Though a straight line appears to be the shortest distance between 2 points, life has a way of confounding geography. Often it is the dalliances and the detours that define us. There are no maps to guide our most important searches; we must rely on hope, chance, intuition and a willingness to be surprised.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Cambodia (Part 1)

(A monk from the temple stands in front of the incredible engravings around Angkor Wat)
Regular readers may remember the trouble I had recently with visas. An online application form required some swift work with paint-shop pro to manufacture a passport photo. After all this work, I got to Cambodian customs and immigration only to find that I'd left my visa in Australia. Thankfully, after watching me rummage fruitlessly through my rucksack for 10 minutes they just smiled and waved me through.

This was a pointer to the great hospitality of Cambodian people. Being there was an awesome feeling and the best possible start to travelling again.

Overall I though it was a very 'easy' country to visit. Even though there is poverty and the Siem Reap area is largely dependent on tourism, I found people to be good-natured, friendly and relaxed. There was none of the cynicism and exploitative attitude to foreigners that I would soon find in other parts of Asia.

The big attraction of Siem Reap, and of Cambodia generally, is the temple complex at Angkor Wat. It's hard to describe the physical extent and cultural importance of these sites without talking in numbers.
72 major temples covering 100 square miles, built between 900 and 1300AD.
Angkor Wat - the largest of the temples - alone had a population of 80,000. Next month, a much smaller figure will sum up Angkor Wat´s rise in popularity and importance.

On the seventh of July this year (7/7/7), the New Seven Wonders organisation will announce in Lisbon the result of a lengthy process to select the new seven wonders of the world. From a shortlist of 21, including the Easter Island Statues and the Sydney Opera House, the top seven will be ranked in order. I'd be surprised if Angkor Wat wasn´t in the top 3.

The temples are now coming under a new threat though, from the number of visitors. Tourism has exploded in Cambodia, since it emerged from the horrendous instability and mass murder of the 1970s and 1980s. As recently as 1994, Khmer Rouge terrorists were abducting tourists and the tourism industry was negligible. In the last 10 years it has taken off to such an extent that Siem Reap is awash with building projects - hotels, museums, shopping centres. I arrived at one temple just as they were taking the covers of 5 new sets of binoculars.
(Above Right - The temples have been an inspiration to artists and film-makers for eons. More recently, computer game designers are said to have pinched parts of the temples for game design. I could definitely recognise Prince of Persia, Serious Sam and of course Tomb Raider (mis-spent youth, and not in a good way!). It was an uncanny and surreal feeling walking around...)
I hope the amazing growth rate in tourism doesn´t destroy the fantastic atmosphere and friendly nature of the local people. This is another place you just can´t get to soon enough...

One last figure - I took 500 pictures in 3 days. And could have taken more. Here´s a few.

The variety in architectural styles could keep you coming back for years. I am still amazed at how Scottish this particular scene looks. The only place in Scotland where you´d get the same heat and humidity would be in a Glasgow tanning salon though.

(Left - climbing up the temples is definitely at your own risk - often quite high risk! This is about 80 feet up. A bit of unnecessary risk in this case though as - right - I found there were stairs on the other side when I got to the top)

The temples were built in devotion to both Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. In more recent times, newer beliefs have sprung up - such as the belief that by touching the breasts of one of the thousands of temple nymphs, you will have great fortune in love. I touched the boobies of the one on the right in this picture. Here´s hoping it will bring me the love of a good woman. (Maybe not one with such a high-maintenance hairstyle though).

Angkor Wat, Bayon (above, and the picture with the face) and the other temples are just a joy to photograph. What a place!

1 comment:

Graeme said...

500 photos in 3 days!!
My full sympathy goes out to Mr and Mrs Scott in September/October/November as they sit politely on their sofa at home while Calum sits nearby showing the complete set of 365 days. Boots shares however are rising rapidly as the homeward leg approaches. Indeed the Ayr branch is anticipating a major refurbishment later this year...