Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Angkor Wat or as I call it Angkor what the?

The last time I left you I had had a rough day.

I am not good with structure so a detailed itinerary made me a bit anxious. But after numerous terrible taxi drivers, dodgy guides, I decided to go on an official tour padded out by 5 other people.

1 shy young American twenty something banker guy who lived in Hong Kong hereby known as the Photographer.

1 intellectual suave sale e pepe haired Italian man and 3 of his own reference books hereby known as Siloso, which phonetically in Italian is "Yes, I know".

1 German baby boomer who wore the national tourist uniform 
( sandals and socks ) 

2 female nurses - one attractive and slim, the other was her wing woman and they thought Christmas came early being stuck all day with 3 single men. 

I got picked up in a minivan and headed over to the massive grounds that make up the temples of Angkor Archaeological Park.  
 Angkor Wat is a temple but the general area is covered with so many temples that it really is its own town.

We stood at the main entrance to Angkor Wat by one of the many man made irrigation channels that I mentioned in the previous day's post.  I was ready to move on but the guide was committing the cardinal sin of spewing out dates and names.  
Kill me now.  It hadn't even been five minutes and I felt I was back in the 4th grade displaying the then undiagnosed symptoms of ADD.

We walked through and I was led to this vantage point.
There was Angkor Wat with its distinctive domes.
This is also a very popular vantage shot for postcards.
I was quite lucky as at the same time some boys were taking some special commemorative photos.
It added to the drama to see boys dressed in traditional garb 
against that backdrop.
Did you know that half of the population in Cambodia is under the age of 15?
Kids everywhere. 

Sometimes when I see travel pics, I always wonder about the environs of the main attraction.
I found the grounds in general pleasant.  
Mostly flat lands and moderately dense forest.
The ageing of the stone was beautiful let alone the structure.

Just as I was in genuine awe of the temple, 
these bullet wounds were pointed out.
During the Pol Pot era, this temple served as army camp and battles were fought here.

Everywhere you looked was touched by an artist a millenia ago, 
even under and around a side door arch.
I followed a mini wedding party dressed in traditional costume although I don't think white socks and black brogues is very Cambodian.

This edifice does not have a bad angle.  
Everywhere you look - bham.
I am not even going to try and find adjectives to describe it.

I personally have a thing for vistas and letting my eyes aim far off.
In art, there is the thing known as focal point right?
So even in painting of a village scene in the Western world, there is usually a focal point that draws and focuses your eye to a specific point. ( In successful paintings anyway. )

For example, in the paining below, "Annunciation" by Carlo Crivelli,
the focal point in this painting is center left.
You see the arch of the iron bar grilled window?  
The guy with a speck of a red hat standing to the right of the blue cloaked man in the middle of the window? 
That's the focal point.
Via National Gallery

Apparently, humans are attracted to this focal point instinctively whether it is subtle or more obvious.
Hence, I was hypnotized by these in every temple I went to.

Instead of murals or tapestries in the Western tradition, the walls were covered in carvings otherwise known as bas-reliefs that recounted stories and religious stories.

Up close.

Pull back a little.

A little more still.

It just goes on and on...

The contrast between the patina of the stone and 
the bright religious paraphernalia is - well you choose the word.

The inner sanctum of the temple.

Climbing up the domes.

I was leading the pack while Siloso was arguing with the tour guide about a historical date, the photographer was in his element, the German was getting impatient but smiling with the corners of his lips.  The nurses were asking the men to take photos while they were pouting and arching.
I was the odd one out.
A family grooming each other and the baby cuddling up next to mummy.
I just pretended to go find a loo and ask for a meeting point and walked around myself.

I found the "gate keepers house" at the back of Angkor Wat.

I loved the coppery mossy residue.

I saw a scene that has existed since its construction - 
a fisherman with his nets.

We went to Ta Prohm temple where Lara Tomb Raider was filmed.
It is known for the trees who succeeded in 
the architectural coup d'etat.

The roots have caused a lot of damage so there was a lot of restoration needed.

I personally found the different colors that each temple had developed over the last thousand years simply hypnotic.

Getting high here is not recommended.

The following series of three photos of the same subject ten seconds apart had made me realize I need to learn more about photography.  Forgive me but I forget which camera setting was which.

We then headed to the next stop - the Terrace of  the elephants.

