Photo of the Day
Why oh why didn’t I take more panoramic shots when I was in Asia? I had not yet developed a fondness for stitching together images and, when looking at this image, I kick myself for that because I love how this turned out.
This is one of the few panoramic shots I took during my travels in the far east and it is now motivation for me to plan a trip in that direction again.
This is Ta Prohm, a temple near Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The trees that almost seem to melt down through the ruins give it an amazing Indiana Jones atmosphere that’s only topped by the more isolated Beng Mealea.
Click for a larger image:
The red sandstone of Banteay Srei, 20km from the main group of temples, and a bit further still from Siem Reap, is a well-preserved exhibition of ancient carving skill. The intricate details decorating the walls of this small temple are truly gorgeous and hint at how spectacular the Angkorian temples must have been in their prime. Imagine Angkor Wat covered in these beautiful carvings and the mind boggles.
Banteay Srei’s red shapes gleam in the morning sun and, if you can make it there early enough, you might be able to find some peace inside the small temple. Soon after the sun has risen, however, tour buses will unleash piles of visitors into the small spaces of the ancient site so an early trip out to the countryside is worth the early wake up.
See more photos here.
Seeking a private visit to any of the temples in Angkor is a near impossible task. Wherever you go and whenever you arrive, there will be hundreds if not thousands of tourists sharing the sites with you.
One notable exception, however, is Beng Mealea. This temple ruin is located almost 80 km outside of Siem Reap, so most people don’t make the journey (especially considering the state of some of Cambodia’s roads). But for those hardy enough to sit on the back of a rattling motorbike on bumpy for close to two hours, you will be rewarded by an extraordinary sight.
The jungles surrounding Beng Mealea have been left to take over the massive temple. Most visitors to Angkor get a similar experience with the enormous trees of Ta Prohm and their constricting roots. Beng Mealea takes the union of jungle and temple to a new level. Here, the temple is often indistinguishable from the vines and trees attempting to reclaim it. If ever you’ve had fantasies of being Indiana Jones, this is the place to be.
Visitors to Beng Mealea are free to explore the collapsed walls and buildings. There are few indoor areas left intact, but the many crumbling courtyards reveal themselves only after adventurers climb over piles of rubble.
The one modern touch at Beng Mealea is a walkway built for the filming of the movie Two Brothers. Other than this addition and the few other tourists that make it to the temple, it’s easy to forget what year it is. A solitary trek through Beng Mealea will make you believe you live in a time when there was much more left to explore in the world.
See my photos of Beng Mealea here. And a couple samples:
I have just posted a few more galleries of photos from Cambodia. Most of them were shot one gorgeous morning at Bakong temple in the Roluos group, West of Siem Reap.
Inside the moat of Bakong lies not only the ancient, crumbling temple, but also an elementary school with curious students and a practicing monastery with friendly monks willing to make your acquaintance.
Here are some samples from the galleries:
Angkor Wat was one of the most magical places I have had the good fortune to visit. The spectacle of the temple has endured for centuries, but I can’t even imagine the grandeur of its appearance at the height of the Khmer empire. To witness Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, the Bayon or any of the other spectacular temples in the region when they were full of the life of their creators would be a worthy destination for any time traveller.
As it is, without defying the laws of physics, visitors can feel transported backwards to a different era. Yes, most of the bodies populating the temples are tourists, but it’s easy to look beyond them when the scenery is so gorgeous.
I have recently finished processing some of my photos from the area and I have uploaded them to dsphotographic.com. In the gallery section, you will now find images of Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, and also a gallery of photos featuring the different monks I met at Angkor Wat.
These are, of course, only a few of the sets of photos I have available from the region. As I process photos, more galleries will be available.
Lastly, here is a taste of what you will find in the galleries:
I’m sitting in the Siem Reap airport feeling exhausted after my week of adventuring in the temples of Angkor. I cannot possibly hope to chronicle each of my many experiences here, so I’ll resort, once again, to the point form highlight/random thought list.
