A Travellerspoint blog

Cambodia

Temples in the Jungle.

Siem Reap

sunny

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Me in Ta Phrom.

After spending a couple of days in Phnom Penh, we flew to Siem Reap. At the domestic airport in Phnom Penh there were hardly any other travellers. In fact when I first arrived, there were the grand total of two. I looked across at them and, believe it or not, realised I knew one of them. We had studied on the same teacher training course. Well, we had a laugh and a chat and then went about our own business, but we met repeatedly during our stay. This adds to my impression that tourists to Siem Reap are sucked into a set tourist circuit without even knowing it.

We were picked up at the airport in Siem Reap by an included transfer. Our intention was to swim and eat at our hotel then set out on foot to explore the temples next day. Instead our transfer told us, 'Hurry up! We will take you to see the sunset.' After some discussion, we agreed. Again this is commonplace; your transfer becomes your holiday guide. The price was reasonable and the itinerary acceptable, so no reason to complain except that I like to feel in control of my own holiday, not at the mercy of someone who thinks they know what I like. Anyway, it all worked out OK in the end. We saw lots; we paid a fair price for doing so. The Angkor Wat Temple complex is fantastic and there are so many ancient remains to see in this area. A visit here is wonderful. The remains are both extensive and fascinating.

We stayed in Siem Reap in 2002 so I have long forgotten the name of our hotel. Fortunately, it is written on two of my photos so I know it was the Nokor Phnom Hotel, but when I googled this to make sure, it looks nothing like my photos especially the shape of the pool. Wonder if they redesigned it at some point. Anyway the hotel was on the Airport Road and a bit far from the centre. The staff were friendly and helpful and we had some very pleasant meals there. I remember losing our room key down a hole in the decking around the pool. We could not get it back out again. We had to be issued with a new key, but they did not charge me for it. They actually found it quite funny. We could all see the key but the only way to get to it was to take the decking apart.

Our Room.

Our Room.

The Pool.

The Pool.

The Pool.

The Pool.

The Pool.

The Pool.

The Pool.

The Pool.

Dinner by the pool.

Dinner by the pool.

Dinner by the pool.

Dinner by the pool.

Dinner by the pool.

Dinner by the pool.

As I explained above we were collected by included transfer from Siem Reap Airport. We fully expected just to be dropped off at our hotel and left to get on with it. Instead the driver started the hard sell for seeing a spectacular sunset. Eventually we agreed. There is nothing wrong with Bakheng Hill for viewing a sunset except that everyone else in Siem Reap has been brought there by their drivers for the same purpose. We waved to our friends from the airport again. One of many times we saw them. The temple on Bakheng Hill was one of the first to be constructed when the Khmer Empire moved its capital from Roluos to Angkor in the late 9th century AD. We tried to escape the crowd and wander around the quieter areas of the temple complex. That was more interesting than sitting around waiting. We noticed some people came up the hill by elephant to view the sunset. On this occasion the sunset was not especially spectacular. I guess that is all down to luck.

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Bakheng Hill.

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Bakheng Hill.

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Bakheng Hill.

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Bakheng Hill.

Bakheng Hill.

Bakheng Hill.

On the second day (first full day) we visited the temples. We saw Angkor Wat. This temple dates from the 12th century and the image of the temple is so famous it even appears on the Cambodian flag. The city of Angkor first attracted the interest of Europeans in the 1800s when Cambodia was colonized by the French. Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 15th centuries. Angkor Wat temple was built by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century as a funerary temple that would hold his remains when he eventually died. Many of the bas ­reliefs in the temple depict scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. By the 16th century much of Angkor Wat was abandoned and overgrown with jungle. When Cambodia became a colony of France, Europeans began searching for the lost city of Angkor which at that point was completely overgrown with jungle.

