16 December 2012

BAKHENG - THE OVERLOOKED TEMPLE

Phnom Bakheng from the air
Bakheng temple, located on top of the mountain Phnom Bakheng is often left in the shadow of the sunset and the thousands of tourists who trample around the levels of the temple mount - which is a bit sad. After all, this temple symbolizes Mount Meru and the five peaks of the mythological mountain.

Phnom Bakheng and it's temple date back to the 10th century A.D. and is an important temple and part of the very early Angkorean culture. 

I had been up on the mountain twice. Once, years ago to view Angkor Wat in the distance and once to give the famous sunset a try. The first time, I had not even known anything about the temple. At that time it was not even under restoration yet and if at all it left a big pile of rubble and stones in my memory. The second time I just remember tourist everywhere and I had trouble to find all the spots of the temple I wanted to see. 


Bakheng temple before sunset
It is a huge temple mount, initially with five levels and 108 sanctuaries and located at the centre of the historic city of Yashodharapura. Today, heavy restoration work is still continuing, though much of it has been completed already. Posted sings on the way up will tell the interested visitor what has been done here. Despite the tourist craze the temple is definitely worth a visit, during non-peak hours!



View from Phnom Bakheng mountain

Central shrine


Shiva Lingam









15 December 2012

A SUNSET FOR THE MASSES

Bakheng temple
So, I did it!! A sunset on the famous Phnom Bakheng mountain. THE sunset that everyone sees when in Angkor!! 

And it wasn't even intentional but the group I travelled with wanted to do the elephant ride up and see the sunset. So, I went along. I didn't ride the elephant though. I felt sorry for the poor creatures who have to go up and down carrying tourists every day. 

Hiking up the mountain
Instead, I chose to walk up the mountain - Phnom Bakheng - with hundreds of other tourists. Mostly Chinese tourists. It was packed, like I had expected it. But I didn't think it would be that bad during the rainy season. I had already heard that it is hell during the dry season, hence I never did it then. 

I had been up on the mountain to enjoy the great view onto the rain forest and Angkor Wat years and years ago. There were no tourists and we also had a much steeper but shorter way to climb up. For the masses who walk up and down today an extra wide path had been created. 

Waiting for the next load
The amount of people allowed on Bakheng temple is now controlled and the stream of tourists is channeled in one direction only. One guy on one side keeps track of how many people climb up and one guy on the other side keeps track of how many people climb down, thus limiting the number of people on the top. I was told that everyone will make it up, though I have no idea what happens when it is too many people in the lines. 

Waiting for space on the top
The sunset? Well, I never waited for it. I saw the amount of people and went down the mountain before the sun ever set. I have seen the most perfect sunsets from other locations and was almost alone, or just with a few people. The sunset from Phnom Bakheng is not for me. Back during another trip to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat, I met a friendly guy from Spain. He told me that the sunset on the mountain here was one of the worst experiences he had during his trip. Tripods are not allowed because of the sheer mass of people crawling around on top of the ruined temple. His name was Jesus....I should have better listened to Jesus :-)

The view onto Angkor Wat in the distance
   
The line waiting to get up

Full even during rainy season



26 November 2012

A TRIP INTO THE JUNGLE - BANTEAY CHMAR

Banteay Chmar is one of the most exciting Khmer temples I have ever visited. It was long a dream to go to this huge temple, but because of it's remote location I had to put it off for almost 10 years. 

It was also not possible to visit the temple because of the remaining land mines, which have now been removed and because of it's bad state of conservation. 

Lots of efforts have now been completed and we decided to undertake the long day trip from Siem Reap to visit the temple during the rainy season, which was another risk! Had it rained on that day, we would for sure not have been able to get to the temple on the muddy dirt road, which was actually being worked on. 

We chose rainy season for our trip because of the lush green rain forest the temple is located in. Thank the Buddha, did we have a great sunny day all the way, with excellent light to view the many excellent bas-reliefs and pediments. We spent as much time in the temple as possible to enjoy every minute of this amazing visit.  There is not too much written about the temple yet, but as always I have my excellent tour guide with me and was accompanied by our amazing driver. 

Banteay Chmar is a huge temple, in the jungle and under restoration for years to come, so a proper plan to visit is an absolute necessity. It's an unforgettable experience though! 
 















 

11 November 2012

IT'S GREEN...SO GREEN!

To travel to Angkor during the rainy season was never my choice, but after consulting with my tour guide first, I decided to do it anyway. The information I got beforehand was that it will rain sometimes, but that everything will be so much nicer. More quiet and the colours will be so intensive. Yes, we might run the risk of flooding like in September 2011 or continuous rain for days, but the possibility of an even more beautiful Angkor Wat temple was too tempting to let it go. 


Ko Ker site during dry and rainy season
Even flying into Siem Reap showed us an amazing landscape below. Tonle Sap lake was huge and to the unknown eye it looked like the airport was close to the ocean. We also got our first "hands-on" experience and got wet to the bone within the first 30 minutes after our arrival, when it rained cats and dogs. 

The Kampong villages during dry and rainy season

We did have to cut short one trip to Ta Prohm temple because it rained so much, that it became unmanageable to walk through the ruined temple. We had a few showers here and there and some of the roads were too flooded to continue driving. Mud was another issue. But most of the rain came at night we we were all comfortably tugged into our beds. On the other side, we had days with really nice and blue skies and on most days the air was crisp and clear. No comparison to the dust I had experienced during the first two trips to Angkor, both during the dry season. 


