Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A virtual visit

A virtual visit to Sambor Prei Kuk
I haven't mentioned it before, but you may be interested to visit this website which is putting together a virtual reconstruction project of the central temple at Sambor Prei Kuk, near Kompong Thom, essentially an attempt to apply 21st century technology to 7th century cultural heritage. This work is being undertaken by the University of California, who are aiming to make the history of Sambor Prei Kuk more accessible through a virtual visit. Similar efforts have been made by the Monash University team in Australia to provide a look at the life and times of Greater Angkor during its heyday in the 13th century. Visit Nat Geo for a look at their work.

Labels: ,

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Kbal Spean sculptures

Vishnu reclining on the serpent Ananta with a headless Lakshmi cradling his legs
If you can manage the 40 minute hike to the top of the mountain at Kbal Spean, your efforts will be rewarded with the sight of riverbed sculptures, thousands of lingas and a peaceful forest setting complete with waterfall. Too many tourists can spoil the serene location but that's a problem throughout the Angkor complex these days. At least Kbal Spean is off the main circuit but it's getting more and more popular, so grab the chance to see it now. I've posted here some of the key rock sculptures you can see on your visit to Kbal Spean, which is essentially a small river that flows from the summit of the sacred Kulen mountains and is fertilized by flowing over the lingas and down to the fields around Angkor below. That's the theory. It is a natural sandstone bridge, from where Kbal Spean gets its name, and depending on the time of year, some of the carvings are submerged by the course of the river and others are open to the elements. The original carvings were made in the late 10th, early 11th centuries and added to later on. You can see quite a few carvings which have been damaged and destroyed by thieves, intent on robbing this secluded place of its treasures. Vishnu is the most popular of the gods featured on the rockbed carvings.
The natural sandstone bridgehead has been sculpted in numerous places with carvings of the gods as well in the shape of lingas that fertilize the flowing water
Vishnu reclining on the serpent Ananta with Lakshmi in attendance
Next to Vishnu are three temple-type structures depicted containing lingas
Vishnu reclining on the serpent Ananta, with Brahma rising out his navel. Lakshmi is headless, a victim of thieves. Another carving of Brahma is on the far right of the photo.
A carving of Brahma on a large boulder
Vishnu reclining on the serpent Ananta and lings on the right side
Vishnu reclining on the serpent Ananta with Lakshmi holding his legs
Vishnu reclining on the serpent Ananta with Brahma on a lotus flower
The serene face of Vishnu carved into the sandstone bedrock at Kbal Spean
The central Shiva figure in this carving was hacked out leaving just a few smaller figures at its base
Inside one of the small caves above the waterfall is this shrine containing two sandstone pedestals and some sacred rocks. Hermits used to inhabit these caves.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Press talk + tickets

CPL play-off reports in the PPPost
Above are my match reports in Monday's Phnom Penh Post following on from last Saturday's first round of Super 4 play-offs in the Cambodian Premier League. Click here to read them online.
Below is my 3-day Angkor pass which I obtained late on Sunday afternoon, so I could watch the sunset for free that day. I was offered a 3-day pass over a week period or for 3 consecutive days. I close the former, and I was happy that the ticket-sellers offered me both options.
The front of my 3-day US$40 Angkor pass, ignore the mugshot
The back of my 3 days in a week pass, with 3 days punched out on the right

Labels: , ,

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunset central

Today's peaceful sunset over Srah Srang at Angkor
Now popped over to see me and we took the opportunity to get out to Angkor to have a look at three sunset locations, now that Phnom Bakheng, the prime spot for sunsets over the Western Baray, is a virtual circus. I was pleased to hear Sokuntheary, the ticket-seller, offer me both a three consecutive day pass or a three days in a week pass when I arrived at the ticket counter, as I'd heard you had to ask. We headed for the quiet temple of Eastern Mebon and saw the buses lining up as we passed Pre Rup, which didn't augur well for that temple. Meanwhile, Eastern Mebon was empty but the high tree-line negated it as a sunset location so we quickly headed back to Pre Rup. Here the Japansese tourist buses had spilled out their contents and with such a small temple by comparison to Bakheng, every available vantage spot was taken well before sunset arrived and ruined any hope of watching the sunset in peace and tranquility. Pre Rup has become a mini-Phnom Bakheng and don't forget this is the low season, so it'll only get worse after November. I had one last option as the sky darkened. Srah Srang was close enough so we got the car driver to drop us at the eastern end of the royal pool and we settled down to watch the sunset in that peace and quiet I was looking for. And considering the inclement weather of recent weeks, it was a lovely sunset too as the sky took on a hue of blues and yellows. Recomendation; if you are looking for your own sunset location and don't mind the crowds, then Bakheng will suit you. If you want some peace then you'll likely be on your own at Srah Srang or even Phnom Krom, if you don't mind the drive out towards the lake and a tough climb up the hill. The latter isn't everyone's cup of tea.
The view from the top of Pre Rup
Now poses for a picture at the top level of Pre Rup
This was the scene at the top level of Pre Rup and there were virtually no more spaces to be had
Some lovely cloud formations at Srah Srang
With just a family for company, Srah Srang was completely devoid of anyone else