As we wandered around we saw some wonderful stone carvings on the walls. We even scrambled up staircase after staircase to get to the highest level of the temple. When we reached the top, we enjoyed the view then set about trying to get back down. The stairs that seemed steep on the way up were positively vertical sheer drops on the way back down. I suddenly realised I was afraid of heights. My thanks to the pleasant European male tourist who was trying to get down behind me when I suddenly announced I was too terrified to move another step. He patiently talked me out of my fear. If it wasn't for him I'd still be up there now!!! Having looked at more recent blogs I see wooden staircases have now been put on top of the stones, maybe because they are safer to use or maybe to protect the temple itself. I'll include some photos of how it used to be.

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Angkor Wat.

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Angkor Wat.

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Angkor Wat.

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Angkor Wat.

The Dreaded Stairs.

The Dreaded Stairs.

The Dreaded Stairs.

The Dreaded Stairs.

The Dreaded Stairs.

The Dreaded Stairs.

Angor Wat.

Angor Wat.

Angor Wat.

Angor Wat.

Angor Wat.

Angor Wat.

Angor Wat.

Angor Wat.

Angor Wat.

Angor Wat.

Angor Wat.

Angor Wat.

Passageway.

Passageway.

Art in the temple.

Art in the temple.

Art in the temple.

Art in the temple.

Art in the temple.

Art in the temple.

Art in the temple.

Art in the temple.

We also visited Angkor Thom. This was the last capital of the Khmer Empire. It was a fortified city. Within its walls stood the royal palace and at its centre stood the Bayon with its enigmatic smiling faces. The city of Angkor Thom forms a huge square, with each of its sides about three kilometers (1.9 miles) long. It was once surrounded by defensive walls. A moat with a width of 100 meters (328 feet) surrounds the outer wall. Each wall has an entry tower and a long causeway over the moat except on the east side where there are two entrances instead of one. A small temple known as Prasat Chrung stands at each corner of the wall around the city of Angkor Thom. The causeways leading to each entry tower are lined by a row of 54 stone figures on each side – demons on the right and gods on the left­ to make a total of 108 mythical beings guarding the city of Angkor Thom. The demons are depicted with grimacing expressions and wear military headdresses while the gods look serene and wear conical headdresses. A huge serpent with nine heads in the shape of a fan is located at the beginning of each causeway. Its body extends the length of the causeway and is held by the gods and demons.

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Angkor Thom.

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Angkor Thom.

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Angkor Thom.

Angor Thom.

Angor Thom.

Angor Thom.

Angor Thom.

The Bayon is a mysterious place. It is located in the centre of the ancient remains of Angkor Thom. The Bayon was built in the late 12th to early 13th century, by King Jayavarman VII. He was a devout Buddhist. Even today the Bayon is regarded as one of the most enigmatic parts of the remains. The Bayon is covered with over 2000 large serene faces carved into the walls of its 54 towers. 'The faces with slightly curving lips, eyes placed in shadow by the lowered lids utter not a word and yet force you to guess much', wrote P Jennerat de Beerski in the 1920s. It is widely believed that the four faces on each of the towers are images of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (a bodhisattva is an enlightened being in Buddhism who has achieved a high level of compassion) and that they represent the omnipresence of the king who sees everything going on around him. The characteristics of these faces ­a broad forehead, downcast eyes, lips that curl upwards slightly ­ form the famous 'Smile of Angkor'. It is a moving experience to wander around the Bayon being gazed upon on all sides by these huge stone faces.

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The Bayon.

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The Bayon.

The Bayon.

The Bayon.

The Bayon.

The Bayon.

The Bayon.

The Bayon.

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Hubbie with statues.

The Terrace of the Elephants is located in the Royal Square of Angkor Thom. It was built at the end of the 12th century. The Terrace of the Leper King is located in the northwest corner of the Royal Square of Angkor Thom. It has a statue depicting the Hindu god Yama, the god of death. The statue was called the "Leper King" because when it was found it was discoloured and covered with moss and looked like a person with leprosy. This idea also tied in with a Cambodian legend of an Angkorian king Yasovarman I who suffered from leprosy.

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Terrace of the elephants.

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Terrace of the elephants.

