere to pitch the tent but as we approached the top I saw that that would not have been possible as there were border police and tourist police everywhere. It was still early though and I had the temple pretty much to myself to start with apart from even more tourist police and leaf sweepers. The temples are laid out along a single axis so that you start from the bottom and work your way to the top of the mountain towards the fifth temple. Some of the buildings were fairly well preserved with others in a state of ruin. Being more accessible from Thailand than Laos the number of visitors is limited by the border being closed here. The atmosphere is certainly helped by this fact. I spent longer there just sitting and looking than walking around. A couple of hours later and I was heading back down the mountain to collect the bike and make my way towards Siem Reap and the jewels of Cambodias tourist crown, Angkor Wat and  Angkor Thom.
There was one other temple along the route towards Siem Reap that seemed worth visiting - Prasat Bantea Srei. I rolled up to a greeting of smiles and was pointed to the temple entrance with assurances that my bike would be well looked after at reception. A short walk later I was at the entrance where I had to show my ticket. No-one at the reception had mentioned a ticket when I arrived so I went back to find out where I should get one. Siem Reap came the reply. "Not here?" I asked. "No Sir. We don't sell tickets. You have to buy it at Siem Reap". Have you ever known a tourist attraction alongside a well maintained road to have its ticket office almost 40 Kms from the entrance ? I couldn't believe it. Imagine how many people make the trip out there from the town just to find out that they have to retrace their steps in order to pay for the entrance ticket. Luckily I had not done that but it seemed crazy not to be able to buy a ticket on site. Their reasoning was that there is one ticket for all temples and that the main temples are at Siem Reap and that is also where all of the hotels were. Therefore the ticket office was there too. Logically sound but I couldn't help think that they were short changing themselves to some extent by not selling tickets here too.
These pictures were taken at Angkor Thom.

After some initial disappointment and frustration I set off once more for the last leg of a 170km day to Siem Reap. Once there I got to talking to three Alaskans (it wouldn't be fair to call them Americans, they were too cool and friendly) who told me that they had booked a tuk-tuk for a 5am start the next morning and that I was welcome to join them. They were going to the temples for the sunrise over Angkor wat. It sounded like a good way to start the day and so I accepted the offer gladly. Unfortunately I was up late that night trying to sort out an issue with my cash point card. Nat West in their wisdom had decided to put a block on my card "because there is a lot of fraudulent activity in that part of the world". I had used the card in Thailand and Laos with not problem but obviously Cambodia didn't pass the trustworthiness test. The only way I could contact them was via my mobile and so it cost me quite a bit in order to convince them that it was in fact me that was entering my unique pin, which is known only by me and unchanged for the twenty years that I have had the account. It was gone midnight when I finally got to bed and the alarm was set for 4.30. However, we had a great day together visting four temples in all, in an area that could quite easily keep a temple goer fascinated for at least a week. We took in Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, the two largest temple complexes as well as Bayon and Ta Phrom. The temples are set in stunning grounds and deserve more than a day to make the most of them.
The next four pictures were taken at Angkor Wat with the last two taken at Ta Phrom

Courtesy of John Borland. Click on the picture to go to his website
These temples are more than a thousand years old and considering they were left to decay for a long time they are remarkably in tact. At least, Angkor Wat is. Angkor Thom is very close but it is believed that it was 'lost', or at least forgotten about for a long period. During this time nature took hold and over the years has installed itself as a prominent feature in the temple. Everywhere you turn there are huge tree trunks growing through and around walls and buildings with branches and secondary roots snaking their way between what would originally have been cracks between stones, but would now be chasms if the trees were taken away. Surely this could never be done. It would spoil what has become a marvelous example of natures ability to take back what was once taken by man. It's the medieval equivalent of the Hare and the Tortoise. Slowly but surely the march of time will take its toll when left to its own devices.
These pictures were taken at Angkor Thom.

As I mentioned above the grounds of the temples are in themselves worth a visit. Set in beautiful parkland with tall trees and close cropped grass it's easy to see monks strolling around contemplating whatever it is that they contemplate. There are terraces and paths to stroll along as well as steep climbs to each successive level of the outside walls that require you to almost crawl up the face of the temple. Maybe that is why they were built that way, to put you in the appropriate position to contemplate your being as you ascend towards a higher place metaphorically as well as physically which is of course one of the aspects of Buddhism.
The next four pictures are from Bayon and show the many turrets each with a face on all four sides, The rest from Angkor Thom, except the last one which was taken by John Borland.

It had been a long day with a lot of walking and climbing when we decided to join the thousands of other sightseers and head for home. As Grace Jones put it in 'the apple stretching', "A herd of tourists limping homeward, having bitten off more than they could chew". Aching limbs and empty stomachs. It was a large meal followed by a large icecream later that we said goodnight and agreed to meet the next morning before they took the bus to Pnom Phen. I shall be heading there myself in a few days to get my Vietnamese visa before I hit the first beach of the trip on the south coast. I'm definitely looking forward to that.

19/03/2013 06:40

Great Pictures Amigo, keep them coming


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