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Tonlé Sap
Tonlé Sap
Angkor Wat temple
Angkor Wat temple
Locals come back
Locals come back
Face of Angkor Wat
Face of Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

Thursday, July 24, 2003
Angkor Wat is the largest and most impressive of the temples and it appears on the Cambodian flag. Its walls carry bas-relief depicting the way life was when it was constructed, most likely as a funerary temple honouring Vishnu, the Hindu god, for Suryavarman II who ruled from 1112-52.

Siem Reap means "Siamese Defeated", and even though this sleepy but fast-growing town is not the nearest town to Angkor, it is worth a visit. There is a good range of hotels, backpackers and little guesthouses and restaurants, as well as an arts and crafts industry. It sits just north of the western extreme of the Tonlé Sap — Great Lake — which receives rich sediment from most of Cambodia's streams and rivers after each year's wet season.

The lake swells from 3000 square kilometres to 7500 square kilometres after the wet, and it deepens from 2.2 to 10m. Around 40 percent of Cambodia's population makes a living from Tonlé Sap which has one of the world's richest sources of freshwater fish. The ebbing and flowing of the waters has always been important — several centuries ago the waters were channeled into temple moats and sacred lakes.

Siem Reap has a population of around 200,000 and has a country town feeling with a French influence and buildings still stand from colonial days. There are many bridges crossing the river, so exploring for restaurants and markets is quite easy. Other things to do are visit a shadow puppet centre, a school for wood and stone carving, a silk farm, crocodile farm or enjoy an inexpensive massage with donations helping to educate local blind people.

There are about 100 Buddhist and Hindu temples in the Angkor region, some more than a thousand years old. Until the 1800s they were buried in thick jungle, and until recently were surrounded by landmines. These have been cleared, making the area safe for tourists, but a new threat has taken over. Bandits! Stolen pieces of the temples and their statues unfortunately attract huge amounts of money on the black market, and private collectors seem to have no qualms about the destruction being caused. In New York, stolen sculptures can command up to $100,000 a piece.

Angkor Wat is the largest and most impressive of the temples and it appears on the Cambodian flag. Its walls carry bas-relief depicting the way life was when it was constructed, most likely as a funerary temple honouring Vishnu, the Hindu god, for Suryavarman II who ruled from 1112-52.

Angkor Wat is unique, mainly because it is facing westward, symbolically the direction of death, which led many people to believe the temple was a tomb. However, as Vishnu is associated with the west it is now believed that Angkor Wat was both a temple and a mausoleum for the king. Its moat is 190m wide, crossed from the west by a sandstone causeway, the sandstone most likely quarried many kilometres away and floated down the Siem Reap on rafts.

The second most popular temple is Bayon, a place of many corridors, steep stairs and 54 Gothic towers, covered with around 200 gargantuan faces of Avalokiteshvara, and wherever you are at least a dozen of them seem to be coldly leering at you. There is a lot of mystery surrounding Bayon, and from afar it seems to be just a lump of rock, but once you have entered, the magic begins.

The Temple of Ta Prohm has been deliberately left the way it was when Europeans made the amazing discovery. It was covered with jungle growth and bird droppings and locals believe that if attempts were made to clear it, Ta Prohm would probably crumble away.

Car hire is available in Angkor, but only with a driver, which could be to your advantage. If road rules do in fact exist, no-one seems to obey them. Motorcycles can also be hired, but foreigners must hire one with a rider.

Location

North-west Cambodia

Cost

Intrepid Travel has an eight-day "Road To Angkor" package including return economy airfares, accommodation, local guide and three day pass to the temples starting at $1950 from Perth and $2090 from the east coast, per person, twin share.
Please note prices are valid at time of transmission and to the best of our knowledge are inclusive of GST.

More information

Intrepid Travel
Ph: 1300 364 512
www.intrepidtravel.com
info@intrepidtravel.com

To book a flight, visit www.qantas.com.au or call 13 13 13.

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