Of all the temples Ta Prohm was my favourite. Unlike the other temples much of it has been left covered with jungle, just like when it was re-discovered. Huge trees sprout out of its walls. Giant roots smother its stones. Many of its walls lie in collapsed heaps. Wandering around it you feel like an intrepid explorer who has just discovered it for the first time.

Ta Prohm was built around the mid ­12th century to early 13th century by King Jayavarman VII and was dedicated to the mother of the king. More recently some scenes from the movie Tomb Raider were filmed here.

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Ta Phrom.

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Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

As well as looking at the temples we had a good look around the town of Siem Reap. While wandering around, we stumbled upon the home of Siem Reap's master sculptor Dy Preung. He has made a miniature replica of Angkor Wat and other temples and displays them in his garden. He was friendly and happy to pose for photos. His works were very impressive.

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Miniature models of the temples.

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Miniature models of the temples.

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Miniature models of the temples.

Miniature Models of Temples.

Miniature Models of Temples.

Another must do thing in Siem Reap is to visit the Raffles Grand Hotel D'Angkor. We did not stay here. We just like exploring famous old hotels. This hotel dates from 1929 and was the most luxurious accommodation available for the tourists who flocked out to Siem Reap to see the famous rediscovered temples. The hotel has beautiful gardens. Address: 1 Vithei Charles De Gaulle, Khum Svay Dang Kum.

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Hubbie at Raffles Grand Hotel D'Angkor.

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Public Fountain near Raffles Grand Hotel D'Angkor.

We also went to a special dinner with live Cambodian traditional dancing. Again this was part of the tourist circuit.

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Traditional Cambodian dancing.

Traditional Cambodian Dancing.

Traditional Cambodian Dancing.

We also took a day trip from Siem Reap to Tonle Sap Lake. On the way we asked our driver to stop in a couple of villages set on the river. We had a walk around looking at the wooden village houses. At one point the very polluted river water looked beautiful covered with a blanket of water lilies. When we reached the lake, we took a pleasant boat trip.

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Cambodian villages.

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Cambodian villages.

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Cambodian villages.

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Cambodian villages.

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Cambodian villages.

Tonle Sap Lake is the largest fresh water lake in South East Asia. Its size changes in the monsoon and dry season. During the monsoon from June to October, the lake is filled by water flowing from the Mekong River and expands to around 10,000 square Kilometers. In places it can be 14 metres deep. In the dry season from November to May its size is around 3,000 square kilometers and it is around 2m deep. This lake is home to over 300 species of fresh water fish, snakes, crocodiles, tortoises, turtles and otters. More than 100 varieties of water birds including storks and pelicans live here. Around the edges of the lake there are many houses on stilts making up Tonle Sap's floating villages. More than 50 per cent of the fish consumed in Cambodia comes from this lake.

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Tonle Sap Lake.

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Tonle Sap Lake.

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Tonle Sap Lake.

Posted by irenevt 05:31 Archived in Cambodia Comments (3)

Phnom Penh

The City on Penh's Hill. 2002.

sunny

My husband at the Royal Hotel. - Phnom Penh

My husband at the Royal Hotel. - Phnom Penh

A few days in Phnom Penh

When we said we were going to Phnom Penh, one of the people I worked with at the time told me his friend was murdered there; stabbed to death on the steps of his hotel the moment he stepped outside. While I had to agree this was dreadful, I argued that bad things can happen anywhere. He did not agree and kept saying I should cancel my holiday or we would also be killed.

Out for a drink.

Out for a drink.

We did not cancel, but we did arrive in Phnom Penh rather nervously. We had a transfer to the hotel, checked in and went to our room. We overlooked a large dusty market, We were going to go out then we heard something that sounded like gun shots outside (It could just have been a car backfiring, but my nerves were rather on edge). I felt too scared to go out, but my husband said I was being ridiculous so out we were going. However, prior to us setting off he turned on the TV and to his astonishment saw that a Walsall v Fulham match was on the telly. My husband is an obsessive Walsall fan and since they are not the most successful of teams, the chance of them being on the telly is not that high, but there they were. There was no shifting him after that. While I would normally have been really angry at staying in, I was in fact relieved. It all looked better in the morning and we solved the problem of me being afraid by hiring a car with driver for our stay. I don't normally act like this and even I think I was over-reacting and being silly, but I had endured weeks of scare stories and they had affected me.