The elephants and the garudas ( half bird / half man gods )
 just go on and on.

Isn't this very Mayan?
I was surprised that over the days that one could distinguish the different eras of the Khmer empire and styles. After a few days, I felt comfortable deciphering what were my favourites.

I always try and ask people if I can take pictures of them.
I found this image so stunning in real life.
The ocher of the stone paralleled so well with the monk's robe.
The young monk said yes.

"That is five dollars."
My Asian side was not going to haggle with a monk.

We then went onto another temple called Bayon.

All those domes you see are faces.
The number of faces corresponding to all the Khmer provinces.

The temple is still active and not just a tourist attraction.

This seems like a block of stones but it shows how each block was pre-cut and made to fit in the grooves with all the others.
As usual, I was ahead of the group and sat down in front of the minivan.
As I took a seat on a bench, the mango seller on the left tried to sell me a mango.  I was not particularly in the mood plus I was in the habit of automatically saying no.

But as I sat, I remembered a bit in the women's museum in Hanoi where they said most women make about $2 to $3 a day.
A dollar for most of us does not make much difference but to her it would be a good sale so I asked for a mango.
We both sat watching this gold sequined kid dance and perform.

There is the "photographer" on the right finally coming back so we were ready to go.  I got into the minivan and as we were pulling out she waved and smiled.

Now, I was debating whether or not to share this.  But not to tell you this would be like me not mentioning I just gave birth to triplets.
The moment when she smiled, I experienced a "coup de foudre".
It was a platonic lightening strike.

I am not the sappy, overly emotional type.
I have lived in Britian too long and am half Anglo Saxon.
I am a bit sarcastic, a bit cynical, and am normally bit of a jester.
Some of you who have read me for a bit may have noticed that I have a certain type of humour.
I am not that kumbaya chick and 
I still think Eat, Pray, Love was fiction.

And yet I couldn't stop thinking about her.

I talked about my day with my new BFF Ahlin.
I went for my nightly two hour foot massage and we talked about her boyfriend and I advised her to play hardball.
She was telling all the other girls I was travelling alone 
even though I had a partner.
It blew everyone's mind that a woman would do this.
The third night she asked if I really had a man so I facetimed with Mr CSW and I became known to the other girls as "the brave one".

The next day I went back to the place where she sold her mangoes but she wasn't there.  I asked my tuk tuk driver to ask around but we were unsuccessful in finding her that day. 
So we went to discover the many more temples in the park.
I got rather used to driving by Angkor Wat.
This is not an average highway as you can see.
The names really are incidental but 
I liked the difference in scale of temples.
There is the terrace of the elephants again.
This is a section at the end of the terrace.
Up close.

My personal favorite temple in the park was Preah Kahn.
Built in 1191, it served as a government building and library.
I only knew that afterwards but my instinct must have felt the souls of the books lingering.

The man is my tuk tuk driver, Keo, who made up for all the bad experiences I had thus far.  He was so nice, polite, helpful.  
He asked if he could join me and see Preah Khan with me.  He said he never had the chance to go as he only worked and saw it from the outside. 
There is the signs of religious war again with the beheading of statues.
This below is a Hindu shrine to the Khmer princess. 
It looks like she has lipstick on.

Same subject, different camera setting.

This temple had both the red and green moss.

I insisted I carry my own bag which I normally left in the tuk tuk. But he carried it and it quite suits him.

Natural bee hives full of honey.

This was my final day and I asked him if we could please try one more time and find my mango seller.  I had gotten a bag of all the little supplies that I wanted to give her.
Medicines, shampoos, sewing kits from all the hotels I had stayed at etc. plus buy a few mangos to go.

After much questioning and him asking me if I was sure that I did not want to see more temples instead, my relentless paid off.

We found her at a far off corner in the parking lot of Angkor Wat.

This is Yamaite.  
Her granddaughter was with her as it was a Sunday.
I told her through Keo, my tuk tuk driver, that I thought she was so sweet and I was so touched by her smile.  I wanted to give her my parcel and bought mangoes and told her to keep the change.
I said I had a flight to catch in two hours and bid her good bye.

I walked to the tuk tuk and she called out to me and wanted to give me the lotus roots as thanks.  
I swear I don't think I have ever been so touched in all my life.
I couldn't believe her generosity.

We talked a bit more and I found out more about her.

