Siem Reap

Angkor Angelina

 

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Ta-Da. Here it is.

The temple I’ve been talking about, and hope haven’t made anti-climactic, because for me, it was definitely one of the most memorable.

First, I’ll start with a little unpopular culture, before steering you back into the shiny, Angelina Jolie, pop cultural spotlight.

So this temple, named Ta Prohm, was built by the second Khmer king, who was big on Buddha over Hinduism. As part of his reign, he embarked on a huge public works campaign to build temple sculptures and any other kind of building that could show how amazing he was.

Ta Prohm was built in this more Buddhist style, and the main image – a goddess of wisdom, was done in his mother’s likeness.

Upon first glance at the temple’s disrepair, you might think he didn’t like his Mum very much:

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And it’s true – the place is falling apart. But way back in the 1200s, it was tikateeboo and right now, there are efforts being made to restore the place to what it once was. Have a look at this before and after:

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I thought it was pretty impressive. However, after the Khmer empire fell in the 1400s, the temple was left to the jungle – which is why, on walking through it, trees have begun to form around it, sometimes looking like animals (an octopus):

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Or, in this case a skeleton:

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Interestingly, the overgrowth, disrepair and negligence was intentional. A team of French explorers “found” it again, in the late 1890s, and after hemming and hawing about it, decided that it would remain as it looks, with a tree in the living room, and the ceiling caving in, all for art’s sake, or to quote the French group: “as a concession to the general taste of the picturesque”.

While that sounds as lovely as a phyllo pastry tastes, I can’t help but think they had a look at what it would take to fix ($$$$) the temple and retrofitted the “elegantly wasted philosophy”, or en Francais to make it sound much better – l’elegance de l’atrophie.

Regardless of the reason, it stands as it stands, and was hands down my favourite temple visit so far. This, I think was partly that our Team Canada toured the grounds at the end of the day – when there were maybe four other people. We basically had the place to ourselves, and with the sun going down while looking up at the jungle crowding around it, with trees and loud bird calls, it had a very eerie and mystical feeling as we wandered through:

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Now, it can’t be avoided. A lot of this has to do with you know who:

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Angelina Jolie filmed Tomb Raider here, and also in other parts of Cambodia, including Bayon temple in Angkor Thom. And walking through the place, it’s hard to separate out the film where she finds a magical piece of some sort to save the world, all with a look of foreboding:

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Our guide said that the film has quite a big impact on tours and that as a result, the temple is one of the most popular.

Truthfully, I don’t remember the film that well – except that it wasn’t that great. So, for the course of my tour through Ta Prohm, I went with my old standby for touring mysterious temples, who I think is well established by this point:

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Whether Angelina or Indy, our Team Canada wandered through the crumbling place, imagining ourselves explorers, looking for some lost gem to save the world or to keep it out of the hands of the Nazis. Okay, maybe it was just me doing that, though with Rose’s shorts and trekking boots, she definitely looked the part:

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After a last look at the place:

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our Team Canada headed home and the next day, we officially disbanded. Matt, flew back to Toronto. Juliana followed next,  heading back to Regina.

Reduced to two, Rose and I honestly didn’t know what to do with ourselves. After a solid, itemized itinerary for the past two weeks, we realized that we had to start making decisions again, and the holiday from a holiday was over.

I know. It’s a sad tale – I can feel your concern.

So, after a day of tossing ideas back and forth we decided to head South from Siem Reap to an island off the Cambodian Coast called Koh Rong. But first, we’d pass through Phnom Penh, and a trip to the dark side.

Talk soon

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Angkor Tenant

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This is it.

The reason 3 million tourists, (and growing) come to the otherwise, unassuming city of Siem Reap every year.

Angkor Wat: the biggest religious structure in the world, which archaeologists also now believe was part of the world’s biggest preindustrial city, even beating out the Mayan civilization who normally come up in spades for claims to grandeur.

Ok. Quick history blurb (just skip to the next photo if you’re already fighting a yawn).

In the 12th Century, Angkor was the name of the Khmer Empire’s city, and “Wat” translates as temple. So, if you’ve watched any Sesame Street, you know how to do the rest.

