Tuesday, 5 March 2013

CAMBODIA...The Magical Angkor!

The story of 
began at a time when life was
gentler, kinder 
graciously elegant.
this sets it 
at around
 900 AD.
 Khmer empire
was at it's peak
over the next 300 years,
produced what was described in
as the
"worlds most magnificent architectural masterpiece !"
I think what is magnificent is that
it survived the
 test of time!
My first trip to the quiet hamlet of
Siem Reap
 was about
12 years ago.
I was travelling with my good friend
Armed with little more than bits of
information gleamed from

 scattered conversations,
we made our way to
the sleepy town 

bordering on this
ancient site
the capital city,
Phnom Penh.
Not knowing what to expect is perhaps a good thing.
High expectations could be disappointing.
And disappointed we were not.
It was simply 
awe inspiring...
left us both pretty much speechless.
We were seasoned travellers with
 international viewpoints,
but the site left us humbled ,
under the 
shadow of the magnificent ruins.
Siem Reap
is no longer a sleep hollow.
The proximity of
has yielded
much fortune
in the form of 
mass tourism.
As we drove from the airport,
rows after rows of
budget hotels in all
manner of 
shape & size,
lined the dusty streets.
5 star properties
are all clamouring to get 
into the tourist market.
While sitting in the 
our chatty driver delivered
his version of 
in a nutshell.
I guess everyone 
has an opinion!
This time around, we stayed in a
a charming French managed 
boutique hotel,
was fortunately a little away from
the main town.
Birds instead of traffic
offer a much better 
Our first day was spent lazing by
 turquoise pool
under the shade of an
 immense umbrella.
The sun,
bright & intense
ball of life-giving source,
created playful shadows on the sparkling pool.
Such was life indeed,
where the only worry was
where to have dinner!
is a vast 
1000 square kilometres!
It was noted as the largest
preindustrial city in the world!
We set out early on the morning of the tour,
hoping that we would beat the
onslaught of eager
tourists on bus-loads.
By the time we arrived at the gate to 
purchase our passes,
hundreds of the aforementioned 
holiday makers were already there,
dressed in
various manner of colourful
holiday gear!
A convoy of all sorts of
modern-day transportation
crawled over a
bridge, led us onto the grounds of 
This is the outcome
having close to
2 million 
visitors a year!
Angkor Wat,
that most photographed 
Hindu temple,
which was later transformed into
a Buddhist site,
 is still a wonder
to behold.
Built along the lines of ancient Hindu beliefs,
with a central
 to resemble a mountain,
circled with galleries 
a moat which represents
the ocean.
How can something so old
sit comfortably among us today?
Here, there & everywhere
intricately carved scenes 
 Khmer life from
centuries before.
Stories unfold in stone,
leaped from wall to wall
affording us a quick-study
into a culture that is long forgotten.
The predominant palette is 
stone grey,
shiny in some parts and dusty in others,
these bas-reliefs are a testament
to a skilled hand from
a once 
proud & powerful nation.
It probably began with a 
 a vision.
To conjure up these
incredible structures
without aid of any modern instrument
is by no means an easy feat.
Determination and steadfastness
brought everything into perspective 
a work force willing to execute the scope
gave us the legacy that is 
In the evenings,
we sit in quaint restaurants in
Siem Reap
feasting on 
as the patrons.
These establishments
are serviced
by young 
intent on showing off 
their command of the

When the Khmer 
civilisation was at it's peak,
Jayavarman II
proclaimed himself the 
universal monarch.
And enforced unity in his people.
A superb & intelligent form of
irrigation, brought much needed water
to the plains of 
Stone carving is a thing of the past.
oil on canvas or wood 
is a much favoured
form of art-medium.
You gaze in wonder at the
hand-work & creativity
these people from ancient times.
I stand in awe...inspired,while
I ponder upon the imagination of such splendour on this
gigantic scale.
My emotions are swept up
high, floating between the stone towers as
birds sweep 
in & out 
in playful flight.
Today, the ruins stand eerily silent
on the plains of this remote part of 

as it's known
in the Khmer language.
The long corridors of the many galleries,

dark and damp,
echoes life from the past,

vaulted ceilings
fantastically carved pillars.

You feel the pulse of
great civilisation,

etched & hammered,
on every surface.

Dancing Apsaras
are all around,
casting a magical spell on us.

While natural light stream in 
wherever possible,
the scene like some 
movie set.
I chanced upon this youth,
executing his artistic skills
on paper.

The impossible made possible.
Fresh fruit to quench your thirst...
an escape from the 
heat & the dust...

...and suddenly around a remote corner,
you come across another
There's so much to absorbed and take in.
A visit to 
is a walk-through of a well preserved historical site.
A guide may be a good idea
one could easily manage
it with the help of a driver
a detailed guide book.

The night is just as interesting as the day!
While the day could be an
exercise in patience!
Life is after all about
 balance & harmony.
is serious about 
conservation & preservation,
they should start now
act fast.
Short term gains,
as we all know,
has no longevity.
The fruits of 
mass tourism
are definitely 
sweet & sour.
From what I see,
their only legacy is being trampled upon, 
without any consideration to damage.
How do you repair something
so old 
 not from our time?


  1. Sarah Boden Hartney17 April 2013 at 17:21

    Fantastic! We returned to Siem Reap after a fifteen year gap and of course the town has changed but it still has the original charm and brought back memories of backpacking around Asia many moons ago. One development is the recognisation that traditional crafts must be preserved and taught to the next generation. You can find many fascinating boutique shops, dotted between the local restaurants, which have been established to support local communities. As you find in Asia sometimes the money doesn't always flow in the right direction but generally there is an impression it eventually benefits those who need it most.
    Further out (15 minute Tuktuk ride) is Theam's House which is well worth the trip and where you can find lacquered elephants and artwork whilst watching the locals from the neighbouring community at work.. Set up by Lim Muy Theam, artistic director of Artisans d'Angkor for 12 years... he is starting to sell art in Australia and has opened a second shop in Phnom Penh.

  2. Thanks for the extra info Sarah!!!


Nice of you to write!