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Wat can I say?

May 3, 2010

I’ve spent the last two and a bit days visiting the temples of Angkor near Siem Reap.  I had planned to get through it in a day, but then I discovered there are more than a thousand temples to visit and adapted my plan to suit. I was lucky to have an introduction to a fantastic guide, Mr Chou Vichet (Chet).  If you’re ever in Siem Reap give him a call (+855 12699 193 email chouvichet@hotmail.com).  He knows all the best spots for photography in the temples and can find places away from the crowds.

I struck lucky again and my visit coincided with a major festival.  As a result the temples were filled with young saffron robed monks and wizened little old nuns dressed in white.   Very few old monks or young nuns were to be seen – I was told that women become nuns when they get older in preparation for the next life while men and boys become monks for a short period of religious study and then most re-enter the secular world.  There may be some deep cultural lesson to be learned from that, but I’m only here for 3 days so I’ll think about later.  Whatever their reasons there were around 200,000 of them there.  The results were some REALLY chaotic traffic mayhem and some terrific photos.

I’ve already described the ‘make full use of the available road’ traffic rule in Cambodia, so no surprise that when the narrow road to the main temple got a bit crowded the single lane became 2 lanes and soon spilled over onto the packed earth at the sides.  Cycles and motos were weaving in and out, the tuk tuks likewise, leaving the cars and minivans to make what progress they could.

The police had the assistance of the military police to help control the traffic but they were having a pretty tough time of it.  Sweating in the heat they realised they were up against it when they had to direct a VIP bus coming  the other way!

After that my guide, Chet ,and driver, MrKing decided discretion was the better part of valour and we resolved to drop me off in Pub Street and to try the most popular temples the next day.

Turned out to be an excellent decision as next day the roads were much quieter and fewer tourists were about.  Still lots of monks and nuns in most of the temples though.  Many of the monks wanted to take a photo with me and I took the opportunity to get some shots of them in return.

Not all of the temples are in good repair, some are still suffering the ravages of the jungle.   One tree fell onto a wall as recently as a few months ago and many other trees are shored up with scaffolding.

I took hundreds of pictures – including the obligatory Tomb Raider shot – just to prove I was there.

The speed of this internet connection has now caused me to lose the will to live, so more photos on this subject when I get home.

On the way back to my hotel my guide, Chet, asked if I wanted to stop at the landmine museum.  My first instinct was to say no, but I’m glad I went. It was extremely interesting and not nearly as depressing as I had feared.  In fact it tells quite an uplifting tale of a child soldier who now helps clear mines and runs a home for disadvantaged children.

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From → Cambodia

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