She is 67.  She was born under French rule and has lived through the history of Cambodia.  Most of her family died under Pol Pot. Her daughter died fighting in the militia on the Thai border.  Her son can not work because of a landmine incident.  She is the breadwinner and raises her granddaughter.  She could easily send her to work like so many other children there but she was working everyday so she could send her to school.

I got on the plane both heavy and light hearted.
I did not expect to have so much interaction with such lovely people.
I did not expect that I would be so sad to leave a country  - again.
I still think about all the people I met, especially Yamaite.
I felt so sad looking at the terrain of the Khmer people that had gone through so much turmoil and pain.

Now when I get frustrated because the internet is slow or some other futile, stupid thing that manages to wind me up,  I check myself and think of her.


  1. What a trip! It's good to have memories of more than just cocktails and sandy beaches (not that I'd know!). Angkor Wat looks fascinating - so much to see and explore on your travels. It would be my dream to have nightly 2 hour foot massages! Yamaite looks like a sweetheart. Sometimes we do have an instant connection with people, however fleeting. It's as if old souls recognise each other. It can also be quite disturbing, so I'm glad you tracked her down again. I think it was incredibly brave of you to make this trip on your ownio!

    1. I was glad to have gone one my own - I was meant to meet a friend there but didn't go to plan. But now I am glad he couldn't come because I rather enjoyed getting massages every night for two hours plus he might have gotten rather annoyed looking for Yamaite - it took two days ( about two hours per day looking and asking people if anyone knew her ). She is a sweetheart but you are right it was rather disturbing as well as I was so surprised of the effect.
      But I am not brave but sometimes gutsy and as you know, I talk to people in my head so I am never bored on my own!

  2. What an amazing place! Bayon and Preah Khan look almost as if they're from another planet from a distance, and then the amazing details close up.
    The colours and textures are beatutiful.
    What a great trip it sounds. I haven't read all of your blog, so now I'll go back and have a read.
    Isn't it amazing, those accidental meetings with a kindred spirit. Those are the encounters that really stay with one.
    And you're right about the small, insignificant things that bother us here in the spoilt Western world.

    1. Hi Ruth, it would make a fantastic trip for a family. It is a bit like an archaeological disneyland and I noticed the children were much better behaved than other places because they were so entranced by all the heads!

      Yes, those meetings are a quite jolting and to be honest I still think about her. But it is a lot of stuff so I thank you for even reading this as I know it was a bit of a long post!!

  3. Feels like I've been there with this post. Lovely pictures. Got my eye on your next posts.

  4. It does look like such a beautiful place with such history - the sites are splendid. You sure fit a lot in to that trip girlfriend, considering 2 hours a day of it was taken up with foot massages!!! Few things:

    No I didn't realize that half the population of Cambodia was under 15 - wow!

    White socks and black brogues - we laugh about it now, but I bet you any money in years to come that it will become a trend

    eeek i know what you said about the focal point, but my eyes were first drawn to the top right hand corner where the bird was perched

    Beautiful pictures of the monk - quite striking really, especially considering I've only ever seen them on screen. i can imagine how the experience would have been in person

    Re. Yamaite. I have those thoughts when I watch or read certain disturbing things, but my 'be thankful for what you have got' persona tends to be short-lived unfortunately. That was lovely of you to be persistent in finding her - glad it paid off!

    I would be happy to travel alone long haul, but only to certain places or places I've been before. I do love my own company! xx


    1. Oh yes, in a few months I am sure you will be sporting white socks with pumps! And I will try it out even. ; )

      Focal point is relative but it is usually a subliminal thing and those things are what unconsciously lead you is all.

      The monks are so fashionable - the colors and the way the fabric is draped and one rarely saw a fat monk.

      Yes, Yamaite made me think and consider a lot of things but for the better actually. I actually look forward to a future post about your summer holidays xx

    2. Sorry to disappoint. No holidays for me this year, I did a big one last year and I'm saving for a house' that's why I love vicariously reading through your holiday posts x

    3. Ooo, nice target to have!! Can't wait for the renovations hehehe x

  5. Maybe all the focal points were to emphasise infinity in faith - that you continue on (or something? It's an interesting constant use of architectural device that must have some sort of significance?). Love this post - so many beautiful photos (I'm like you...keep meaning to learn how to take proper photos with my camera). I've always loved the tree roots in the temple. There's a magic to it (even though the tree is destroying the temple). Love that you tried so hard to find Yamaite, and that you found someone honourable after the terrible day you'd had that was the subject of your last blog post. xx

    1. Actually, you are right about the symbolic meaning of it. I am sure there is more symbolism. There were lots of little stones or bottom steps ( I dont know the word for it ) when you enter a new section of a temple that one steps over and the reason for that was because they said evil spirits have a hard time stepping over them so it is a way of protecting the temple. I need to read Sitwell's books on Angkor Wat.

