This day we are to head north in a private bus to Seam Reap, the city that is the gateway to the Angkor Wat temples. It is a drive of several hours.
To our surprise, it was raining.
From the bus we could see the bright green of rice fields.
Also the yellow of ready-to-harvest rice.
Mainly the land seems dry and not presently in use. Though they could grow more than one rice crop each year, they do not have the irrigation system to supply the water, so much of the land goes unused except for one crop in the rainy season.
One big stop on the way was to the “Spider Village.”
Fried tarantula is a regional delicacy in Cambodia. In the Cambodian town of Skuon, the vending of fried spiders as a snack is a popular attraction for tourists passing through. Tarantulas are also available elsewhere in Cambodia — in Phnom Penh for instance — but Skuon, a market town on the highway 75 kilometers (about 50 mi) from the capital, is the center of their popularity. The spiders here are bred in holes in the ground in villages north of Skuon, or foraged for in nearby forestland. Then fried in oil.
Tarantulas, anyone? These are so fresh they are still crawling.
Mounds of fried spiders are sold by the locals.
They also have plenty of living ones to amuse and scare the tourists.
The locals handle these tarantulas easily. I have heard that they are pretty docile. I am sure that they would let you take them too, if you dare. Below is a spider on one of our tour companions.
Carol has got us a spidey feast.
Carol munches away.
So do I. I have to confess, though, that I only ate the legs; they’re crunchy. They say that the meat tastes like chicken. “Tastes just like chicken!” I’ve heard that before. If I wanted chicken, I would order chicken! Mmm, tastes just like spider.
Along the road we saw quite a few Buddhist temples, with their big gates and stupas on the grounds.
Also many houses on stilts with trees planted around them for cooling shade in the hot season.
We took a short side trip from the main road and stopped at an ancient bridge, Spean Praptos Toeus, also called Spean Kompong Kday, on the road from Angkor to Phnom Chisor. This is the longest corbeled stone-arch bridge in the world, with more than twenty narrow arches spanning 285 ft (87m). The bridge was built in the 12th century during the reign of King Jayavarman VII, who was an important builder in Angkor, building Ta Prohm, Angkor Thom and Bayon. It is one of the few Khmer empire era bridges to have survived to the modern day.
Until pretty recently this bridge was still used on Cambodian National Highway 6, between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. It is still used locally for light traffic only.
At both ends of the bridge are nine-headed Nagas, the snake-gods so revered in Cambodia. Notice that flower offerings have been left by someone.
A roadside sign gives some history of the bridge.
Looking under the bridge you can see that instead of arches, like the Romans used 1000 years earlier, they used triangles.
These triangles did not allow for as much distance between pillars, so the columns of the bridge are quite close together. Still, the construction was strong enough to last almost 1000 years.
Looking through the bridge supports. You can really see how massive the structure is.
Two men with nets fishing in the river. This could have been seen at any time of the last 900 years.
Next to the Nagas, there are stone figures. I read somewhere that they depict Dvarapala, a Hindu door or gate guardian often portrayed as warrior or fearsome asura giant, usually armed with a weapon. Notice that incense and flowers have been offered to Dvarapala.
Since Cambodia is a pretty poor country, horse drawn carts are still in common use. This horse has pretty decorations.
We liked what we saw of the Cambodian people. Here is a couple riding along, both are smiling and happy.
After we checked into our hotel, we went out again to get tickets for the next day’s exploration at the Angkor complex, and to view a sunset from one of the temples there.
The story of Angkor Wat is much bigger than just that of a temple, though that is the most well known of the approximately 1000 temples that were built in the area.
Angkor is a region of Cambodia that served as the seat of the Khmer Empire, which flourished from approximately the 9th to 15th centuries. The word Angkor is derived from the Sanskrit nagara (नगर), meaning “city.” The Angkorian period began in AD 802, when the Khmer Hindu monarch Jayavarman II declared himself a “universal monarch” and “god-king,” and ended when Angkor fell in 1431, when Ayutthaya of Siam (Thailand) sacked the Khmer capital at Angkor, causing its population to migrate south, eventually to Phnom Penh.
