Saturday, 17 January 2009

Siem Riep and the temples of Angkor

Angkor was built between the 9th and 13th centuries as the capital of the ancient Khmer empire. Its most famous building is Angkor Wat, the world's largest religious building. Even today, hundreds of temples survive and give some sense of the enormous scale of Angkor in its heyday.

For us, there were three buildings that rose above all the others. The temple of Ta Phrom had been left to the jungle, and there were massive trees growing out of the stonework. In places, the gigantic roots wrapped themselves around buildings. The temple was used as a location in the film “Tomb Raider”. Very similar to Ta Phrom, but better preserved, Preah Khan may have been a Buddhist university. The temple of Bayon, on the other hand, has 216 smiling faces carved on towers and over doorways.

Cycling around the temples was very enjoyable. We hired some great quality Japanese bikes that whizzed along the tarmac roads. The cycle shop even cleaned and oiled them overnight, ready for us to use them the following day.

We took a lot of rest stops, as every temple had some shacks selling noodles, coconuts and souvenirs. We ate some delicious noodle soup for lunch and chatted away with the sellers. One lady had a young son who had enormous dark eyes and a beaming smile. He only had two front teeth so far which he happily kept showing us.

After two days of temple-overload, we went to see some butterflies today. Unknown to us until later, the Butterfly Garden Bar pays street kids to catch butterflies to populate the mesh enclosed restaurant. Some butterflies were damaged by the time they were freed. Those that survived then had to run the gauntlet of Western toddlers trying to catch them. A well intentioned project, but at the expense of the local butterfly population. Not the experience we were expecting.

Our thoughts on Cambodia