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Brad’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 15 Feb 2006

Location: Siam Reap (Angkor), Cambodia

Map...well, in the end, I did end up going to Cambodia! I'm writing this from Siam Reap, or better known as Angkor, the immense ruined city built by the Khemer empire over a thousand years ago, and one of the most amazing things there is to see in the world (for those unfamiliar with Angkor, it played a starring role in the first Tomb Raider film). I've been cycling around the many temples for the past two days, and I have to say this is far and away the most amazing thing I've ever seen.

The jungle for kilometres is littered with all variety of temples in different conditions, the remains of a city that once held well over one million people. Each one has its own unique amazing character, but there were of course a few standouts...

Angkor Wat is undoubtably the best know of the temples, and for good reason. It is apparantly the largest religious structure in the world Surrounding the temple is a man made moat, which is about fifty metres across and well over a kilometre in both length and width. To approach the island you cross a huge stone causeway, then pass through the main gates to behold the temple itself - an immesnse structure crowned by four towers surrounding a central tower. Clambering up the super steep stairs to the inner sanctum is incredible, you can't believe you're really there. Let me say, the photos don't even begin to capture it!

Another highlight was the Bayon, a temple built by one of the god-kings to glorify himself, and certainly one of the most unusual temples in the world. There are over two hundred faces of the buddha (whos face was modified to look like the king's) carved into the multitude of towers protruding from the temple. The result is everywhere you look, there are at least four or five faces at different hights staring at you. Very strange and mysterious...

One of my favorite temples was Ta Prohm, one of the temples to be engulfed by the jungle and only discovered in relativly recent times. Although much of the vegetation has been cut out of the temples, some of the trees were so entrenched that they couldn't be removed without damaging the temple. The result is some amazing growths - huge tree roots that have found gaps in the stone and sometimes totally covered sections of the temple. This place is really awesome to wander around in!

A huge ziggurat temple nearly the size of Angkor Wat's temple, but left unfinished for unknown reasons.

Other than these there were another dozen temples I visited, but I'd be here all day if I wrote about them all (and they are all worth writing about). I even managed to fit in a quick swim today in one of the old resovoirs with some Cambodian kids! I ended the day today with a visit to a massage school that trains blind Cambodians to give massage - a wonderful, touching (excuse the pun) experience. The poor Cambodians have been through an aweful lot in recent years (Pol Pot's regime, genocide, civil war - the Khemer Rouge were still active here only fifteen yeas ago) and compared with Thailand, it suddenly seems like I'm back in the third world again (the road from the border to Siam Reap was the worst I've ever been on!). The people here are so extroadinary, always smiling and ready to help and and have a laugh, which is truly incredible given what most people have gone through.

Tomorrow I'm going to some more remote temples to do some exploring, then the day after heading down to Phnom Penh to check out Cambodia's rocking capital!