Saturday, February 28, 2015

Angkor Revisit - Ta Phrom, Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat

Date: 27th December 2014

Ta Phrom

It was a quarter passed 2 when we were entering Ta Phrom gate. There are few gates entrances to the archaeological site of which you have to remember so that you can go back to the vehicle (in the case of not using the tour guide). We got lost a bit after a lot of touring inside the huge area and that's why I would like to remind for you not having the similar hassle like we did. Since we had only about 3 hours to cover the 3 places, we were so panicked when we could not find the way back to the parking lot. Lucky us, after a few extra minutes of searching, we could move on to the next site, i.e. Angkor Thom after being in Ta Phrom for about an hour. A very good place to visit, Tomb Rider's filming place, 1 should have been here.

I'm not going to share the background historical facts of Ta Phrom as I have well covered them in my previous entry that I made following my visit in 2007. You may read them and may even see how different I look at 7 years ago, older is better. The link is in "Siem Reap, Day 2 - Ta Phrom" written in Febuary 2013. The difference that I saw in the latest trip was, the place was a lot more crowded than my earlier trip. The visitor's area has been open up larger than before due to effortless restoration works by an archaeologist team. Thanks to them, you got to see the beauty of the lost city.

Angkor Thom

When we arrived in Angkor Thom, passing by the Elephant Terrace, I was actually very happy that Anne is not fond of the details history like I do. Should she decided to explore the whole Angkor Thom's complex, we would not be able to make it to the Angkor Watt nor even a dream to have good dinner dance show later that night. Anne is my most favorite person that I'm so lucky to have as my best friend. She's been way too good to me in all our 3 legs of earthbound travel thus far. I'm indeed lucky to have her as friend, though she is not so fascinated about history of the world. She saw a beauty of Bayon faces at the main temple complex in Angkor Thom then knowing about the Khmer empire. 

However, she has changed quite a lot from when we first started our journey, for example, she bought a Nikon DSLR camera and able to take a good photo of me. Else, I would be only capturing her. She is more sporting to give me a special pose and surprisingly suggested a pose of her imitating the Bayon. Gosh, I really love this girl so much. May we able to connect our travel route in the next few years to come. Another cute thing about her is the importance of being in Angkor Watt, without knowing that beside Bayon faces, there's other attractive things to see in Angkor Thom, i.e. Baphuon, Terrace of Leeper King, Phimeanakas, Terrace of Elepants, Preah Palilay and Te Pranam which was all covered in my full day trip with husband in 2007.

You may read the details of Angkor Thom in my previous entry, "Siem Reap, Day 2 - Angkor Thom". I'm equally happy to read those again today. How much different I looked before and now. Indeed, I'm feeling bless being able to visit them with 2 most important person in my life, i.e. my husband and my best friend. 

Angkor Watt

We arrived in Angkor Watt at 5.45pm. The place is amazingly full of crowds, mostly with the foreigner. As it was Saturday, there's quite an enormous number of local tourist too. I enjoyed watching a family group behaviour which was captured in my camera lenses. I'm sharing some of them here so that you may see what kind of loves visibly felt around them. The presence of love is indeed omnipresence like the presence of Allah.

Again, you may read what I wrote about Angkor Watt in my previous entry, which covers most aspect of the history narrated in "Siem Reap, Day 2 - Angkor Wat". I'm going to make a separate entry of the Apsara carvings in all the 3 temples that we've visited. The last entry for Siem Reap would be about the Apsara dance show.

Till later, thank you for visiting my page. Last but not last our last few photos in Angkor Wat to end this entry. Cheers everyone, have a good weekend and good rest.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mount Kulen National Park (Phnom Kulen)

Date of visit: 27th December 2014

I am greatly indebted to Anne for agreeing to visit the origins of the Khmer Empire, Kulen Mountain, located on the outskirts of Siem Reap. For a first timer in Siem Reap, one would prefer to explore the main temples near where we stayed, but she is really considerate (to me) when it comes to places of visit. She well understood my passion for history and ancient places. My husband is different. He can tolerate with my passion by going to those places but he will not enter nor explore the details like I do. It’s best to leave him at the gate where he can have his own time watching people, sipping coffee while smoking.

At the top of Kulen Mountain, i.e. from the Buddha Temple
Angkor Temple ticket center 

We have booked a private transportation with the hotel where they provided us a very good driver who speaks good English with immensely good history knowledge. I was most happiest in finding a person who speak the same history language. Anne did not participate in our conversation as she too not fond of history. We drove past paddy fields and remote villages to see the Mount Kulen’s attraction, i.e. carvings of Yoni and Linga etched into the sandstone riverbed. There are 2 other places that the driver took us at, the Reclining Budha and the Kulen waterfall. We covered the area within the first half of the day.

