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I'm an Aussie who likes wandering all over the world but keeps coming back home to paradise and my family. If you are reading this on one of my travel blogs, I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed creating them. If you are reading the Diabetes and weight loss blog - I hope it helps in your battle with the beast. Cheers, Alan
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Friday, March 14, 2008

Angkor Wat

Travel Date 9th March 2008
Click on any picture to see a large version.

After a year of planning and anticipation I was a little worried that it would be an anti-climax.

By now I expected the crowd selling water, photos, and peeled and decoratively scored pineapples, and tuk-tuk drivers at the entrance but they were much less of a problem than those at the entrance to the Bangkok Grand Palace had been.

We seemed to have picked a good time early in the morning; not much of a crowd at the ticket centre. I paid my US$20, had my picture taken and received my ticket with the picture on it. All very high-tech.

On to Angkor. And it was no anti-climax. It was magnificent. As you approach, the first thing you notice is the moat. Not one of your puny European efforts - this moat was wide and deep.
To arrive at the entrance a wide, long causeway must be crossed. This wedding party arrived as I did; gloriously dressed for the occasion with the bridal party to the fore.

Unfortunately for the photos the entrance faces West and I was there in the morning, hence the shadows.

However, that may have been why it was uncrowded. A price worth paying – and the East entrance looks just as good to me. That is the large picture at the top of this page.

Despite the depredations of the jungle, many wars, some clumsy recent restorations and antiquity vandals over the centuries the architecture, decorations and designs are still breath-taking. Sadly though, many of the statues had been decapitated by those vandals.

The lack of crowds enabled me to do what I like most in places like this. To wander at my own pace, stop and spend time reading the book on Angkor I borrowed from the guest house, relate it to the structure, or statue, or bas-relief in front of me and to move on at leisure. Occasionally I would just find a spot to sit and muse on past civilisations. Inconsequential things. Like why did people who were generally 30cm shorter than me build such high risers into their steps and stairs that I needed to step high to climb them. That thought also occurred to me later in Egypt and Mexico.

As usual I’ll let the pictures tell most of the story, with an occasional caption.

But first, a brief history comment to set the stage. I was surprised when my reading showed such a strong Indian and Sri Langkan influence on the Khmer kingdom during the Angkor period. This was partly because of the strategic position of the Mekong Delta and the Isthmus of Kra in the trade between India and China during that period. Conflicts far to the North interfered with the land Silk Road route and made the sea routes more important.

About 790 AD the area was loosely ruled from Java and a new King who had been imprisoned in Java took control; he was Jayavarman II. Java and most of Indonesia had been under Indian or Sri Langkan control prior to that time, so Jayavarman II brought many of the sub-continent's ideas and religious influences with him. He added to those by introducing the concept of the monarch as a god with the cult of Devaraja. Sounds like a great idea if you happen to be the monarch. But he is also credited with shaking off the Javanese yoke and enlarging and unifying the Khmer Kingdom, setting it on the path to becoming the major power in the region for centuries to come.

Consequently, that Kingdom extended many aspects of the Indian culture into South-East Asia, but elements of Chinese and other influences were blended with it. Later, when I visited India, the common themes of the bas-reliefs and the various gods depicted on the walls at Angkor with statues and similar reliefs in Agra, Jaipur and Delhi became very clear to me.

As you wander through the complex, small shrines appear in odd places.

To the locals these places are still holy, and visitors must respect that. Some spots simply have a saffron robe or scarf draped over a statue, where believers light incense and pause to pray, others are quite crowded and busy.

There is a marked preference in the more pronounced bas-reliefs to displaying gorgeous well-developed ladies. One presumes the sculptors were male. I could relate to those guys:-)

Cheers, Alan


Travel Dates 8th - 10th 2008.
Please click on a picture to see the larger version.

I was a little nervous about using Bangkok Air for the flights to and from Bangkok to Siem Reap. I shouldn't have worried. The aircraft was an almost new MD90, the check-in staff accepted my Discovery Airpass e-ticket booking with no problems and the pilots (Russian going and English returning) were professional and smooth. Both airports were almost new.

I was booked into the Two Dragons guesthouse after good reports on the web. Again I had been nervous about staying in a guest house instead of a hotel and the reliability of arrangements made over the net. Again I should not have worried. My host, Gordon, had arranged for a tuk-tuk to meet me; it is such a feeling of relief to arrive in a strange land and to see your name, or something close to it, on one of those boards held up by the drivers. I got to know "Mr T", spelt "The", well over the next three days. He was also my driver around Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom the next day and took me back to the airport when I left.

The room was clean, the bed comfortable, the toilet and shower worked (although a little oddly:-), the aircon worked reasonably quietly and there were some English language channels among the 80 available on the TV. What more could you ask for US$22? Well, actually, there was more - to have a host who keeps promises and who spoke English and could add those little extra bits of advice on local customs, prices and things worth seeing made a tremendous difference. Thanks Gordon.

