Siem Reap Day 3

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Siem Reap Day 3

A more relaxed start at 8:00am this morning and we drive back into the Angkor complex. An area that supported over 50,000 inhabitants in timber houses when Angkor was the capital.

We stop at the Bayon Temple with its 54 towers (each representing one of the surrounding provinces existing at that time) to catch the early morning sun on the temple and the temples reflections within the small pond of water to its east. We wander over to the Elephant Terrace used as the veranda of the Royal Palace (no longer existing). We stop to photograph here before back into the bus to visit the North Gate of Angkor Tom.

Luck is with us as we are able to capture images of locals passing through the gates without other tourists being in view.

We move onto the temple of Preah Khan, one of the largest in the Angkor group. Preah Khan means 'Sacred Sword' and was built by Jayavarman VII and thought to be his temporary residence while Angkor Tom was being constructed. This temple, compared to many others has survived time and is preserved well.

 We approach through an avenue from one of the lesser tourist visited gates.  With most temples throughout Angkor the main entrance gate is to the east and thus the entrance for tourists, however in this case tour companies usually use the West Gate near the road and exit through the North Gate.

The avenue we are on is lined with statues of Buddha, however all but one were destroyed in 1243 when the religion, by proclamation of the king changed from Buddhism to Hinduism. The temple has the usual three entry doors - the middle one used only by the king with the outer two used by priests and pilgrims.

We note some hardwood trees growing straight and tall and Kim, our guide informs us that these trees are excellent for building houses and that the size of the tree we were looking at would be sufficient to complete one entire house. The cost of this hardwood is currently USD 400.00 per cubic metre, whereas the current cost of Mahogany is USD 1,800.00 per cubic metre.

The giant trees that engulf these temples are of softwood and are of no use for building purposes, so when restoration begins on a temple most of the trees are used for firewood

Five years ago along this avenue, a black panther was hunted and captured by a veteran of the Cambodian army before being re-located to a more suitable environment.

We move onto Preah Neak Poan (entwined snake) which consists of four pools used for healing purposes. The main pool represents the top of the Himalayas. This was originally the centre of a 3km by 900m baray (reservoir) serving Preah Khan. The snake symbol is still used for medicine.

From here we travel to Ta Som, a late 12th century Buddhist temple of Jayavarman VII. Here we find the central area in complete ruins, but restoration is under way. We move to an area which provides one of the most iconic photo opportunities throughout Angkor where a huge strangler fig completely overwhelms the eastern gopura.

Ta Som at the east gate has the 4 faces of Buddha and nine towers within. These can be seen from all four gates.

After lunch we visit the south gate of Angkor Tom. This is also the area where tourists can take a ride atop an elephant and wander though the pathways of Angkor. Some of our group nominate that they would like to do this the following day. We then move to the west gate of Angkor Tom before heading back to the Bayon temple.

Here in the late afternoon, Kim and I arranged with three monks (two carrying yellow umbrellas) to walk the terraces of the Bayon temple. I set the group up with cameras on tripods 40m across some water in a pool in front of the temple terraces.  We even had some wild geese in the area to add to the ambiance of our images. This became quite a spectacle for other tourists at the scene and despite a group of tourists, who started to follow the monks along the terraces (quickly disbursed in the usual Aussie good mannered fashion); I believe all of my photo tour group were able to capture some memorable images.

From here we moved onto the south gate of Angkor Tom to capture the temple in the setting sun.

After a dinner at the Neary Khmer restaurant in Siem Reap, everyone was ready to download images and retire after quite a full day.
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