Kulen mount is situated in the Svay Leu District, at north east of Angkor Complex about 50 Km away, it takes approximately 2 hours’ drive up to the hill top with 487 meters height and plateau stretches 30 km long, it is opened for tourists in 1999 by private owned and charged for USD20 toll per foreign visitors (included in the transportation fee). The company developed road up to the peak. It is only possible to go up before 11 a.m. and only possible to come down after midday, to avoid vehicles meeting at the narrow road. For information, we paid USD99 for the whole trip, which includes a 1 day transportation to all places including the Angkor Temple, but excluding the Angkor temple entrance fee.

Kulen is considered by Khmers to be the most sacred mountain in Cambodia and it is a popular place for domestic visitors during weekends and festivals. The hill is used as the ancient capital city II in AD 802 to declare himself as god king and announced independence from Java, then giving birth to present day Cambodia. It was said that there are 56 Angkorian temples made of bricks and volcanic stones on the hilltop, but most of them are mostly in poor condition. On a later stage, the vast temple complex of Angkor Wat, began it's construction from the Mount Kulen. 

Toll gate for vehicle check point
Snacks and toilet break before riding on the mountainous side

The place is widely regarded as the birthplace of the ancient Khmer Empire,  dates back to the 9th-century, thought to be where Jayavanman II initiated the cult of the Shiva Linga during 802 AD declaration. The Emperor Jayavannam II declared a unified Khmer Empire under a single ruler, known as the Angkor period, although the capital city would not be moved for another century.

View when nearing the Mount Kulen
Lotus flowerused by the Buddhist and the Hindus for prayer

We explored several ruins, including the carvings of Yoni and Linga etched into the sandstone riverbed and the stone representation of the Hindu god Vishnu lying on his serpent Ananta, with his wife Lakshmi at his feet. Our guide has taken us to the major attraction sights and explain the history of the Khmer Empire, revealing some unique places along the way. Besides, we spoke about the fall and rise of the empire all over the world, not limited to Khmer empire, said to be the greatest during his time.

The first stop was at the temple where the Reclining Buddha is located before we adjourned to see the lingas carving on the river bed. Next, we were taken to see pagodas and a beautiful waterfall at the end the river. The temple is at the summit of the hill where tourist had a chance to see Buddhist pagoda and a large reclining Buddha statue 8 meters length carved into a sandstone bock in 16th century. It’s in a different scale with the reclining Buddha that we saw in Bangkok in 2013.

Amazing carving works by the Khmer

Butts babe, boobs oops :)

One of the most prominent sights in Phnom Kulen (mount kulen) is the statue of the reclining Buddha that has been carved out of a giant sandstone boulder and stands at a height of 8 meters. This is flanked by two towering and rare Cham Pa trees. Although imposing, it is not the biggest Buddha in Cambodia. The reclining Buddha at Prasat Phnom Baset, north of Phnom Penh, is older and bigger. And there is something odd about this Buddha at Phnom Kulen, where the Buddha is lying on his left side which is an offence against the strict rules of Buddhist iconography. The place is called as Preah Thom which is quite crowded with beggars. There are a lot of local visitors, mainly on the weekends who came here to offer their prayers.

With the local girl who we paid to accompany us in the temple

One of the most celebrated aspects combining the natural and the manmade is Kbal Spean, or the River of a Thousand Lingas. It was our second stop for the day. The sandstone rock bed of this shallow river is carvings of the Shiva phallus and its female counterpart Yoni symbols, interspersed with depictions of reclining Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma gods. This is said to have been done to assist the scared waters in better fertilizing the plains below. In the Hindu tradition, water flowing over the lingas is sacred and holy, and many Cambodians bottle the water from the downriver waterfalls.

You must not miss the opportunity to visit this water spring, a little bit walk from the river

A visit to Mount Kulen would not be completed without visiting the last attractive spot, i.e. the waterfall. It is splits in two spots the first waterfall is four or five meters heights and 20 to 25 diameters in dry and raining seasons. The second waterfall is 15 to 20 meters heights and 10 to 15 diameters in dry and raining seasons. We decided not to go down to see the 2nd tier waterfall as we were running out of time. Nevertheless, being able to dip our feet inside a cool water is priceless. The source of water eventually flows in to Tonle Sap Lake and is thought to bless the water ways of Cambodia.

Entrance to the waterfall

I have to make this entry quite long for comprehensiveness and completeness, so it may assist you what to look up to should you want to visit Phnom Kulen.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Siem Reap, a return trip after 7 years

Return date: 27th December 2014

Carvings in Bayon

I was here in the city in May 2007 with hubby celebrating not only our second honeymoon but to celebrate my final resignation from MMC Engineering after the 2 resignation letters were retracted by my former bosses. After 17 years of marriage and 10 years of working in MMC, we both thought that it was a good time to celebrate the 2 most important event in 1 of the wonders of the world. 7 and a half years later, i.e. in December 2014, I revisit Siem Reap with Anne as part of our earth travel. Though I initially wanted to bypass Siem Reap, it would be inconsiderate for me to do so as Anne has not been there before. It was her first time which is very important for her to see at least the Angkor Watt.