I ate most of my meals there although I did eat a couple in the Old Market. The food was better at the Two Dragons; the picture is the Khmer favourite of Amok, a spicy fish dish served in a scooped-out coconut.

The wines available in Cambodia surprised me, both with the range of French and Australian wines and with their moderate prices and good quality.

The only slight problem at the Two Dragons at the time was the construction going on over the road. I shuddered watching them working at height, ignoring the four-storey drop or relying on the bamboo scaffolding. It wasn't until later in my trip that I found this form of scaffolding and building practices also common in Hong Kong and India.

It seems that the term "Occupational Health and Safety" doesn't translate into Khmer, Chinese or Hindi.

I had expected the rural nature of the trip into town from the airport, but I hadn't expected to see the high number of four- and five-star hotels after a couple of kilometres.

The extremes of income sometimes were dramatically displayed when shacks were built beside the resorts.

I got the impression from some of the tourists I later met at Angkor Wat that many of the groups go by bus from the airport to the hotel, then to the "set" tourist sites and the special "Western" shopping centres and back to the airport without ever seeing downtown Siem Reap or meeting a Cambodian not working to service tourists. Hermetic Tourism. Not for me. But hey - whatever floats your boat.

These are just some representative shots of traffic and the town, taken while I wandered with Mr T in his tuk-tuk. All day cost US$12, a quick trip was $1, the Airport $4.

The last couple of shots, by the river, are only a few hundred metres from "downtown".

The Old Market section of town was surprisingly clean and reminded me instantly of those small back streets of Paris full of restaurants and sidewalk cafes. Many had french cuisine, or a Khmer/Thai/French fusion version although most were Khmer.

During my short time in Siem Reap I kept wondering how such a happy, industrious, energetic people could have allowed the sheer terror of Pol Pot. I didn't go to the killing fields nor to the museum at Phnom Penh. The only indicators of the horrors of the '70s were occasional roadside signs giving thanks to various international organisations for clearing the mines in that field. Those did remind me to stay on beaten paths and not go wandering on the grass when taking photos. I wondered along similar lines when wandering Czech, Slovakia and Poland. Why did the people allow this to happen? I still don't have an answer; I suppose I never will.

I am glad I went, not just for Angkor. A fascinating country and wonderful people.

Cheers, Alan

Monday, March 10, 2008

Departing Australia March 2008

Thursday 6th March 2008.

Well, here I go again. The wanderlust is in my blood, along with some other strange things. Obviously it's genetic; mum is off in her motorhome again out Cobar way and I'm off to see the world again while my better half looks after things at home. She“is traveled out", so this time Im on my Pat Malone.
Tweed Heads looks good from the air.

Today turned out to be one of those“waiting in airports” days. I will be taking 16 flights on this journey, but I hope this is the worst of the waiting days. I arrived two hours early at 9:15 am for the 11:15 Coolangatta to Sydney flight. They accepted both bags for carry-on, which was a relief; no checked bags. We left on time, and arrived in Sydney about 13:45. The free Qantas bus to the International Terminal was great.
Between terminals we passed the Singapore Airlines A380. It looks even bigger up close.
But then I discovered that my 18:05 flight to Bangkok was running three hours late.

I discovered the only comfortable armchairs in the concourse and settled down.

Waiting, waiting, waiting. Glad I brought a book with me.

Finally we boarded at 21:10. And waited. Announcements came over the PA from the second officer to tell us that the delay was caused by extra paperwork from the Engineers. Extra paperwork? I used to be one of those engineers in a past life. Extra paperwork meant either major repairs to critical items or arguments convincing the captain that some "condition of serviceability” was an acceptable risk. Not a way to fill me with confidence before a 9 hour flight.

We finally departed at 22:15, arriving uneventfully in Bangkok just before 3am. Wonderfully, there was a person from the hotel with my name on his board – at least that worked.

The rest of the trip has to be better:-)

Cheers Alan

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Wandering Again...

Yeah, I know. After an initial rush of enthusiasm I stalled at Slovenia and haven't written anything since.

So I needed some inspiration.

Well, here I go again. Once more unto the breech. This time I'm off on a "Temples and Pyramids" tour. Over seven hectic weeks I will be visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia; the Taj Mahal in India; Petra in Jordan; Giza, Abu Simbel and cruising down the Nile in Egypt; Chichen Itza and other Mayan sites in Yucatan; and Teotihuacan near Mexico City.

To get to and from those I will drop in on Bangkok, London, Washington, New York City and Dallas and then I'll wind down in Waikiki on the way home.

It should be interesting. It will certainly be an experience. I may not post much enroute because I won't have a computer with me. Maybe I'll buy a cheap one in Bangkok or Hong Kong. So please don't be annoyed if any comments await moderation for a while.

Au Revoir,
Cheers, Alan