– At the top of the list would have to be my trip to Bakong temple in the Roluos group South East of Siem Reap. Starting early, I go there just as the light was starting to reveal the site. But, the temple itself wasn’t the highlight.
The first highlight was the kids at the school just outside the temple. At first they were shy, but then they realized I could be a source of amusement for them. When I took photos of a couple of them, they all crowded in to try to get in front of my lens. They were always happy to point out their own images on my little view screen once I showed them the photos I had taken. I think, also, they were content just to get away from their sweeping and cleaning duties for a moment before they had to sit through class for the rest of the day.
I wandered the temple for a little while watching some local kids shake nuts from a tree then headed back towards the entrance when I saw the kids were in recess. I thought I might go pester them again. Instead, as I glanced at the monastery to the North of the entrance, I saw an orange-clad monk practically posing in the doorway.
When I excitedly approached with camera in hand, he didn’t move from his perfect spot and let me take the photo. I was then invited to go inside the pagoda. An older monk and a former monk guided me inside. The former monk spoke good English and served as my guide.
As I was looking around the pagoda, I must have mentioned that I had been an English teacher in Japan last year because I was promptly ushered into the classroom where and English lesson was just finishing up. After talking with a few of the students, I ended up in front of the blackboard (or in this case, blue board) where we practiced pronunciation together – something I think a lot of folks in Cambodia could use (I’ll probably never know why they don’t pronounce the ‘ch’ at the end of lunch).
After class, I was free to roam the grounds of the monastery and snap some photos along the way.
When finished, I had taken some of my favourite photos of the trip so far and possibly one of my favourite photos I have ever taken. I look forward to sharing them with you.
– Other more bite-sized memories: I talked with a bunch of different monks at Angkor Wat and yesterday, I was invited into the room of one monk at a pagoda in Siem Reap. They offered me lunch, but they needed it a lot more than I did. Monk life doesn’t sound especially easy. And one of them was telling me that the corruption that runs rampant through Cambodian society even pervades the monasteries. I couldn’t quite figure out how it manifested itself there as the language barrier got in the way, but it was disconcerting to hear that no place seems to be immune to corruption in this country.
– A couple days ago, I visited Beng Mealea, an 80km ride from Siem Reap. This temple has been overrun by the surrounding forest. It makes Ta Prohm look like a well-manicured garden. You might as well don a fedora and a bullwhip out there while a John Williams score plays in the background – Indiana Jones would have had a good time here.
Climbing around fallen towers and gazing at the vines chocking the stones was fantastic. The tourist buses tend not to come out this far (yet), so, for much of the time, I had the place to myself. If I could insert a written version of the Indiana Jones theme song, I would do it here. Just imagine it okay?
The only drawback to going to Beng Mealea for me was that I had to haggle like a pro with my driver to get a fair price out there. It took me more than 25 minutes and the infamous walking-away-because-you haven’t-met-my-final-price move before he agreed to my price. Ugh.
I hate bargaining, but I think he had been getting more than he fair share the whole week, so I decided to put my foot down this time. I know bargaining is supposed to be a cultural glue – it bonds people by forcing them into communication – but I ended up irritated by the whole affair and I think my driver was pissed that he didn’t get more cash off me. I don’t think any bonds were strengthened there.
– A few days ago, I had a free afternoon, so I decided to go out to the lake South of town to see the floating village there. After bobbing over some terrible roads, it was nice to bob in the water as my boat driver took us out to the largest lake in Cambodia.
Along the way, the river is lined with the floating houses of a group of villagers who make their homes here. Floating hospitals, shops, karaoke bars, billiard halls, schools, and my personal favourite, a floating basketball court, all peacefully sat along the river.
I was treated to a gorgeous sunset as we entered the lake. I was able to watch it from a floating museum/restaurant where kids would paddle up to its sides in boats or large buckets to pose and joke around for the camera for money. I guess when you live on a lake and have little but a big bucket and a paddle, you have to do what you have to do.
– Landmines are the most ridiculously shortsighted weapon ever devised. So you’re in a battle and you want to blow up some people and you plant some mines. Well, if you happen to win that battle, you still lose because now the territory you’ve won is a death trap. That’s thinkin’.
