Cambodia part 1
From late October 2012 to mid January 2013, my wife Carina and I traveled to Thailand, Cambodia and Western Australia, our main incentive being to celebrate the 60th birthday of my old class mate and good friend Melvyn Tuckey, who lives with his family in Mandurah, WA, but also to explore the world heritage site of Angkor and to find out what Cambodia as a country would be like.
This image (with me in the foreground) represents the temple of the temples itself, Angkor wat, built by the Khmer king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century and which, although being virtually overcrowded by holidaying tight scheduled hordes of Chinese tourists and visitors from all around the world, it is most impressive in being so well preserved and at the same time so highly aesthetic.
Angkor Thom was an enduring capital of the Khmer empire in ancient times. It covers an area of about 9 square kilometers but is now largely overgrown with rain forest apart from around the Prasat Bayon and facing up a bit towards the northern wall. There are four different entrances leading into Angkor Thom and well inside there are lots of interesting excavation sites and crumbling old temples hidden inside or along the fringes of the deep forest.
Carina and I spent a couple of days scrutinizing this part of Angkor while also strolling through the rain forest where cicadas hidden up in the tree crowns kept going off in a continuous ear blasting shriek that sounded almost like high pitched air raid sirens.
<>Before we got here, we anticipated rumors about Ta Prohm being one of the most fascinating places in Angkor, which it really was! Not least on that first blissful night when we quite unexpectedly discovered that every single tourist and guardsman had cleared out of there, so that we were left all alone among the darkling woods and jungle birds calling out with their voices like pieces of a surreal woodwind orchestra from all around. And because we had come so late in the evening, now that everything was closed and deserted, we decided to have yet a rendezvous with Ta Prohm on the following day, which would inevitably cost us an extra entry fee as our three day tickets had just expired. >
So the day after, we made it back with our tuk tuk driver and did Ta Prohm all over again, as well as several other interesting sites around that area.
Ta Prohm, founded by King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university in the late 12th to early 13th centuries, has remained in about the same condition as when it was first discovered, which is why there are lots of huge trees with their clinging roots growing out of the walls and spiraling up from the roofs, this making the entire site appealingly photogenic but also helping to capture ones imagination in a most wonderful way, as if lost in an adventure with Baloo, Bagheera and King Luis in that old book of the jungles, the Jungle book!
Asparas, asparas and asparas...
There is a 'terrace of the Leper king' which leads into a labyrinth of narrow alleys with lots of sculpted figures adorning the walls, some of which look rather quaint and at times even frightening. This site was devoted to the Hindu god of Yama, the god of death. So it's not so strange that it does get a bit spooky when strolling among all those dancing and prancing characters, some of which have moss and lichens growing on them, which is where the thesis of leper comes in, of mold, deterioration and decay.
Some of the bas-reliefs covering the walls of Angkor wat are quite outstanding!
Royal knight at Banteay Kdei
Thunder clouds in the sunset facing away from Angkor wat.
Here is a plate of freshly caught squid with spicy Kampot green pepper before being devoured by yours truly in the lovely little town of Kampot in the south-eastern part of Cambodia quite near to the Vietnamese border. This town used to be a French colony, so there are many French villas in the center, but the famous Kampot pepper grows in the hills more to the east.
This is where we took a tuk tuk ride along with some nice, young tourists to visit a mysterious cave and the main kampot green pepper plants to the east. However, on our way there, the tattered old moped with its attached carriage unashamedly broke down so that we had to wait in the dust and heat on the side of the road until things had been (temporarily) mended. Even though it wasn't a big deal but more of a laugh, to be honest!
As we were waiting for our tuk tuk to be repaired on the side of that dusty road, these were the kind of vehicles we saw passing by, some of them so overloaded that it was simply unbelievable how any one could keep it all balanced on passing over all those bumps and pot holes, especially pertaining to those carrying their load on merely two wheels, almost like a circus act!
Angkor wat is simply mind-blowing, both for its stunning Hindu architecture and for the numerous, highly intricate bas-reliefs and devatas lining its lower walls among many other things. But above all, it's the atmosphere and solemnity of the place that almost makes time stand still!
Elephants are frequently employed in taking tourists for a ride around the Prasat Bayon and its surroundings.
So the day after, we made it back and did Ta Prohm all over again, as well as several other interesting sites around that area, a decision which we were not to regret!
Lichens gradually taking over old craftsmanship.
Lichens gradually taking over old craftsmanship
The Tonle sap lake covers a huge expanse of inner Cambodia, providing hundreds of surrounding villages and bigger towns with fresh fish although most fishermen are more active along the Tonle sap river heading on down towards Phnom penh. The lake also acts as a fresh water reserve, not as much closer to land but farther out towards the middle where it's not so polluted.
Among those rickety looking water dwellings on the Tonle sap lake, everything is either floating or built on stilts, like a prety little school which we passed by, while here and there children paddled about in their own tiny vessels, making signals with their hands and smiling.
It's no use being pig-headed in Cambodia, as this poor critter involuntarily found out! But this photo was in fact shot on location in one of Kampot's food markets, where we were quite overwhelmed by the dirt, the smells and the clamor of the establishment.
We took a cruise from Siem reap to one of those renowned fishing villages built on stilts, where we got the opportunity to take snapshots of the sunset illuminating the lake in crimson and gold and just prior to that, getting drawn into some regular tourist stuff like visiting a very small crocodile farm while being swamped by peasant vendors with their children carrying big snakes around their necks in hopes of earning a couple of dimes from our pockets. Which is both sad and bewildering, I must say!
This is how Cambodian peasants generally get to be transported, or alternatively to be squashed inside a totally overloaded minibus. It costs almost nothing but the standards are also extremely basic.
Cambodian musicians playing traditional Khmer music within the compounds of Angkor, many of them once having been mutilated by detonated shells, a condition which is not all uncommon to citizens of Cambodia to this day.
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