Linga carvings on the Kulen riverbed

As earlier mentioned in the itinerary, we have rather a short time to spend in Siem Reap, i.e. a full day of touring. After an agreement with Anne a night before, we have booked the transportation from the hotel for our 1 day sightseeing. We have covered the following places in a short time:-
  • Mount Kulen National Park where there’s 3 important sites that we have covered; i.e. Sleeping Budha, Lingas carving on the riverbed and the famous Mount Kulen waterfall;
  • Ta Phrom;
  • Bayon;
  • Angkor Watt; and
  • Cultural dance and dinner show in the city
Reclining Buddha in Phnom Kulen

We started off right after our breakfast. The driver made a quick stop at Angkor’s temple ticket counter so that we could buy 1 day ticket to enter all the 3 mandatory and/or a must visit temples; Bayon, Angkor Thom and Angko Watt. His plan was to drop us right after we have done our sightseeing at Mount Kulen National Park, to save travelling time. I realized that the ticket has increased so much in 7 years, maybe because it has been printed with our face on it as an evidence of visiting.

Yelloow hat spotted in Ta Phrom
Our first stop was at Mount Kulen, which is about 2 hours journey from the city. We passed by quite a lot of an interesting place along the way. There are 3 main area that we have to visit in Mount Kulen according to the driver, 1st stop would be to see the reclining Buddha, followed by a stop at the river to see linga carvings on it’s riverbed and finally at Kulen Waterfall.

We took a journey back to city with a first stop at Ta Phrom. Bayon followed thereafter and the last stop was at Angkor Watt. By the time we reached Angkor Watt, we both were too exhausted from walking so much that day. It was recorded by Anne’s Iphone application “Ihealth” as 9km walks.

We asked the driver to send us back to hotel, made necessary booking for cultural dance dinner show, freshen-up, offered all prayers (2 in 1 as jama’ qasar) and off we go to enjoy our lovely dinner. Both dinner and foods are awesome. We had our fun time meeting a group of Malaysian. We went back to the hotel that night feeling accomplished. 

Last photo for the day, sun is about to set at the moat that surround the Angkor Watt

Bus ride to Siem Reap from Arayanpathet

Date: 26th December 2015

The bus company has provided a free shuttle bus to it's main terminal, seated at the outskirt of Poipet area to all the passengers as highlighted in my earlier entry. I believe the "free shuttle" cost must have been added to the actual bus fare. Seriously, there's nothing is free in this world. By the way, the journey takes around  half an hour to reach the terminal where everyone has to get down and buy their next destination ticket respectively. I quite like the terminal as there's no sting smells there. The place has been kept very much clean and tidy too.

Inside the shuttle bus

We changed about USD100 into a local currency while paying for a bus fare of USD18 which is equivalent to 7,200 Cambodian money. Thereafter, we ordered food for lunch in a rush thinking that the bus would leave soon. We both did not finished our lunch thinking that the bus would leave anytime soon. It was not. They waited until the bus was full then only the bus is moved. All of us so anxious of leaving due to a hot weather. We all clapped when the bus was finally move.

There's nothing much to enjoy during the bus ride, beside the paddy field and small villages in between. But the road is not that bad. My family and I were on the highways from Kuala Lumpur to Cameron Highland during the Chinese New Year holiday. We were indeed very proud of Malaysia's infrastructure. Our highways are 1 of the best in South East Asia though mostly were on privatisation. My sons accompanied me to see the Mossy Forest in Brinchang Hill where the State Government has provided the road all the way up. No hiking is required for those who are not fond of jungle trekking like me. The state road however is not properly maintained though the area attracted many local and foreign visitors. I hope, the Transport Minister and the Tourism Minister could communicate better to enhance the state road to reach the famous Mossy Forest with the Perak State Government in the near future.

The remaining photos below were snapped when the bus made a stop for toilet break. Unfortunately, everything here requires purchasing (a scam between the bus transporter with the shop owner). You have to purchase at least a drink should you want to use their facilities, i.e. toilet. Simply because they knew that the bus is full of foreigners. They thought foreigner like us do not know how to check the fair price of all the snacks selling there. It was mark up to beyond imagination. Take my advise, just buy a small mineral water to use the toilet. Another advise is to remind the bus driver that it's time to move. Else, he will just take his own sweet time as if there's no rush to arrive.

We arrived in Siem Reap quite at late hours, took our luggage down and booked the tuk tuk without much negotiation. It was a tiring day from the moment we left the hotel in Hua Lamphong at an early hours and arriving at almost 22:00 hours, i,e, 10pm at night. We have travelled about 413km on 26th December 2014 with the following mode of transportation:-

By train - 255km
By tuk-tuk - 6km
By bus - 152km