Friday, December 30, 2011

Siem Reap, Cambodia

  As a reward for our arduous journey thus far Victoria, Jeanette, Sierra and myself spent our first  night in a rather nice hotel in Siem Reap. Siem Reap is famous for its ancient temples. In fact, there are over 200 temples surrounding the city. Based on my photo albums I think I've seen at least six or seven of the most popular attractions. The best way to visit the ruins is to rent a tuk tuk driver each day who can take you exactly where you need to go. It's always a gamble because you never know how reliable your driver will be. Honestly, we could not have hired a nicer man to transport us around the city. Mr. Tea (tee-eh) provided a cooler of bottled water for us every day and always checked on us to see if we were comfortable. He understood more English than he could speak and wore a smile on his face at all times. We paid him $28 each day ($7 per person) for three days. In order to gain admissions to the temples we bought 3-day passes for $40. Although we had access for three days we spent two full days touring and our final day at Angkor Wat for sunrise. 

  Every temple we explored was unique in its own way. In Thailand I feel that many temples are indistinguishable due to traditional architectural design and common religious statues therein. They are all well maintained and perfectly preserved. For me, exploring each new temple in Cambodia seemed to fuel my curiosity and anticipation of what was in store. I was eager to take photos of the intricate bas relief carvings on the walls or the abandoned piles of rubble that have littered the ground for thousands of years. The fact that the temples have virtually been untouched over centuries is fascinating. Nature began to reclaim the stones as vibrant lichens and winding tree roots crept over the walls. Maybe Westerners find these temples particularly captivating because there is nothing truly ancient in America. I couldn't fathom how young America is until I traveled to Italy and Asia. When I read a description of a temple and learned that it was built in the 9th or 12th century I couldn't really comprehend the age of the stones until I wandered inside and saw them for myself. I think all that history is hard to understand, but exploring the mysteries of every temple helped me imagine just how ancient the buildings are. 

  My favorite temples were Bayon (the temple with the stone faces) and Ta Phrom (where Tomb Raider) was filmed. Bayon is exposed in a clearing of trees and encircled by a dirt road for the tuk tuks. From the front steps it's unclear what makes this temple so special. It seems rather small in both height and area, plus the surface appears featureless and eroded. As I approached the temple all the faces seemed to emerge from the towers above. Unable to get a proper view of them from the first floor, I climbed the staircase inside and found myself surrounded by what looked like fifty faces jutting out of the four sides of every tower. I could see each individual stone used to construct the temple. I felt as if I was in a giant jigsaw puzzle. No matter how many photos I took of the place I could never be satisfied. 
Ta Phrom really took the cake as my favorite temple. Aside from feeling like I was on the set of the Tomb Raider film, exploring these ruins was breathtaking. I basically wandered aimlessly, my mouth hanging open in awe, without a care of getting lost. I guess I was lost in awe. The temple looked like it had slowly grown out of the earth thousands of years ago. You can see in my photos how the trees virtually climbed on top of the walls and spread their roots reaching down to the ground. 
Song of the Day:
  This song comes from the downtempo instrumental DJ known as Bonobo. I found him one day by rummaging Itunes for artists similar to Thievery Corporation. Many of his songs have appeared on American television shows from Gossip Girl to House. I've utilized his relaxing and groovy tracks for my DJing gigs at Phra Nakorn. 

Bonobo - 'Change Down'

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