This is the main temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It was closed for many years because of the war with the Kymer Rouge but since the peace in 1997 it now the center of a growing tourist industry. Within the next five years it will be yet another boring tourist trap. Now it is still a beautiful mystical place and well worth exploring.
Most visitors come by air directly to Siem Reap. It is also possible to travel to Siem Reap by road from Thailand. The exit from Thailand is at Aranya Prathet. There are many busses from Bangkok. There is then a very bad dusty road from Poipet to Sisaphon to Siem Reap. There are many small bridges over small culverts between the rice paddies. These bridges are made of wooden planks supported by rusty iron girders. The bridges often collapse so that the tuktuks (or taxis) arrive at one side and there are more tuktuks waiting on the other side. The passengers clamber down the culvert and up the other side. There is also a direct bus from Khao San road Bangkok to Siem Reap for US dollars 10.
The local currency of Cambodia is the Riel at 3800 to the US dollar (4100 Riel to the US dollar 2006), but the Thai Baht is widely accepted. There were no ATM machines. Now in 2007 there are ATM machines. It is best to carry a small denomination US dollars and to accept change in Riel so that the next purchase costs less.
This is the Bayon the number 2 temple in the complex. It is famous for its smiling Sphinx like statues.
These are the famous smiling Buddha faces but some say that they are the faces of the king.
This is modern Siem Reap. It is very French. They were the former colonial power and the food is gourmet. There is even a thriving French expat community living and working in Siem Reap. Siem Reap means Thailand defeated. It has changed hands several times in the last thousand years.
Just recently the prime minister ,Hun Sen, has ordered that all of the bars be closed. Before there was a thriving night life with disco brothels where the patrons could hire local girls on a pay per dance basis. Not trusting the police to enforce his decision, Hun Sen threatened to send in the army with tanks. The evenings are now as quiet as the grave.
The people of Cambodia are some of the nicest people you could hope to meet. After the purges of the Kymer Rouge there are almost no old people or intellectuals. This has given the new young replacement population a fresh start in life and as yet they are totally unspoilt. But soon they will know everything.
The Cambodian people are very similar to the Cumin people from Surin in Cambodia. They walk the same, dress the same and talk in a similar language.
Many of the Buddha statues have had their heads removed by the Kymer Rouge and the heads have then been sold on the international art market via Thailand. The remaining statues minus their heads are still very impressive and are venerated by the local people.
There is an ongoing restoration project on most of the temples. Now there is tourist money and the will to ensure the preservation. Cambodian people just love dollars even though most of the world does not use dollars.
This is a Shiva lingam. Every morning the first cup of tea is sacrificed by pouring it over the lingam. Also Ghee (a sort of butter) is poured.
This is a Yoni. The female equivalent of the male Lingam.
This is the famous terrace of the elephants. It is mostly an illusion in that is not that big or impressive. The king used to stand on the terrace and review the passing elephants, hence the many elephant carvings. There are no elephants in Angkor Wat now.
There are many carvings of a lady like this one. She is an Apsara or 'heavenly nymph'. Some say that they represent the wife of lord Shiva.
This is south gate. There is also an identical north gate. They are the entrance and exit to the park. There is also a bridge of many demons on the other side with a complicated story about which the guides will be happy to bore you.
The only English vehicle in Thailand. Notice the Thai version of an English number plate! It came overland via the Karakoram highway in Pakistani Kashmir through China and Laos. Burma is still mostly closed to foreigners but there is talk of a trans Asia highway opening in 2 years. Foreign vehicles are permitted in Thailand for only one month but the fines for overstay are minimal while the import taxes are excessive. It costs US dollars 500 per week to take a vehicle to China and it takes 2 weeks to cross China. This information is courtesy of Exodus Travels and their driver who the author met at Aranya Prathet.
In the heart of every temple you will find not enlightenment but a lady monk who wants one US dollar to perform a Buddha ceremony for you. Never mind that most of the temples are Hindu temples dedicated to lord Shiva.