Posts Tagged ‘Angkor’
Sadly my trip is winding down, but it will be nice to get home again despite the ridiculous weather in Vancouver. I’ve got one more night in Siem Reap, then tomorrow evening I fly to Bangkok. My flight to Vancouver leaves early the next morning, so I have to decide whether to just doze in the airport or head into Bangkok for a look around. It will be Friday night, after all, so things will be lively.
Cambodia continues to be interesting. Yesterday we made a trip to Tonle Sap, an enormous lake south of Siem Reap. We visited a pair of villages which are based on the seasonal growth and retreat of the lake. Some villages are floating and move around; others are built on stilts over the water. We strolled through one of the stilt houses. It was as poor as anything I’ve seen in India. The houses are small wood and thatch shacks, and people seem to eek out a pretty marginal existence, based largely on fishing. Many are Vietnamese who come up the Mekong to Tonle Sap, recognizable by their conical hats and different boats.
We’ve been back to Angkor several times as well. We’ve managed to visit several temples in quieter times, like the Bayon last night at sunset. This is the temple with the placid Buddha faces carved on the cardinal faces of the many towers. Angkor Wat itself never seems to be quiet.
The Photo Festival has been inspirational each night. Last night, the focus was on South Asia, with a series of slide shows by particular photographers or agencies. The previous night was Korea, and the highlight was a brilliant documentary called “The Game of Their Lives” about two North Korean girls participating in the mass games: thousands of gymnasts and dancers performing revolutionary spectaculars for the Generalissimo and the people. I’m going to try and get a copy when I get back to town.
Last night we saw an apsara dance performance. It was a touristy event – a buffet crammed full of Korean and European tourists, but the dancing itself was lovely. It’s derived from Indian classical dance and features slow, graceful movements and elegant symbolic hand gestures. The costumes are very beautiful too.
Today was a bit of slower day. We just did some shopping, ate, napped and emailed. Tonight’s festival program is very full – probably about 20 or more short slide presentations. There is also the final awards for a photo contest for an Angkor Photography Festival photo contest that was run over the last couple of months. Jeremy is actually one of the finalists, with an image in the top 100. His is a great image from Xian of a guard at the terracotta warriors site:
So, tonight in Siem Reap, tomorrow in Bangkok, and Saturday in Vancouver in the snow. The mind boggles.
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!
We’ve arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I had a pretty uneventful journey across Sabah and Sarawak to Kuala Lumpur, where I spent the night in a basic hotel by the airport. Jeremy and I met up in the airport this morning and flew to Siem Reap in 2 hours. Since arriving, we’ve strolled the town. It’s interesting to be in a place where we’re flat out ignored. Well, not completely – we’re offered tuk-tuk rides constantly and seen as possible sources of revenue, but we’re not novelty items (well, Jeremy wasn’t in Malaysia either). No more kids running after me to have their picture taken, or shouting “hello!”. They would quickly succumb to exhaustion if they did given the number of tourists here. The construction of new hotels is crazy, targeting tourist from all over the world. There seems to be a large Korean interest in the place as suggested by the number of Korean restaurants, signs and tour buses.
Early tomorrow morning we’ll head to Angkor, probably hiring a couple of motos and drivers to take us there. At $5 a day, it’s a reasonable investment. We’ll try to get a very early start to catch the sunrise, come back in the heat of the day, and maybe head out again for the sunset. The first event for the Angkor Photography Festival is tomorrow night, and we have our passes and are excited to go and see the presentations by world-class photographers.