Monday, March 7, 2011

The Temples of Angkor

** We've done a number of posts in the last two days including one by Robyn (a very rare event indeed) so make sure to check them all out. **

The last two days have been spent meandering through ancient temples and towns. At home we hear only of Angkor Wat but the reality is that this area is littered with thousand-year-old temples, many of which are just as impressive and historically important. It would probably be quite boring for me to go into the details of what we saw so I'll just relate a few of the impressions I recorded at various times during our tour.

Angkor Wat

We're sitting on the top tier of Angkor Wat looking over a small sandstone courtyard and chatting about travel experiences with an older German couple.  This is the largest religious structure in the world and it definitely impresses with its multiple wats, large courtyards, extensive bas reliefs, elaborate gates, and wide moat.  Adding to the atmosphere is the thick jungle on all sides, alive with the aggressive mating calls of beetles and the prettier songs of birds.

I am constantly in awe as I walk around the highest pavilion.  Or I am in awe whenever I can get out from behind my camera.  It's been a challenge deciding what to photograph and what to simply experience as it comes, using not only my eyes but ears, nose, touch.  

The central tower, like the other structures, is carved from sandstone blocks.  And like every other structure on this site, it is covered in carvings, bas relief figures looking in every direction.  On each of its 6 or more ledges stand the remnants of ruined statues.

From my vantage point, the backdrop to the structure is a pale blue sky with bright cotton-ball clouds which serve to block some of the solar intensity.

I've heard that Angkor Wat is always crawling with tourist, but from up here the pace is slow and the most dominant sound is a bird squawking from the highest peak.

Angkor Wat at Sunrise

Back gatehouse at Angkor Wat

Robyn and Jevin on the top tier of Angkor Wat
Bayon Temple

How can I describe our second stop? Block and blocks of carved stones all piled up on one another.  Tunnels and passageways lead over and under giant sandstone edifices.  There are literally thousands of faces carved into the rocks and each bears a resemblance to the king who commissioned the temple.  He was watching his subjects and they knew it.  The place occupies four dimensions, climbing on top of itself and perpetuating its cause through time.  Ancient trees grow right out of the rock.  Two hundred years ago, they were seeds in a crack and now they've pried stones apart and toppled towers.  Some trees have become organic supports for failing archways.  Moss and lichens lend their color to the sunbaked rock; dots of white on grey-green, a reminder of the resilience of life.

Bayon Temple and one of its many faces

Passageway of Bayon

Angkor Thom, Baphuon, and beyond

After lunch, we passed through a ruined gate to discover huge stretches of tamed jungle spotted with guess what, more temples!  After two days of seeing temple after temple, I'm still looking forward to a third.  They are all created in different styles and are in different states of repair.

Time and again I am impressed by the trees.  They are so immense and sometimes swallow entire walls and building in their roots.

I climbed some very steep steps and felt quite proud of myself until I found an old lady on top burning incense.  She implored me to take some and, after a few awkward bows which probably saved me from the wrath of my ancestors, I deposited the sticks in the an urn and some money in the lady's offering plate.

I took another set of stairs down which had been roped off due to large missing sections and poorly balanced blocks of rock.  When I was a child, my friend and I spend long afternoons climbing trees and rooftops, anywhere we probably shouldn't be.  If that child knew that he would be doing the same thing on ancient ruins on the other side of the world I think he would be very impressed with himself.

I got down safely to both Robyn's and my  relief.  We continued our trek into the jungle through dilapidated archways and fallen Buddhas until the ruins thinned out and the sounds and smells of the jungle came alive.  After twenty minutes, we found a clearing and an accompanying sense of calm.  It's at times like these that we realize how elusive silence and stillness has been.  The sun sat low in the sky, barely visible above the tree line.

The day had to end, but we wouldn't let it go easily.  Climbing a hill, we marched towards the setting sun, steadily upwards and to the west until we found a temple at the very top.  We were three of a thousand people that had come here to bid that ball of fire goodnight, but we managed to find a spot to sit and watch the cosmological drama play out.  As it sank, a group of Cambodian girls began singing all together and they continued until the sun was gone.  What a perfect way to end a glorious day.

Sunset on day two
Temple-eating tree

Day Two

At the beginning stages of planning this trip, we had only our destination planned.  In fact, that's pretty much all we had planned right up until we landed in Bangkok.  But there was one thing I knew I wanted to see.  I found an image on the internet and posted on my computer as a backdrop.  I said to Robyn, "This is what we're going to see".  Today we saw it and it was awesome.

Robyn, this is what we're going to see.

Cambodia is the best.  We've only been here a few days but it feels so much more genuine that anywhere we've been yet.  Even the people chasing you down the street with 15 hats, "ice cold drinks", and pineapple-filled plastic bags seem warm and good-humored.  

That's it for now and tomorrow, yes tomorrow will bring.... more temples!  Can't get enough!

David J Parker


  1. Bigger than the Vatican!? Impressive.

    Keep well.


  2. These are amazing photos! I can't wait to see more :) xo