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Angkor

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Every day so far we’ve visited the temples of Angkor in the morning and attended presentations at the Angkor Photography Festival in the afternoon. We’ve hired a pair of moto drivers for $8 a day, and they taken us to stuff on and off the beaten track.

This part of Cambodia is definitely touristy – Angkor draws a phenomenal number of tourists from all over the world. The scale is overwhelming, and it’s hard to find a lot of peace in the monuments, but nonetheless, they are phenomenal. The entire Angkor complex covers around 2000 square kilometres, and there is temple after temple after palace, all built between the 9th and 13th century. Interestingly, there is not much else – anything organic is long gone, and in fact, no written records, other than inscriptions on rock, have survived.

The ruins are stunning. Angkor Wat itself is the crown jewel. It is absolutely vast, I think around 2kms on each side, and the central temple towers high above the plain. It is covered in reliefs of stories from the Indian epics, with massive armies fighting, monkeys, elephants, demons, and so on. Saffron-robed monks wandering the wat add splashes of colour.

The other temples, even the more minor ones, would be renowned even on their own terms. We’ve seen ones with massive trees growing through the rocks, ones covered with faces of the Buddha (the Bayon), one with the most ornate and elegant carvings, and ones that are islands floating in the water. Some are absolutely mobbed (Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom), and some are much more peaceful. The morning scenes of tour buses, tuk tuks, motos and bikes all streaming toward the ruins is something to behold. Army manoeuvres would pale in comparison.

I’m shooting an astounding amount of film. Jeremy’s already running low and I may adopt him as a charity case if I can spare some film.

The photography festival has been very inspiring too. Every night, we convene in an elegant hotel to view exhibitions, hear talks, and watch slideshows from the best photographers working in Asia. On the first night, Phillip Jones Griffiths of Magnum presented his brilliant work on the Vietnam War (Vietnam Inc.), post-war Vietnam, and the impacts of Agent Orange. On sunday, there was an exhibition of photographs of Khmer boxing and a presentation by Gary Knight of a retrospective of the work of his agency, VII: stunning images of 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq and the US. Yesterday’s emphasis was on Japan, with presentations by contemporary and famous Japanese photographers, plus a very moving documentary about a young Japanese photographer – Taizo Ichinose – who spent a lot of time in Siem Reap during the war, and who disappeared – killed by the Khmer Rouge – when he tried to make it to Angkor Wat to be the first photographer to reach there during the war. There were also presentations by a dozen young Asian photographers of their work in Siem Reap as part of a workshop prior to the festival. We’ve been able to meet some very interesting folks and to brush shoulders with fame. Two nights ago, we sat at a table and chatted with Ian Berry, a famous photographer from Magnum who shot the Vietnam War as well as apartheid in South Africa. Now he’s working on a book about some of the major rivers of the world. He’s off to the Mekong Delta today.

Food here is good. Not quite as tasty as the stuff in Malaysia, but lots of basil, peanuts and crunchy things, kind of like Vietnamese food. Jeremy ate a cricket on a skewer. He said it tasted like sewer, which did not sound like a strong endorsement. Our moto drivers like them, but say they have to be had with beer.

Khmer massage is very good. We went for one yesterday and were subject to two hours of vigorous kneading by women who could crush bricks with their bare hands. We were squeezed, bent, stretched and walked on, all for $10 for two hours. We were slightly jelly-like afterwards.

Today is a rest day. I’ll stroll around the town, probably head to a market this morning, then I’m not sure what I’ll do this afternoon. This evening’s theme at the festival is Korea.

Me and my sweaty back can’t believe that I’ll soon be heading to snowy Vancouver soon!

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Written by sockeyed

November 28, 2006 at 04:09

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