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

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Sunset on Cambodia

The setting sun from the top of Phnom Bakheng, where the crowds make it a forgettable experience nowadays
No, don't worry I'm not leaving Cambodia... these are just some pictures taken on my recent trip to Siem Reap and a view of the end of the day at two very different locations, both looking out over the expanse of fields and water, so prevalent in this beautiful country. Above is the view, over the tree-tops, from Phnom Bakheng, looking out to the western baray on the far right. It was hard to take a photo without a horde of tourist heads in the shot, but I managed it. The top of the 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 can't stay away.
On the other hand, the two pictures below were taken on another hill, south of Siem Reap at Phnom Krom. This was a totally different experience altogether. The views were just as good, actually they are better (in the rainy season they must be fantastic with the fields flooded with water) and I was practically alone. A couple of other tourists had the same idea as me, but they arrived, snapped and left me in silence as I watched the sun slip below the horizon. You need a temple-ticket for Phnom Krom and its a fair hike up the mountain but the weathered temple looks good in the late afternoon sun and the views across the fields and the northeast corner of the Tonle Sap lake are simply gorgeous. Go now before the hordes realize what they're missing.
A beautiful setting sun from Phnom Krom, minus the hordes
A patchwork of green fields and water await you from the top of Phnom Krom

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

I've been lax again

Now is one of the most genuine and kind-hearted people I know and I'm proud to be her friend. She is a souvenir seller at Angkor Wat.
You'd think I'd be able to find the time to update my blog, I'm only in Siem Reap for goodness sake, not in some remote village in the back of beyond. However my excuse is that the hotel I stayed in last night didn't have free wi-fi and neither does the hotel I moved into today. The rest of the time I haven't stopped to catch breath. However the internet aside, both hotels are excellent and I shouldn't moan as they are both complimentary, courtesy of the respective hotel's sales teams. The Victoria Angkor, where I stayed last night, was top drawer stuff. They gave me the Maharadjah Suite room and it was like a dream, the bed was so comfortable that I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. It's a 5-star hotel so I would expect it to be pretty good and it didn't disappoint. This morning I moved to the Tara Angkor, a new boy to Siem Reap's four-star class hotels and it too is damn fine. I stayed here a couple of weeks ago and the breakfasts are the best ever. My room is pretty good though the bathroom could be a little bigger and my mouth is already watering when I think of tomorrow's breakfast!
My classy bedroom at Victoria Angkor Hotel
Now and I arriving at the wedding party, with the sun full in our face
I got into town on Saturday after the usual six-hour bus trip from Phnom Penh, meeting my pal Sokhom and another friend, Chunly, who I hadn't seen for two years, at the lunch-stop in Kompong Thom en route. I popped into the Shadow of Angkor guesthouse to see Kim and her family before booking into the Victoria, having a quick swim and then out for dinner with Thanet, the sales manager of the Tara Angkor. As always she is the most generous of hosts and my chicken curry was unusually presented but pretty tasty. This morning I was out at 6.30am to take part in one of the traditional ceremonies for the wedding of Dary, the sister-in-law of my best friend Rieng. I joined a long line of guests carrying trays of assorted goodies to the home of the bride's parents, in this case, Rieng's newly-built house, before we tucked into an open-air breakfast, bathed in glorious sunshine. I retired to the Victoria to pack before Now arrived on her moto to take me to the lunchtime wedding party at a local restaurant, where nearly 500 guests ate and drank themselves to their hearts content. Now and I left around 2pm and headed out for a whistle-stop visit to a couple of areas of Angkor Wat I've never been to before and then we joined the hordes on top of Phnom Bakheng for sunset. I wanted to see how bad it really is these days and believe me, it was gruesome. Every possible vantage point was taken well before sunset and most of the audience was Asian, and very pushy. It was not a moment to savour in the slightest but we stuck it out til the end before we wandered back down the hill in the dark and headed for home. Now returned to her home in the Angkor Park whilst I headed for a curry at the popular Curry Walla and the internet shop, where I'm typing this right now.
The sun is out for the newly-married couple, with Dary resplendent in her 10th outfit change of the day
It got even worse than this at the top of Phnom Bakheng as sunset approached, as the scramble for places intensified

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