Beng Mealea site during dry and rainy season
Besides more water in the ponds and lakes, the colours of the temples were more intense and the landscape was unbelievably green. The combination of the lush nature, the saturated sand stone and the (at times) deep blue sky was just what I wanted to experience. 

Besides the difference at the temple sights, I also loved seeing the difference to villages like Kampong Pluk or Kampong Klaeng, where the houses sit on huge stilts. During the dry season it looks surrealistic, almost like a scene out of the movie "water world", while it looked more like a floating village during the rainy season. Both seasons have their charm for the photographer, but the villages seem far more lively during the wet season. 
Ta Prohm during dry and rainy season

If I had to chose what season I would rather go back to Angkor, my vote would now be during the rainy season.

22 October 2012

HEAVENLY SLEEPS IN SIEM REAP

 
Entrance to the Boutique Hotel
Before I go back to posting about temples, there is one more thing I need to write about - our hotel during our last stay. 

Bedroom
We had been in Siem Reap three times so far. First hotel was a beautiful resort but too quiet and anonymous. Second hotel was too far on the outskirts to really do anything in the town of Siem Reap, though nice and friendly. 

This last hotel was recommended (or rather not) by a friend in Singapore who said he stayed there and he could not recommend it!! But my brilliant tour guide actually brought me there during the second trip and I regretted the fact that I did not stay thereSo I booked it for this very recent visit. 

Pool Area

The Golden Banana Boutique (note!!) Hotel! I am saying "note" here because there are several hotels and resorts with the same/similar name in the proximity of this one, but I am only talking about the Golden Banana "Boutique" Hotel (and Boutique Resort)!  Obviously my friend had stayed at the "other one" before. 

Even during my brief visit I found it the friendliest staff I had ever met on my trips through Cambodia (given that I was not even a guest there). And I was amazed during this 10 day stay that the friendliness of the staff even exceeded my already high expectations. 
Upstairs

I never felt so welcomed and "at home" before! The staff was fluent in English and willing to practise it in an "non-bothersome way". I had great conversations with them during my evenings after visiting the temples. 

The room was great and spread out over two levels. Comfy beds, spacious room to store my luggage and a nice seating area upstairs to watch TV, which I never did! I rather used the free WiFi everywhere in the hotel.  It also has a nice balcony which overlooks the pool. 

Balcony
I did my walks to the touristy Old Market and back but I really enjoyed eating at the restaurant of the hotel and having my drinks at the bar next to the pool.  The food at the hotel was really good - local and international. 

The staff of the hotel is very willing to "fix" things you point out to them. I could not have picked a better hotel for my stay and will for sure be back there on my next trip to Angkor Wat.

One of the "lounges"
I know there are huge new 5 star hotels in and around Siem Reap, but that is just not my thing. I like a personal experience when I stay somewhere and I want to feel welcomed. That is what the Golden Banana Boutique Hotel and Resort will excel at, in addition to providing a nice room at a great price. So, I give it my personal 5 stars!







Great food options!







17 October 2012

OFF LIMITS FOR UNDERDRESSED VISITORS


Not clear enough?
I know this post will be controversial, but the subject is controversial and I really feel that I have to write something about it. 

In Europe we have a sign at shops, which show a cute little doggy and the message "I have to stay outside!"...meaning the dog can not be brought into the butcher, bakery or restaurant. 

After my third visit to Angkor Wat I seriously feel that we do need a sign like that for people who are "seriously underdressed". With my friends we use the term "slutty"...but since I can speak more openly with my friends than with the general public, I will use "seriously underdressed" here. 



Beach or temple?
What in the world do people think when they go to a temple, Angkor Wat or the Borobudur temple in cloths, which are barely enough to cover their genitals? Even going to the beach like that would be "slutty"...oops...seriously underdressed! 

Have these people never read a book about Angkor Wat? Or maybe they cannot read? But then, why do they also not understand the signs posted? Maybe they think "my shorts are not that short"...or they are plainly ignorant! 





OMG!
I thought for the longest time it is just Europeans (along with all other western looking guys like Americans, Australians etc etc) who behave like that because they simply don't know. But my last visit to Angkor Wat was very eye opening to me when I saw bus loads of Chinese people who where dressed as if they were going to the beach after the temple visit. ... Oh wait...there is no beach in Angkor!  So they intentionally underdress! 






Underdressed AND respectless!
My tour guide keeps getting as upset as I do. So this is not the conservative part of my brain acting up here. It is actually common sense that you do dress with long pants and maybe even long sleeves when you visit a temple, a mosque, a cathedral!






Beach cloths at Ayutthaya
I really wish the APSARA Authority, which is the governing body of Angkor Wat would control the dress code more AND turn back visitors who are underdressed. But even the tour guides could help here and tell their clients that there might be a slight problem with those tank tops and bikini slips! Obviously money rules even here at the temples and they do not speak up. 


Gym outfit!






That a dress code actually works, can be seen at the Borobudur on Java, a Buddhist temple in a Muslim Nation! There EVERY visitor has to wear a sarong, no matter how long or short the pants and skirts are. And they have to cover their shoulders, both men and women. 

So, show some common sense and respect people and get dressed! The other lesson about how to behave in a temple, we will cover in another post!  And don't get me wrong...I am a man of shorts...I had my Malaysian friends laugh at me because they had only seen me in shorts before, but I do know when it is time to put long pants on!