Built by a Khmer king in the 12th Century, Angkor Wat (“City Temple”, but you already got that) started life as a Hindu temple, but did it in its own unique way. Traditionally, at that time, way back in the 1100s, Hindu temples were built in honour of the god Shiva, but this King decided instead to build it for Vishnu.

If you’re still with me, you now probably want to know: why did el Jefe make the switch?

A few theories: He was pissed off with his parents and wanted to stick it to them a bit? Or, there was something so undeniably incredible about Vishnu that illuminated his mind more than Shiva, that, in the words of a former God (of Rock): “He just couldn’t fight that feeling anymore.”

In other words, I have NO IDEA. I didn’t find anything, but to be honest, I also didn’t spend hours on research, like I might if I was getting graded. Or paid. Unless a cheque rolls in, I’m going to keep this pretty breezy, and the content, really not much deeper than a puddle.

Besides, I’ve got to get our readership up to at least 17 by end of summer. And laying out the intricacies between Hindu gods, while it might appeal to some, I fear may lose our other 17 who are more interested in Rose’s love affair with orange robed monks.

And, learning the very important news that she took her admiration from afar to a-near:

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These were Thai monks, visiting Angkor Wat, who were, obviously far from ascetic, and quiet, and were happy to pose, while also taking their own photos.

Now, some of you may wonder: What are Buddhist monks doing here at a Hindu temple? While others are probably wondering: “Are those monks entirely naked under their wraps?”

To the first wonder: After the death of the Vishnu loving King, a new prince came to town, who was even more pissed off with his parents, and decided to shunt Hinduism aside altogether, choosing instead to honour Buddha as THE GUY – and built two temples in honour of his parents in a more Buddhist fashion: one of which I’ll get to in a later post. So, as part of this shift in allegiance, Angkor Wat, then also switched teams to Buddhism too.

And, for the second wonder: from what I researched online (I decided against a quick lift and peek in person) Not naked, but wearing an under-robe.

Okay, enough background. Now the experience. In short, it was amazing. Not least of which were the designs, sculpted all over the walls, including Apsara dancers (King’s dancers):

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Seeing, ancient language carved into pillars holding up a section of roof:

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Plus, not so ancient language, from the 30ish years ago when the Khmer Rouge took up residence here, and some ingenious soldier, like a dog peeing on a hydrant, decided to say “I WAS HERE” (sorry no photo).

But, at least they didn’t tear down the place like they tried with the rest of the country (More to come on them in a later post).

Also, there were tons of hallways, and doors we walked through, which, reminded me of a certain archaeologist searching for a gold idol (I warned you he’d be back again):

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Then coming on to passageways with an entire sculpted wall, illustrating what life was like in 12th Century Angkor:

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All of this was amazing, as I said. But, what stood above all of it was this:

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We could walk through the entire place. Tourists were allowed to walk through the pillars, duck under the doorways, and enter dark corridors to stare up at a peak of light coming above.

A reality, which I can’t imagine can last, since as much as it was great (and it was) – there’s still a feeling of impact, that shit, I’m not entirely helping the conservation of this place by walking through, even though I paid my entrance fee which goes towards conservation.

Like Chichen Itza in Mexico where people could once climb up its sides, I can only think that the same has to happen here, if they want to preserve it. But, of course, there’s huge forces against it, namely: Cambodia is a poor country. And, one of the concerns by some Cambodians, is that by limiting traffic, you might limit tourists, which might limit money.

Obviously not a great plan for the long-term health of the place. But, looking at it from the point of view of a Cambodian whose struggling everyday just to get by, understandably, he or she is interested in how they can make money to feed their kids, and pay for their school this month, not what’s happening 10 years, 20 years from now. So, it’ll be interesting how the country manages things.

On our exit from Angkor Wat we ran into more orange robed monks – (I make it sound like it was happenstance, when, in reality, Rose made a beeline) this time younger guys:

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Interestingly, we spoke to our guide who said that it’s tradition that, as part of growing up, male Cambodians spend time living in a monastery, as a monk – whether, he goes on to stay there is up to him, but the idea is that he gains exposure to Buddhism.

Anyhow, Angkor Wat is only one of three temples we visited, each one had its own uniqueness, which I’ll blab about in some other posts, including a cameo from Cambodian’s own, Angelina Jolie (she was given citizenship in 2005).

Until then, au revoir from Cambodge:

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