Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Angkor Whhhat!

The shower I just took was probably the most sensational shower ever. The water was cold and the towel was rough, but can I just say THAT WAS THE BEST SHOWER EVER! I scrubbed so hard, the puff fell apart.

Today we started at 4am and ended at 8pm, with only one real break in between and a couple of resting points. The sunrise at Angkor Wat was pretty sensational despite the huge amounts of tourists that seemed to LOVE getting their hats in my shots, but overall I obsessively took about 250 photographs, trying desperately to capture the temples in a unique way. Too many people had too many cameras, and it seemed discouraging when trying to find a different angle or capture, as there was always someone doing the exact same thing. Hopefully my fish eye lens upstaged a few dorky tourists.

From Wikipedia (because I'm lazy):

"Angkor Wat (or Angkor Vat) (Khmer: អង្គរវត្ត) is a temple complex at Angkor, Cambodia, built for the king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation—first Hindu, dedicated to the god Vishnu, then Buddhist. The temple is the epitome of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. It has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag, and it is the country's prime attraction for visitors.

Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple mountain and the later galleried temple, based on early South Indian Hindu architecture, with key features such as the Jagati. It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology: within a moat and an outer wall 3.6 kilometres (2.2 mi) long are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. At the centre of the temple stands a quincunx of towers. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west; scholars are divided as to the significance of this. The temple is admired for the grandeur and harmony of the architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs and for the numerous devatas (guardian spirits) adorning its walls.

The modern name, Angkor Wat, means "City Temple"; Angkor is a vernacular form of the word nokor which comes from the Sanskrit or Tamil word nagara meaning capital or city. wat is the Khmer word for temple. Prior to this time the temple was known as Preah Pisnulok, after the posthumous title of its founder, Suryavarman II.[1]"

Almost equal to the size of Manhattan, we travelled the labyrinths of the three major wats high and low, around and back, ooing and ahhing over the Tomb Raider-famous rock carvings and tree formations. It was an incredible hike and felt so special to witness, touch and walk all over these temples that have existed for thousands of years and that I've been dying to visit for the last five. You would think that a site so special, and equally falling apart with bricks, statues and carvings slowly making their way into big piles of rock, would be much better preserved, but there seems to be no particular care in keeping it more protected. As I expressed my temptation to bring a few rocks home, Kit warned me of a 20-year jail sentence that could await at the airport. Sweet.

The foreigner entry fee is $20/day, which is a great daily Khmer salary, and 4/5ths of it go directly into the hands of the biggest gas company here, which "leases" the spiritual site from the government who would rather reap the financial benefits without having to work for it. Ream says the government does that with a lot of other monuments and institutions. If only the government took back the country's most prized possession, it could significantly help its economy and quality of life with the tourist dollars it lures in, and believe me - the country needs that kind of help.

In the city of Angkor Wat, there is much to do besides the temples, like get the dead skin on your feet eaten by fish, ride elephants or take pictures on horses in front of the temples. People are constantly harassing tourists to buy guidebooks, postcards and there are plenty of souvenir vendors all over the park.

We spent hours in the scorching heat and humidity traveling Angkor Wat to the point where we could no longer go and we then went to town to get some food at the most modern restaurant I've stepped in so far in Cambodia, the Blue Pumpkin. If someone could enlighten me on what a "blue pumpkin" actually is, I would be appreciative.

On the way to town, we passed the Children's Hospital, which I have been in contact with and was planning to photograph. As we drove by, there was a line of mainly mothers with sick children, probably 300 deep waiting in the brutal heat to eventually be seen by a doctor. It was a pathetic site and one that has me sort of anxious to eventually photograph. Ream says the doctors are quite corrupt as well, and that with some extra cash, anyone could literally buy a doctor's license.

We were all pretty tired, but it was time for the 2nd stop: the Cambodian Cultural Center, which was a highlight for the kids, but more of an overwhelming experience for me. Because it's Chinese New Year, the crowds are rampant and seemed to all want to squeeze into this Cambodian theme park, whose main attraction were the wax museum and the traditional dance performances which ran all day. From stage to stage, people were literally RUNNING to get seats. It was very hot and very crowded and towards the end (7pm), I felt like I was going to pass out. The shows started out very mellow and kind of funny actually, and got more entertaining as they went along, until Courtney and I were completely exhausted and went to find a bench to talk about home and how good Sprite tasted at that moment. We were the only Westerners in the park - I felt like an insider experiencing traditional Cambodian quality family time.

It's now 9:30, we've never been so ready to fall asleep, and of course I have 600 photos to now edit. Tomorrow, a certain Trixie from the Anjali House will be picking me up to take me to the next destination where I will be living for three weeks. I'm hoping for a beautiful next experience.

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