Chuffed to see Walsall on the telly.

Chuffed to see Walsall on the telly.

Our Hotel

I don't even remember the name of our hotel, but I do remember it was rather strange, We went off to have a look at the swimming pool. It had lots of people swimming and sunbathing. We decided to go back to our room, get our swimming stuff and have a cool, refreshing swim. When we returned, around 10 minutes later, it was fast approaching dusk and everyone had mysteriously disappeared. 'Great!' we thought. 'We have the whole pool to ourselves.' We got in the water and whoosh something swooped past our heads, again whoosh, another one. They were bats and they were swarming out of the roofs of nearby buildings at dusk. These ones were having a drink from our pool. Soon there were so many of them, we had to abandon the swim. Back inside the hotel which had rooms built around a central atrium, we saw that several bats had got in and were circling around the inner courtyard. It was a bit like starring in a horror movie. I read prior to coming to Phnom Penh that many buildings are infested with bats including the roof of the National Museum. Apparently the sight of the bats swarming out of that roof at dusk is quite amazing.

At the pool before the bats arrived.

At the pool before the bats arrived.

At the pool before the bats arrived.

At the pool before the bats arrived.

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Market near our hotel.

Market near our hotel.

Market near our hotel.

Well, despite everything I have said above, we actually really enjoyed our stay in Phnom Penh. We visited the very moving and distressing Tuol Sleng Prison, the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, the National Museum, the Russian Market, Phnom Wat on Penh Hill, the famous Foreign Correspondents Club, the Luxurious Royal Hotel, a casino boat and Phnom Penh's three rivers. We were planning to go to the Killing Fields too, but having found Tuol Sleng so depressing we decided not to go. I think travel should be informative, but I don't need to feel miserable every day. Friends subsequently told us the Killing Fields were nowhere near as distressing as Tuol Sleng. Well, we'll never know, not until our next visit at least.

Overall Phnom Penh was an interesting place, but whether you would like it or not depends on how you feel about bats, really.

We hired a car and driver to get around and started our day by visiting Tuol Sleng Prison. This building was once a secondary school, but when the Khmer Rouge rose to power in 1975, they used it as Security Prison 21. Apparently Tuol Sleng means Hill of the Poisonous Trees. The prison was used until the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and as many as 20,000 prisoners, victims of Pol Pot's insane regime, were killed there.

The first few rooms we looked in were former prison torture cells containing metal bed frames and instruments of torture which lay scattered around the floor. Pictures showed how some of these torture instruments were used. There were dried patches of blood on the floor. To say there was an unpleasant atmosphere in this place would be putting it very mildly.

A later room showed photographic portraits of the people who had been murdered in this place. Some of them looked at the camera in terror, others smiled and seemed totally unaware what was about to happen to them, some were just children, even babies. Again it was deeply disturbing.

One room had a map of Cambodia made from the bones of the Tuol Sleng victims. When we got to the end of the visit, I joined some other overwhelmed visitors in the need to sit down and cry for a while before I could proceed with the day. I think Tuol Sleng should be visited and people should know about the atrocities that happened there, but I said to my husband: 'Let's not go ahead with our next day's planned visit to the killing fields as there's only so much misery a person can take before it becomes too unbearable.'

I only took one picture. It was not somewhere I wanted to remember. However, it ended up being somewhere I will never forget. Address: Corner of Street 113 and Street 350.

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Tuol Sleng.

