Art, Creativity, Photography, Travel, Writing

Siem Reap part III

The following day we got up at 6am so that we could get showered and ready to leave at 7am. We would have been woken at 6.15am even if we hadn’t chosen to make an early start because very loud music started for a wedding nearby. Apparently the earlier and noisier the music the more prosperity there will be for the happy couple.

We started our day with a visit to Ta Prohm which was relatively deserted at that time of morning. Noisy parrots flew overhead but they were difficult to see. Ta Prohm has been left in a “natural” state, i.e. more or less in the condition in which it was first discovered in the nineteenth century, hidden away under twisting vines and invasive tree roots. It was lovely. This was where part of the film Lara Croft was shot. There were mounds of collapsed masonry, and green lichen covered walls everywhere. The trees growing here are the aptly named strangler fig and silk-cotton, both of which extend their roots downwards holding the stones together but ultimately forcing the stonework apart. Originally it was a temple monastery and, according to inscriptions, eighty thousand people lived and worked here to support the monastery. Because of the invasive undergrowth it is hard to get an idea of the scale or complexity and harder still to imagine so many people living and working here.

the famous “Lara Croft” doorway

The only way to prune these immensely tall trees is to erect wooden scaffolding around them!

An army of leaf-sweepers is employed within the archaeological park to sweep up all the fallen leaves as these can harbour insects and other nasties.

After Ta Prohm we drove out into the countryside to visit Banteay Srei, a small red sandstone temple complex set within a moat with some very intricate carvings. It is nicknamed the citadel of women, some people considering that the intricacy of the carvings could only have been made by women!

Then we came back to East Mebon, and Ta Som, Neak Pean and Preah Khan.

East Mebon was a three tiered construction which was originally built in a huge artificial lake. It was hard to imagine what it might have looked like when it was surrounded by water and the only approach was by boat. The towers were constructed of brick and decorated with stucco which would originally have been coloured. The holes visible in the bricks were to provide a better surface for the stucco to bond to. The lintels are made of highly decorated sandstone which was quarried some 40km away. There are elephants at the corners of the temple.

Our next stop was Ta Som, another lovely wooded temple complex whose main entrance lay through a tower with 4 heads on it. It is a miniature, simplified version of the Ta Prohm temple. The towers were originally decorated with stone lotus flowers although most of these have now fallen down.

the lotus flower on the top of the tower is quite visible in this photo

another tree-strangled gateway

Neak Pean was a cruciform arrangement of ponds with a sanctuary tower on a circular island in the middle. The four ponds surrounding the circular central one were empty on our visit as it was the dry season. Two naga serpents, with tails entwined at one side and their heads at the other, surround the island. The horse statue is of Balaha. Four fountains inside four shrines gush water when the pond is full. The finest of these had an elephant and a man’s head as the fountainheads.

Preah Khan is approached via a naga bridge over a moat. Demons line the right side and gods on the left. There is a fine Garuda statue to one side of the entrance. According to inscriptions this temple appears to have been a Buddhist university as well as a considerable city. This was another beautiful, atmospheric place with lots of trees.

this statue apparently represents the perfect woman

her sister was hidden away behind the masonry

frieze in the hall of dancers

more local artwork for sale

We had lunch at one of the tourist restaurants – nothing special although one of the ubiquitous child beggars had a novel line for extracting money from tourists;  he explained that his family had a coin collection and he wanted tourists to give him coins from their country. We didn’t have any coins with us (Cambodia doesn’t use coins only paper currency) but we did give him a Thai note as we were very impressed both by his persuasive line and his good English.

That night we went back to the Amok restaurant for our dinner:

the starter – banana flower salad served on a banana flower petal

the main course – fried pork with ginger served on a banana flower petal

both were quite delicious.

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