1st Jul 2012
Exploring the temples of Angkor
Based in Siem Reap, we spent 3 days exploring the temples of Angkor with our guide Borey and tuk-tuk driver Sang. The temples we visited included:
-Beng Melea plus the stone quarry
-The Roulus group of Bakong, Preah Ko and Lolei
We were constantly awed by the amount of work it would have taken to build each temple complex. The engineering feat of the temple designs was impressive as was the effort of getting the huge blocks of stone from the quarries to the temple sites 15 or more kms away. This was still a mystery, but thought to be achieved by precutting each block to size, towing by elephant and floating them on bamboo rafts down natural and constructed waterways to the sites. The artistic perfection of the statues, base reliefs, and decorative carving around the doors, windows, steps, causeways etc was simply stunning. There were statues and carvings everywhere you looked. The artisans would have been numerous and busy for years and years. We got a small insight into thier skill and techniques when we visited a stone carving workshop run by master carvers to teach the art form to the boys in a local orphanage.
Some of the temple complexes were massive, covering 35 square kms or so. Most took 25-35 years to build. One temple took 38 years to build. Experts estimate it took 35,000 people to build the complex with another 135,000 people growing rice etc to support the people involved in construction and artisan activities. It is thought most likely that people participated voluntarily in order to earn karma for the next life. Unlike similar structures in other countries, which were built by slave labour under cruel working conditions.
Our guide Borey was very knowledgable about the history and culture of the various periods in the history of Angkor. He also really enjoyed telling us the Hindu and Buddhist stories and mythology carved into the stone structures. Borey helped us understand how the structures were built and the various theories of how stone was transported to the various sites by showing clues left on the temples. He showed us evidence of how the carvings were made, visible in a few sections where carvings had been left unfinished. He also showed us a base reifef in one temple, that showed the construction process as a permanent record.
Various Angkor kings changed the national religion back and forth from Hinduism and Buddhism. The temples were converted accordingly. In the Buddhist temples converted to Hindu, the Buddha figures were chiselled out or converted to Hindu deities such as Vishnu figures.
Pete and I thought that we would have missed much of the deeper meaning of this fascinating place if we did not have a guide. We would have walked straight past much of the evidence Borey showed us as we simply would not have known it was there. This was a bit of a revelation considering we rarely hire a guide on our travels, preferring the cheaper self-guided option. We rated the temples of Angkor right up there with other sites we had visited such as Machu Pichu, the Taj Mahal, the Mouai of Easter Island, and the Colosseum.
Borey was a mine of information about the local customs and culture. We asked him all our curious questions since arriving in Cambodia and he took great delight in answering these.
One mystery Borey solved for us was:
"What were the plastic sheets rigged up on a bamboo frame outside people's houses in the countryside?" These had an electric wire coming from the house attached to a light inside a plastic bottle, and suspended from the bamboo frame. A trough of water, also constructed from a plastic sheet inside a bamboo frame, was placed under the plastic sheet and light.
Borey's eyes lit up when he answered this question. They were cricket traps! People turned the light on at night to attract the flying crickets, which flew into the plastic sheet and fell into the trough underneath and drowned. People collected the crickets to deep fry and eat! We had tried deep fried crickets at our homestay in Mai Chau in Vietnam. They tasted like crunchy chips and were high in protein and nutritious. We also saw baskets of these deep fried treats for sale in the markets.
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