After Tuol Sleng we were happy to go anywhere to recover from visiting it. We went to the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda. The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh was built in the late 1860s during the reign of King Norodom. There are several palace buildings each with a steep tiled roof. The palace's Grand Throne Hall was once the site for the coronation of the Khmer kings. In the same compound, you can also visit the beautiful Silver Pagoda. The floors of this temple are covered with around 5,000 blocks of silver which weigh more than 6 tons. The temple courtyard has a covered walkway and its walls are decorated with murals of Cambodia's history and mythology. The buildings, art work and gardens here are all very beautiful and well worth seeing. It reminded me a little of the Royal Palace in Bangkok. Address: Samdech Sothearos Blvd.

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The Royal Palace.

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Scene from the walls.

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The Silver Pagoda.

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Scene from the walls.

Royal Palace.

Royal Palace.

Royal Palace.

Royal Palace.

Royal Palace.

Royal Palace.

Royal Palace.

Royal Palace.

Royal Palace.

Royal Palace.

Royal Palace.

Royal Palace.

Then we headed for Wat Phnom. This wat gives the city of Phnom Penh its name. According to an old legend in the 14th century a woman called Penh found several sacred Buddha statues in the Mekong River and placed them on a small hill. A wat was built on the hill to house these objects. Phnom is Cambodian for hill. Phnom Penh means Penh's Hill. The hill is 27m high. The main entrance to the wat is via the eastern staircase. This is guarded by long statues of ngas, ­mythical snakes and also by lion statues. Address: Norodom Blvd.

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Wat Phnom.

Wat Phnom.

Wat Phnom.

Wat Phnom.

Wat Phnom.

Then we headed to the National Museum. This museum is housed in a red brick Khmer style building which was built by the French in 1917. Inside there is a collection of Khmer sculptures from the 4th to the 14th century. The museum has a pretty courtyard with ponds and trees. I read somewhere that the roof of the museum is home to a colony of bats which swarm out at dusk. Admission: $3.00/person. Open every day, from 8:00am­ to. Address: Samdech Sothearos Boulevard.

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At the museum.

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At the museum.

At the Museum.

At the Museum.

At the Museum.

At the Museum.

After the museum we headed for the Russian Market. This market was used mainly by foreigners during the 1980s and most of these foreigners were Russians so it became known as the Russian Market. It sells a wide variety of things including souvenirs, silk, fabrics, jewellery. It is also very photogenic. Hours: Every day from 7.00am ­ to 5.00pm.

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The Russian Market.

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The Russian Market.

Next we headed to Phnom Penh's famous Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC). The FCC is housed in a three story French colonial building. It faces onto the Tonle Sap River near its confluence with the Mekong. The FCC dates from the 1990s and was once a hotbed of journalistic activity. The FCC is now a restaurant and bar open to the public, not a private club. We really enjoyed eating and drinking here and loved the old typewriters that adorned the walls.

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Foreign Correspondents Club

Foreign Correspondents Club.

Foreign Correspondents Club.

Foreign Correspondents Club.

Foreign Correspondents Club.

Then we got our driver to take us to the confluence of the three rivers. Phnom Penh is situated on the banks of three rivers the Tonlé Sap, Mekong and Bassac. There were several lovely restaurants on the banks of the Tonle Sap near where it joined with the Mekong. We also got our driver to take us to a point where the three rivers meet.

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The Three Rivers.

At the River.

At the River.

We also had a look at Phnom Penh's poshest hotel - Le Royal Phnom Penh. We were not fortunate enough to stay here, but visited here as we had heard it was a beautiful hotel which had recently been refurbished. We wandered the grounds and looked at the pool. It was certainly lovely. This 5 star hotel dates from 1929. It has played host to some famous guests such as Jacqueline Kennedy, Somerset Maugham, Charles de Gaulle, Charlie Chaplin and André Malraux. Between 1970 and 1975 many journalists working in Phnom Penh resided here. Parts of the film The Killing Fields were set in the hotel. This hotel was bought up by the Raffles group and totally refurbished. It re-­opened for business in 1997. Address: Old 26 August Site, Samdech Sothearoh Blvd., Sankat Tonle Bassac, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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The Royal Hotel.

Posted by irenevt 03:41 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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