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Angkor ticket changes

1-day Angkor Park temple pass
Responding to requests from the tourism industry, Sokimex, who hold the concession for managing the Angkor temple complex and nudged by Hun Sen and the Ministry of Tourism, have made a couple of changes to the rules governing the use of entrance tickets to the Angkor Park. Whilst there is no change to the daily tickets (cost $20), the $40 tickets for 3 consecutive day visits can now be used to visit the site for up to 3 non-consecutive times, as long as the visits are made within the period of 1 week. This is particularly good flexibility as it allows visitors to have a day or so rest from the temples, get to see a bit more of Siem Reap and surrounding countryside and can avoid getting 'templed-out.' With regards to the $60 weekly visit tickets, these can now be used to access the temple for 7 days, but over a period of 1 month. I can see this causing some confusion for the ticket checkers, who will need some training sessions to get these new rules under their belts. And when do the new rules come into force - when the new tickets are printed!


Friday, February 20, 2009

Phnom circus

Every available vantage point is sought on Phnom Bakheng. This youngster tries his luck with this linga with the central shrine in the background.
I mentioned my recent visit to Phnom Bakheng for the sunset experience and how horrendous it was. The temple-mountain is a magnet for sunset snappers and there were literally thousands of people taking up every available inch, and making a din that completely spoiled the moment. It may be the highest spot in the Angkor Park to take your sunset pictures, and it used to be the best, but it's become a victim of its own success. Avoid it at all costs unless you simply have to tick the sunset box on your Angkor itinerary. Having said all that, a visit to Phnom Bakheng at any other time is definitely worth the long climb. The dangerous and direct route is now off-limits, so its a long circular climb to reach the top these days. The pyramid temple was the state capital for King Yashovarman I in 889 and has 108 prasats (shrines) in total and its central tower originally held a linga dedicated to Shiva. You have a great view of the Angkor Wat towers as they peep out of the treeline, but beware, the thousands who descend (or should that be ascend) on it each day begin to arrive at 4pm, so time your visit accordingly. Here's some pictures from my recent sunset visit.
The original steep and dangerous route to the top of Phnom Bakheng, now closed
A magnificent lion on guard at the foot of the original stairway
$20 gets you a lift to the top on this elephant's back
This lion is contemplating his next lunch - the Angkor Balloon
Angkor Wat's towers peering out through the treeline
Now and I got there early but still the crowds were already forming
One of the camera-clicking hordes at the Phnom Bakheng circus - oh, it's me!
With half an hour still to go to sunset, the crowds are thickening at the summit
The view that thousands come to see each evening at Phnom Bakheng

Labels: ,

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Seen from the air

Banteay Samre seen from the air
To round off the photos taken on my microlite flight on Tuesday morning - well those where my finger isn't blocking the view, as I held my camera tightly and the reflection from the sun on my viewfinder made it almost impossible to see what I was photographing - here's a few more temples as well as some general shots from our cruising height of around 500 feet up. The flight over Phnom Bok was both exciting and scary all at the same time. The mountain is 770 feet high and we were well above the summit, where I had been only a couple of weeks before. On that occasion I had to climb the 600+ steps to reach the top. I much preferred the ariel view - far less tiring. If you wish to enjoy seeing part of Angkor and the surrounding countryside, let me know and I'll put you in touch with the pilot Eddie. It's an experience you won't forget.
I've yet to visit this temple on the ground as it was flooded on my last attempt. It's Phnom Tor at the corner of the eastern baray.
Looking over Eddie's shoulder as we head for the summit of Phnom Bok
The temple on the top of Phnom Bok, some 770 feet up. The shrine housing the giant linga is at the top right of picture.
This small temple, Prasat Leak Neang, sits in the shadow of Phnom Bok and I've yet to visit it on the ground
A small trapeang or pond, one of many that dot the landscape
A small village surrounded by trees
A look at the brand new road to Anlong Veng, that begins at Roluos
Water buffalo in a swamp near Banteay Samre
The moment of truth, just before we take off on our hour-long adventure

