Sunday, June 16, 2013

From Phnom Penh to Siem Reap

Phnom Penh is infamously known for its killing fields and genocide museum. The Pol Pot regime is a touchy topic. Some sections say that the brutality of the regime was exaggerated to hide the brutalities of America in that region. They say the count of people affected and dead from land mines are much more than those dead from genocide. Well, we can't get to hear the truth. But the killing fields and genocide museums show a gruesome history during the Pol Pot regime.

Its beyond imagination to see how a small group of people can treat fellow human things in the most inhuman way. All for power, fame and the madness to control. The visit to these places made me numb and you can't leave without crying. You shiver as you read the gory stories, see the blood stained clothes and broken and pierced skulls in galore. You shudder at the thought of torture means, and you can't help but weep when you learn the arduous conditions people were subjected to. Thankful that you did not belong to that era and the place. I won't be posting any photos of the actual killing field and genocide visuals since they are disturbing. Its enough for one to shudder and go ballistic. 

There is not much in Phnom Penh and so most tourists enter Siem Reap; the home to Angkor Wat. But there are few who spend a day or two at Phnom Penh. The journey to Siem Reap can be on a private bus with sleepers. They are decently equipped and worth the money - 10$ per person. Traveling during the day; you can see rice fields passing by small villages and indigenous houses built on a raised platform; like what we would call our first floor with a slit here.

Toursits from all over the world travel to Siem Reap to visit the Angkor Wat Temple. Well, Siem Reap is home to clusters of similar temples; many more grand and huge than Angkor Wat, but its Angkot Wat rings a bell. There are many hotels in the town and in fact, Siem Reap is better equipped than Phnom Penh. We managed to get transferred to the hotel of the same management of the hotel at Phnom Penh - 12$ per night with unlimited access to rooftop swimming pool!. But didn't use it; rather spending time on the streets consuming the experience was better.

Lets talk about what Siem Reap is famous for. The hindu temples built in Khmer architecture are scattered throughout. There are about 15-20 of them that are most famous and grand. You are tired and beaten up by the time you finish visiting them. Yeah, feeling overwhelmed and difficult to believe are perks that comes along with it. Never anywhere else in the world would you find clusters of immaculate and exquisite architecture all hurdled up in one place as Siem Reap. Stretching over 400 including the forest area, the temples are between 6th to 15th century; Angkor is derived from Sanskrit "Nagar" meaning City.

About 6 mms from the town is the ticketing area at the entrance of Apsara Archeological Park. You can opt for 1 day($20), 3 days($40) or 7 days($60) pass. Best is to take 3 days to sink everything in but thats also very tiring. You require a minimum of 3 days to visit those important 15-20 temples. The tickets bear your face as ID so that its not transferred. There are 2 divisions of seeing the temples - Little Circuit : major sites to east of Angkor Wat and Grand Circuit : further out north and east. There are also Roulous group and outlying temples over 20 mms away from Angkor Wat.

It takes about 2-4 hours to explore each temple; one can now visualize the size and details of each temples. There is a detailed guide on how to explore Angkor Wat on the internet.

To summarize, these temples were built as Hindu(Vishnu) temples by kings in power making them as "State temples"; symbolizing the king's kingdom and rule. So we find so many temples; each state temples built by different kings throughout history. The temples also have Buddhist stupas and statues when the next king was a Buddhist. The succeeding king; if he was a Hindu, converted the temple back to Hindu temple. Now, most of the temples are not living;  meaning to say Hinduism is not prevalent. The idols are defaced. The Angkor Wat has Buddhist statues and are revered.

These temples also served as testaments to the king's victory in war; so rich bas reliefs carved with war scenes can be seen. The temples are highly symbolized; the temple is a "temple mountain" where the temple is built as a representation of Mount Meru. The temples are surrounded by mounts, guarded by garudas, built in a mountain-like pyramid shape and topped by 5 towers; representing 5 peaks of Mount Meru. The baray or water reservoirs are huge; they run km long and surround all sides of the temple.

Well, you need to read books upon books to understand Siem Reap temples. We roamed around a tuk-tuk and bought a book for $4 to understand each temple. We opted for a guide only at Angkor Wat. The other temples were self guided. After 2 days of intense 8 AM - 6 PM temple touring; it was so so overwhelming and saturated that you can only marvel.

Angkor Wat is kept for the last; rather the first thing for the morning for sun rise. The first day for us for touring the Grand Circuit and outlying temples. Its convenient to travel by tuk-tuk enjoying the country side and forests.