– For those out there in the world thinking of making the trip to Angkor, I would do it sooner than later. The tourist industry is just going to pick up here. It’s one of the few things Cambodia has had going for it for some time, so I suspect that the government is going to keep pushing it to generate as much revenue as it can. That means temples will be choked with tourists and roads clogged with buses. As rewarding as the temples are even with the current tourist presence, they would have been just about perfect without the throngs to dodge. So get going. Now!
My daily schedule here in Siem Reap, Cambodia doesn’t allow me much, if any time for keeping up to date with my journal. I’m up early then off to the temples right away. I get home after sunset and have to spend most of the time before bed trying (and failing) not to get too far behind on emails, finding food, transferring photos to my computer and scrubbing the dust from my every pore in the cold shower.
So, in an effort to keep things moving here, I’ve decided to do some bullet-point journaling. Just some things that stood out in the last few days and I had time to note before I have to go to sleep.
– One of the highlights, strangely enough for me, is a moment for which I have no photos. Two days ago, I met and started talking with a couple of young Buddhist monks. After chatting for a while, I did end up taking some photos of them. But, the best part was, they invited me to go visit them at their pagoda the following day. When I arrived there, we continued our conversations from the previous day and I was also invited into one of their rooms. It just felt so special to be able to be invited into the room of a monk in Cambodia. I don’t know too many folks with that experience under their belt.
– Angkor Wat really is worth the trip to Cambodia. It’s a phenomenal place. I’ve been on all three days now. Once for sunrise and twice for sunset. Each time has been wonderful. Today, I met a couple more monks and chatted with them for a while. The monks here I’ve talked to have been about the friendliest people you could ever hope to meet. I guess that’s to be expected really. After all, they’re enlightened. I exchanged addresses with one of them so that I could send them a print of one of the photos I took. He also asked for my phone number and I could only give them my parents’ number due to my present homelessness. I explained that I wouldn’t be home for a long time, but he really wanted it. So, mom and dad, if you get a call from a guy with a thick Cambodian accent saying he met me at Angkor Wat, you know the story. Just chat with him a while so he can practice his English okay?
– Visiting a temple called Preah Khan this morning, I had the chance to explore the virtually deserted place for a couple of hours while the sun slowly crept up over the trees. This was what I was hoping for here in Angkor. The birds and bugs rang through the surrounding forest and the stones emanated echoes of that ubiquitous life. Certain places felt haunted. In others, I felt like I was Indiana Jones and the next bend would reveal some long-lost treasure.
– The above was possible because the busloads of tourists had not yet arrived. Now, I love a lot of Japanese individuals, but put them in a group and their collective number is overwhelming. Paths are chocked with people. Silence is shattered. The sense of adventure is lost. When you’re surrounded by middle aged Japanese people, it’s hard to feel like an explorer. I’m no more entitled to be here than any of the individuals in their groups, but I’d like to think that my presence here doesn’t substantially affect the experiences of others in a negative way. One friend of mine called Siem Reap ‘Cambodia Disneyland.’ Just so long as they don’t install any roller coasters soon.
– Siem Reap is the dust capitol of the world. I have never been so filthy in my life.
– Pol Pot was a horrible, horrible person.
– My driver really likes my money and drives a hard bargain. I hope with all the cash he’s taking from me, he buys a helmet for his future passengers on his motorbike. I guess not having a helmet on makes my scooter high fives a bit more feasible though. You need to be able to have good eye contact with the high five recipient before you can really deliver, otherwise, some unsuspecting foreign tuk-tuk passenger would probably get pretty shocked by some hand extending in their direction as a scooter passes them.
I’m alive and well in Cambodia, but one thing that means is that I won’t be updating my blog for a while. The connections here aren’t exactly lightning fast and I’m probably more likely to find a polar bear here than wireless access.Besides, is anyone reading this thing anyway (besides my mom).
So i will keep writing on my trusty laptop and update my journal en masse probably when I get back to Malaysia.