Day 8 Tuesday 23 December 2014

Siem Reap is a huge tourist place.  Much, much larger than Luang Prabang.  The draw here are the temples built in 11 – 14th centuries and which then were lost and became covered in overgrowth until rediscovered by the French when they were in power in the mid-nineteenth century.

At the time of construction Cambodia was a much larger country and covered much of what is now considered to be Vietnam to the south east, Laos to the north and Thailand to the west.  The borders have frequently moved as a result of invasions and disputes and the current borders largely derive from the French arrangements in the nineteenth century.

Our hotel has obviously been selected by the operators for convenience to the main attractions, Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat and not for the quality of the breakfast.  Hard boiled eggs which have solid yolks and runny whites (how do they do that I wonder?) and despite the French influence in the region the knack of good fresh bread (particularly croissants) seems to have been lost.

Never mind – hotels are secondary to the sites and our guide redeeems himself for the previous day and we are off to Angkor Thom where we stop outside the walls and indeed the moat.  The construction of these sites was (to my mind) amazingly well engineered.  The weight of water in the moat around the development holds it all in place,  all very clever.  The target for today is the Bayon temple which stood at the centre of the complex.  Originally the temple had 54 towers, each with four faces above – 216 smiling faces.  Not all survive but all were individual.  The photos also show the associated carving throughout the temple.  Again the work was amazing and given its age it is all based on the Hindu religion and Hindu stories.  There are several clever photos possible of people kissing the smiling face which others achieved!

Angkor Thom photographs are at

Outside the Bayon temple we are taken to the location of the Royal Palace, now long gone at the rear of which there were two swimming pools – and even now both contain water, although perhaps not as clean as they were once.

The engineers who designed the entire area used the main river flows into the lagoons / moats around the major Angkors but also to provide strength to the ground to ensure the building weight was held in place and also to ensure that water continued to flow and therefore provided good clean water downstream as well providing all that was required by what became in the mid-fifteenth century a huge city which controlled most of the entire indo-china peninsula.  These people were clever.

Outside is the elephant terrace – a partially enclosed area with elephants engraved along the walls which was probably used as a parade ground and at the end of the terrace another area known incorrectly as the Leper terrace.  Modern investigation has shown that the statue at the top of the area was a respresentation of the god of justice who decided on individual descent to hell or elevation to heaven!  His fingers were missing and so it was believed to be leprosy – but merely damage it seems!  Beneath the statue however were the remains of a creamtorium which has been partially reconstructed.  This elevated section is also opposite the drive to the fifth “Victory” gate where the King would sit to welcome troops returning from battle.

Following a little light shopping our excursion continues with a gondola trip around one corner of the moat.  This is a peaceful interlude but enables us to gain some idea of the scale of the construction.  The water is currently ten or so feet below the top of the surrounding banks showing that we are now in the dry season and the capacity to hold extra water without flooding the area.  On the inner side there is a high wall so the city must have been considered impregnable.  Once we pass the point at which the water flows into this moat from the network system our oarsman is obviously working much more easily.  We progress around the corner but do not stop to see the temple at the corner.

We turn around, so harder work against the current until we again pass the inlet and drift back to our starting point.  Calm and cooler in the heat of the day.

Time for a break to avoid the heat and we leave the hotel again at 3pm to hear for Angkor Wat the very famous temple.  We walk across the entrance bridge, again another huge moat and water supports the construction inside.  Buddhist monks occupied the temple throughout and these are still on site in more modern facilities close by.  Approaching the temple it looks as if there are only three towers but step to one side in front of a smalll lake and there are five – and if the reflections are working well then 10!  Monkeys abound – living on the droppings from the tourists.

Separate album for this:

The temple when originally built was for the hindu religion and therefore the carvings reflect Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and the associated stories.  However the influences came from India with Buddhism and the top of the temple had the Hindu features removed and replaced by a Buddha.  So there are close links to our visit to India last year.

The original steps to the top of the temple look to be impossible – they are steep and the each step is very narrow plus there are no handrails!  I suppose middle age feet (and I do not mean people younger than us) had smaller feet.  Never mind; the authorities have erected some slightly more modern steps, with handrails and we pull ourselves up the steps and into the top of the temple.  The views down make the people very small below.  We wander around the top taking photos (some of these appear on the Flickr page as usual) before we descend and regroup.  We head for the inevitable stalls and for the first time manage to get Angkor coffee – which is lovely and nutty as well as coffee.  For me without the sweetening of the condensed milk which I am told makes it even better.

We return to the viewing point across the lake as we are told that like the Taj Mahal the temple can change colour as we approach sunset and sometimes it gains a wonderful glint.  This obviously needs a completely clear sky (our lovely guide shows us some recent examples) and sadly there is a cloud in the wrong place at the wrong time.  OTOH on reviewing the pictures later the change in colour which I had not seen at the time does appear in one of my pictures.

With the evening settling in we return to the hotel – but there is further entertainment.  We head out to the Aspara dinner and dance.  There are pictures of the menu and the food at Flickr (I will add links when the technology allows), plus a couple of pictures of the dancers.

The food was excellent, in particular we recall the marinated fish.  The dancing was also excellent and we were treated to a number of dances – the fishermen, where boy gets girl (eventually), the coconut song and the dance of the Monkey king plus some others.  A talented troop and they deserve our approbation.

The music however plus our discussions with our guides overe language and the need for significant tonal inflection to distinguish similar words, leads me to be believe however that ears work differently here as the music may have recognisable time signatures but tonally the music always sounds “different”.

By the time we reach bed we are tired.  {This is the second version of this post; rewards will be offered for anyone who finds the original – it was much funnier}.