10th century temple of Bantaey Srei (Citadel of Woman) dedicated to Hindu God Shiva. Its entirely built of red sandstone; lot of intricate carvings of stories from Hindu mythology like the one above

Bull and Garuda carvings on a pillar

A broken Nandi

The building themselves are miniature in scale; unusually so when measured by the standards of Angkorian construction. The walls are of laterite. 

Combat between Vali and Sugriva

Indra and Airavatha

A typical home

Country side of Siem Reap

Street food

A young lady with her wares to sell

Temple of Pre Rup - state temple of King Rajendravarman in 961. Its a temple mountain of brick, laterite and sandstone.

Kids are very much around trying to sell their wares

A figure on the walls of the towers

Guarding lion

Inside one of the temple towers. In the centre was a linga which has been dismantled. Behind is a beheaded statue of Buddha. What I was telling about; Hinduism giving way to Buddhism, Buddhism giving way to Hinduism....

East Mebon - 3 storey temple mountain again built by Rajendravarman during 10th century.

A painter

Buddha statue revered

Ta Som, of 11th century built by king Jayavarman VII. Its largely not restored with numerous trees and other vegetation growing among the ruins. Apsaras on the walls

Entrance of Ta Som.

Seems it was a Shiva temple once.

Ruins, conservation in progress

Ruins among strangler figs and mosses. A unique surrounding to be in. The ruins, the nature showing its power...makes one feel humble.

Through the forests

Catching fish

Entrance to Preah Khan built in 12th century by King Jayavarman VII; garudas holding naga

Pediment depicting Jayavarman VIIs victory over invading Chams


This temple remains largely unrestored with silk cotton trees overtaking the majestic construction

Volatile and Danger

Finely carved

Stupa inside what was once a Vishnu temple

The long path shows how big the temple is

Buddha under Bodhi tree

An inscription

Who wins - Nature of Man?

A portion of the temple

Silk cotton trees reclaiming whats theirs. These trees are huge and the roots are 30-40 mts long. The challenge to archaeologists is to conserve these buildings

The purpose of these 2 story buildings are unknown, maybe libraries.

Nature is always invincible. I spent 30 mins just sitting here and contemplating the reason of our being

Well, well, the best way to remain is speechless

 In a child state...


  1. I have seen a lot of pictures and read about Angkor Wat, but what is the mood of the place, how did it feel? In the end it left you contemplative; that is what temples are for, to meditate and to introspect. Iravat was three headed? Wow!

    1. Balan,

      Yeah, I will tell you what I felt and what was my reaction in the next post. Its not done yet :)
      Yup Iravatha were all 3 headed in Siem Reap

  2. Perhaps the piecemeal posting of your travel may to some extent, have robbed it off its sheen. Nevertheless!

    B, think over this suggestion. Work for a few more years may be five to ten maximum and invest the corpus you have in some way that it safe guards the fund and assures the interest. This will serve you to travel more. Sit down often and pen your experience with pictures and offer Penguin (if I sound too audacious) to some publisher. Your life is given added security, now with the royalties too and so is the indulgence in the passion you have.

    Angkor Vat has always been among the place that have till now eluded. Pity the neighbour hood has not been seen. Well India itself has not been seen, that is the irony.

    1. Anil,

      I am finding it difficult to post at regular intervals. Will try to do better; but I organize the content so that it can be read in isolation too.

      I have already thought about and decided Anil. At the most, I am going to work for 5 more years and then start traveling. I just got tangled in a huge commitment of buying a home; but I should manage it in few years.

      If you have any plan for traveling, visit Angkor Wat first. No words are sufficient to describe the place and the feeling

  3. Thanks for the virtual tour. I love travelling just like you do and am loving this series.

    1. Thanks much; I'm glad you liked it. Yeah, traveling is intoxicating

  4. An engrossing account with nice pictures:)

  5. I am going to announce your name as the travel consultant on blogosphere

    1. Chowla sir im seriously considering making money by offering travel advices. Seriously though I have traveled very little I have become good at itinerary, discovering good places and all

  6. Wow, amazing how much you travel. The pictures and descriptions are breathtaking. Did you feel language issues hampering your travel?

    1. Rachna, Thank you. Language issues are everywhere even if there is combo language like English. The accents are different; for eg. it took us a while to understand "Lun" means "Lunch" and "Bi" means "Bill" in thailand. Their local tongue influences english pronunciation.

      I make do with single words or gestures and that in itself is an experience


I'd love to know what you thought :-) Please shoot!