27 January 2014

The World's Largest 3D Jigsaw Puzzle

That's what the first Westerners found when they "discovered" the temples of Angkor... the world's largest three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle... almost completely hidden from sight by almost 1000 years of forest growth. 
Ta Phrom temple

Today, over 150 years later, the forest has been cut back to a perimeter outside the walls and many of the temples' main structures are partially of almost completely rebuilt.
    Banyon Temple

The task is daunting and is greatly helped with money from China, Korea, France, Germany, and the U.S.

Sunday, 26 January
Taking an 8:20 a.m. Vietnam Airlines flight put me through Cambodian Immigration and Customs before 10 a.m. and Mr. Rith, my tuk-tuk driver for the duration, was waiting for me and holding a sheet of paper with my name on it. I'd forgotten how nice it is to be met at the airport, even if it is by a total stranger sent by the hotel. 

Mr. Rith dropped me off at the hotel and we agreed that in about 30 minutes he would take me to the Angkor National Museum. The welcome given by the reception staff at the Soria Moria Boutique Hotel could hardly have been warmer. I immediately felt like this was a great choice for me. The hotel is 51% employee-owned and everyone I encountered in my three-day stay was smiling, friendly, extremely helpful, and apparently glad to have me there--just like any owner.

The rooms are large and comfortable, there is a rooftop bar and sun deck, a "sky jacuzzi", a spa, and free Wi-Fi for guests. On Tuesday, they will even offer to help me get the blood out of my pant leg!

When you go to Angkor, please go to the Angkor National Museum BEFORE you go to the temples, unless you are either Hindu or a religious scholar. Most of us in the Western world, myself included, are painfully unaware of other cultures and religions. When your Guide talks about a lingua or Shiva or Garuda or Naga, you will have a much better chance of understanding the context and remembering who or what something is or means at the next temple IF you have already taken 2-3 hours to tour the museum. You will also see the 1000 Buddhas that used to be in one of the temples.

Click here for a quick reference guide to a few of the key figures.

A few words about the temples of Angkor before I share some of my favorite photos...

a) The temples are MUCH bigger than they look in the photos unless you have a frame of reference, e.g. a person in the shot.

b) Virtually every surface is intricately and exquisitely carved with almost unbelievable attention to detail.

c) They were created with hammers, chisels, sticks, rope, muscle, and a great vision.

d) The temples are sandstone built over a limestone base. The quarries for each are ~60 km away.

e) as at Machu Picchu, the stones were fitted together without mortar

I hope you enjoy my photos...

~100 foot-wide hand-dug moat surrounding and protecting Angkor Wat; causeway at left.

On the left, a restored section of Angkor Wat causeway; 
The right side is unrestored.

The edge of a window and Aspara dancers, each on a different plane.

Aspara dancers, each ~18 inches high.

King Suryavarman II on his elephant (notice the matching royal headgear) with his troops. Portion of carving shown ~60 inches high.

All temples are sandstone over a limestone foundation

Angkor Wat East side of South wall. Notice that the towers are all lotus-shaped.

Entrance gate to Banyon Temple. Note the face.

Guardians at Banyon Temple. Dark are original; white are restored. 
This is how one distinguishs old from restored at all temples.

Many of the faces of Banyon Temple...

I like this shot from the beginning of the post, so you get to see it again.

The Elephant Wall is 300+ yards long and all carved in this style.

Notice the royal headgear...

Inside Ta Phrom Temple

Many of the trees that engulfed Ta Phrom were left intact to show how nature had taken it back over the centuries.

Restoration work at Ta Phrom

More photos to come...

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