Labels: ,

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Temple topping

A birds-eye view of East Mebon temple

So how would I describe my microlite experience? I was remarkably calm as Eddie did a five-minute test flight to check everything was in wording order. I didn’t dwell on what could go awry, focusing instead on what I would see and wondering whether my point and shoot camera would do justice to the views. Eddie landed, I climbed into the rear seat and he strapped me in and checked the microphone was on. Within two minutes we were airborne, so there was no time for last minute panic, as we bounced along the narrow track before lift-off. If I say the first few minutes or so took my breath away it would be a gross understatement. Buffeted a little by the wind, don’t forget we are open to the elements not in a helicopter for cissies, we quickly rose to a high altitude – the highest we reached was 1,100 feet – and I found it difficult to focus as the nerves and adrenalin kicked-in. I had no choice but to put my trust in Eddie’s flying skills and he kept me expertly occupied with a running commentary.

Ta Som is almost obscured by the trees enveloping the site
A great view of East Mebon with the morning sun highlighting the temple
Pre Rup stands out way above the treeline
An almost perfect picture of Pre Rup considering I couldn't see what I was doing!

With a blanket of smoke obscuring the bottom half of Phnom Bok and beyond, we quickly arrived above the first of the eleven temples, Ta Som, that we’d fly over on our 1-hour flight. I was pleased to still see a good amount of tree cover at this edge of the Angkor Park as we soon encountered East Mebon and Pre Rup in quick succession. Despite the haze in the distance, I could make out Srah Srang lake and the Angkor balloon, as we dropped a little lower and headed out over a patchwork of rice fields, small trapeangs (ponds) and villages with Eddie waving constantly whilst I gripped my camera tightly to take some photos. Battling with the wind – we were cruising at about 40 miles per hour – the sun’s reflection on my camera view finder meant I couldn’t see what I was taking pictures of, so it was really a case of point, shoot and pray. Eddie meanwhile was flying with one hand and snapping away with the other like a true pro.

A view of the fields leading to Srah Srang in the distance
The solitary tower of Prasat Trapeang Phong at Roluos
In what seemed like no time at all we were above the area of Roluos and circling the tower of Prasat Trapeang Phong before an incredible approach to the temple pyramid of Bakong. Even I couldn’t fail to get a good picture of this. Preah Ko and Lolei were next as we headed out for Banteay Samre and the tiny Prasat Tor, passing the brand new golf course that has been plonked in the middle of this rural landscape. My first real feelings of trepidation – Eddie had kept our tiny machine so steady and level throughout the flight – was when he announced we would fly over the top of Phnom Bok. I immediately thought of updrafts, downdrafts and stuff I had no idea about though Eddie said it would be fine, and of course it was. In my mind, flying over level ground is one thing, flying over a hill is altogether different but it was a thrill to look down on the summit, where I had been on foot two weeks earlier. Just behind the hill was a small brick prasat, Leak Neang, that I’d never seen before and it felt weird to discover a temple from the air rather than on the ground. We tracked the new road that leads to Anlong Veng for a couple of minutes before beginning our approach to landing, on the same narrow track we’d left exactly an hour before. We landed with the merest of bumps and I thanked Eddie over the intercom for a fantastic trip as we came to a stop in the field behind the police station, a few kilometres south of Banteay Srei. My birds-eye view of a part of Angkor and the Cambodian countryside was a privilege and I can’t thank Eddie enough for taking me up and looking after me so well. It was a thrill of the highest order and as ‘safe as houses’. If you fancy getting the same buzz, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with rocky-steady Eddie The Eagle. It's no exaggeration to call it the trip of a lifetime.
The majestic pyramid temple of Bakong surrounded by water
The microlite is in competition with Preah Ko in this photo
The temple of Lolei is almost hidden in the grounds of the pagoda

Labels: ,