The ruins of Angkor are located amid forests and farmland to the north of the Great Lake (Tonlé Sap) and south of the Kulen Hills, near modern-day Siem Reap, and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temples of the Angkor area number over one thousand, ranging in scale from nondescript piles of brick rubble scattered through rice fields to the magnificent Angkor Wat, said to be the world’s largest single religious monument. Many of the temples at Angkor have been restored, and together, they comprise the most significant site of Khmer architecture. The number of visitors approaches two million annually.
In 2007, an international team of researchers, using satellite photographs and other modern techniques, concluded that Angkor had been the largest-in-area preindustrial city in the world, with an elaborate system of infrastructure connecting an urban sprawl of at least 1,000 square kilometers (390 sq mi) to the well-known temples at its core. The closest rival to Angkor, the Mayan city of Tikal in Guatemala, was between 100 and 150 square kilometers (39 to 58 sq mi) in total size. Although its population remains a topic of research and debate, newly identified agricultural systems in the Angkor area may have supported up to one million people. A population of 1,000,000 was only reached at this, or any earlier time, by Rome, Bagdad, and Xi’an. If you stop and think about it, the question of providing food and water for one million people is immense. It is now thought that this was aided in Angkor by an extensive system of canals, and that possibly the decline was really not due to attacks from enemies, but rather ecological (or canal system) failure.
To save us time on the next day, we stopped to get tickets. There were many other people with the same idea.
Looking at the line, oops, I mean “queue,” in front of us.
And behind us. In the photo below is a good picture of our guide Rong.
The tickets we want, one-day passes with camera privileges, cost $20.00. Altogether it took us about 20-30 minutes to get our tickets. As a security measure, each visitor has their photo taken and printed on their ticket.
Here is the map posted at the ticket office. It shows only the central area of Angkor.
We then headed out through the temple complex. We passed bodies of water, all man made, from about a thousand years ago.
We arrived after a drive of a few minutes to a temple at which we were going to watch the sunset. This temple is Pre Rup, built in 962 CE as a Siva temple by King Rajendravarman II. This is a good place from which to watch the sunset, and not so crowded as the most famous place, Bakheng Hill, near Angkor Wat.
Many people were up on the top of the temple already, waiting for the sunset. Since it was overcast, we did not know if we would see one or not.
We entered a door to get into the temple grounds. The walls that the doors passed through had fallen, so the door was free standing.
We climbed a set of steep stairs to get to the top. These stairs were not as wide as ones we are used to. It turns out that the ancient Cambodians walked up stairs like these barefoot, on their toes, so did not need a wide step (unlike us).
Two stone lions guarded the stairs, one on each side.
Sitting near the top, this man brought a musical instrument.
People sitting and waiting.
Gods and goddesses line the walls, still in pretty good shape after a thousand years.
More of the waiting crowd.
Looking down toward the west.
Temple fragments line the grounds.
Here is a doorway. At the top of the door is the same kind of stone triangle that we saw earlier, on the bridge.
In some places there were these stone cylinders. I wonder how they are carved so perfectly?
We left the temple, no sunset tonight, only clouds.
After dark we wandered around a bit near our hotel. Here is the hotel, the City River Hotel. It was a good place, clean, well equipped, good place to eat, wi-fi in the room, and a pool on the roof.
Through the center of Siem Reap is a nice tame river. Hotels and restaurants face the river, and make use of the river’s ambience.
Some places use lights to decorate.
The figure below is a common one seen here. This is a Deva, pulling on a Naga body (just a segment). This is a small part of a bigger stone sculpture often seen here, of the ‘Churning the Ocean of Milk.” (Where the demons, Asuras, and gods, Devas, assisted by Vishnu, used the Naga, Vasuki, as a churning stick to remove the Nectar of Immortality from the Sea of Milk.
The swimming pool on the roof of the hotel, sometimes a peaceful oasis.
Well, we got here, to Angkor. This has to be a highlight of any trip. Tomorrow we will spend exploring a few temples. There are so many, we will just scratch the surface. There will be crowds, too. The popular places might be visited by 25,000 – 50,000 people (or more) in a day.
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