      The tree roots are a dream...

      Yes finding Yamaite was a bit of a treasure hunt...xx

  6. Thank you for this wonderful tour and such a touching story. So many amazing images but I especially like the contrast between the orange of the robes and the stone. I enjoyed learning more about Yamaite and it's true that we have sn instant connection with some people in spite of the language barrier. I'm so glad you managed to track her down otherwise it would have been unfinished business getting on that plane. I suspect you will go back there one day.

    1. I find the orange of the robes so fashion forward - everytime I saw them I felt that I was on a photo shoot.
      Yamaite had a such an energy about her and you are completely right - I plan on going back!! I think you would definitely enjoy Cambodia Miss B. x

  7. Absolutely loved this post and just read it twice. Your write so well and I felt all you were thinking as you went along this journey. Fantastic photos. Yamaite has the sweetest face. I could see how you were charmed by her smile and touched. The best things about travel are the connections.
    Love to get there one day.


    1. Thanks a lot Kim! I know you love to travel too so I must say you and your family would absolutely love this place. I can not stress how stunning this place is. It is on another different level to most historical buildings and for should be graded Unesco A+...xx

  8. Great photos!! Loved your descriptions. I think travel writing is the hardest thing to do. I can never make the unbievable sound believable or describe something so amazing because the words do not exist! The photos are never like the image I see with my eyes. I almost want to share my eyes or transport theirs so they can really see for themselves. Your photos however really bring the temples to life as do the people you met there. :)

  9. Thanks Lee. I think without the aid of pictures, it is like describing colors isn't it? But it is very almost therapeutic about writing it down!

  10. I'm off to read the Mad Men review. Great photos here. I feel like travelling to the away just by looking. Feel free to drop by me too anytime.

    1. Thank you for coming by - and yes I love visiting blogs I haven't discovered yet - will do ( after the Maggie thing)!

  11. I really read every word of this post--I feel bad that my comment reply won't be as satisfying.

    Definitely enjoyed seeing all of your Cambodia pictures and learning about the population and the people you met. The nurses on the tour made me laugh!

    I think it's great that you touched Yamaite's life like she touched yours. I'd be sad to leave, too.

    I traveled without my husband for the first time last month (since we've been married). It was an adventure! But I was homesick :)

    The focal point pictures were cool, too. Thanks for sharing everything with your sense of humor!

    1. Thank you for coming by and your generous words! Believe me I love every comment :)

      I definitely think she touched me way more!

      Did everyone believe that you were married though - everyone thought I was lying and it was a whole snuffleupugus situation ( do you remember that situation in sesame street?) But glad you had an adventure and sometimes you need to miss your husband hehe!

  12. you are amazing.

    this was a very moving post.

    love that you are inspiring women to head forth into the world and discover it for themselves.

    you rock.


    _tg xx

    1. Oh no I definite am not but I admit I loved that I brought them this new concept of a woman traveling on her own and even more so once you get married. Unfortunately, most girls in Asia grow up in a more chauvinistic mentality and even more so in Cambodia so I am glad that I instilled that it is possible for women to do that.xx

      *Waving from rainy misty London where there is a massive funeral for the iron lady*

  13. This place is so nice!! I love your pics :-)

  14. I don't even know why, but I've always been drawn to Cambodia, I've always said I want to visit that piece of Earth one day. Now, more than ever. Although I doubt I'll go alone...:) You really are an interesting human being, you know. And everyone should meet a Yamaite to put things in perspective. Although, people usually forget things that shouldn't be forgotten quickly...

    1. Oh you would love love love it Peet. It is so massive that I still haven't seen all the temples in the Angkor park - and there were more surrounding it - I have to go again next year to finish seeing it and reconnecting.

      I always says if a place calls you psychically then you must go! Thanks for your sweet words x


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