Monthly Archives: December 2013

Cambodia Round Up

What photo takes you right back to Cambodia?

It’s got to be us in front of Angkor Wat, the iconic symbol of Cambodia. We were in awe of the temples and each picked out our favourites from the many we saw. Read Andrew’s top temples, or Julie’s top temples, or both!

Angkor Wat -

Julie and I at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Summarise Cambodia in three words.

  • Temples – It had to be, right?!
  • Tuk-Tuks – In Vietnam, the motorcycle is easily the dominant mode of transportation, but in Cambodia, it’s the tuk-tuk. The Cambodians have their own style of tuk-tuk, which could be more accurately described as an auto-rickshaw – a standard motorcycle that pulls a little carriage. They’re very comfortable, but the open sides mean you can get a face full of dust when speeding along the back roads.
  • Rouge – The horrifying history of the genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge is one the Cambodian people want the world to know about and remember in the hope that it never happens again, anywhere.

You really know you’re in Cambodia when…

When you’ve walked the length of a block and said “te, aw khun” almost non-stop. That phrase means “no, thank you” in Khmer, and tuk-tuk drivers will watch you walk past and refuse any number of tuk-tuks then still ask you if you want to get in theirs. “Te, aw khun.”

What one item should you definitely pack when going to Cambodia?

Your best set of knees. It seemed we were forever stepping up to and down from pavements, avoiding obstacles such as drying fish, potholes, scooters (both parked and in motion – apparently they have right of way on pavements too), street cafes and shop fronts. And in Angkor, those temples have lots of steep, steep steps!

Merry Christmas!


Merry Christmas from Chiang Mai, Thailand. Julie and I relaxing by the pool with the traditional Freemantle glass of sherry (sadly not Croft Original ;)

We wish we were at home with family, and they wish they were here with us!

All of our love to our loved ones, and to you for following our journey so far.. Andrew & Julie xx xx

Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!

– Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers (1836)

Julie’s temple highlights of Angkor, Cambodia

The sheer variety of temples around Angkor is just incredible. Here are some of my highlights.


From afar, Angkor Wat‘s beauty is apparent but the temple of Bayon in the centre of the ancient city of Angkor Thom, in the Lonely Planet’s words …looks rather like a glorified pile of rubble from a distance


But as you move closer and climb to the upper levels you begin to see some of the faces looking out from every tower. Altogether there are 54 towers and 216 faces and I loved their slightly enigmatic Mona Lisa like smiles.


20131218-143409.jpgFaces of Bayon

Kbal Spean

The landscape at Angkor is dominated by temples with five towers. Kbal Spean made an interesting change, its name literally means ‘bridgehead’ which refers to a natural rock bridge at the site but in English it is often referred to as the ‘River of a Thousand Lingas’. The linga is an ancient Hindu representation of the god Shiva and there are indeed at least a thousand of them carved on the riverbed here as well as numerous other Hindu carvings along a short stretch of the riverbank.

20131220-142504.jpgLinga carvings on the riverbed

20131220-142518.jpgHindu carvings of Vishnu, Shiva and Uma on Nandi the bull, and more lingas

The site is about an hour and a half tuk-tuk ride from the town of Siem Reap and then a further 1.5km uphill walk through the jungle from the car park to the carved riverbed. You won’t find coach loads of Chinese tourists here! As well as being a lovely change from the other temples it was great to see some wildlife in the forest.

20131220-130037.jpgOvertaking an ox cart on the road to Kbal Spean

20131220-130051.jpgClockwise from top left: forest path to Kbal Spean, Yellow Striped Tree Skink, there were so many termites munching next to the path that we could hear them!, pretty butterfly

Banteay Srei carvings

We combined our trip to Kbal Spean with a visit to the tiny temple of Banteay Srei. The temple’s carvings are incredible. Breathtakingly intricate and seeming to cover every available surface.

20131220-145450.jpgBanteay Srei is so small that it looks like a model of a temple after seeing the huge scale of Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, Bayon, et al.

20131223-115410.jpgI loved that the carvings covered the whole building and that each building was different

20131220-150417.jpgBeautiful carving details

Gates of Angkor Thom

The ancient city of Angkor Thom is surrounded by a wall 12km long. It is punctuated by five gates – one each on the north, south and west sides and two on the east. They have huge faces atop their towers, similar to those at Bayon, but also incorporate stone elephant heads and other carvings.

20131220-101419.jpgThe busy southern gate is on the main road from Angkor Wat into Angkor Thom

20131220-101439.jpgThe east gate can’t be reached by tuk-tuk or bus, you have to come under your own steam. Some of its faces are starting to fall apart.

In front of each gate on either side of the causeway crossing Angkor Thom’s moat are 54 gods and 54 demons taken from the story of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. They are battling to extract the elixir of immortality from the ocean by playing tug-of-war with a giant serpent whose middle is coiled around a mountain, turning it to churn up the water.

20131220-101507.jpgAndrew with the remains of the battling gods outside the southern gate


I think I inherited my love of old trees from my dad. There are magnificent specimens all around the area with huge buttress roots, dangling aerial roots and sprawling branches.

20131223-124340.jpgThe roots of this tree had completely engulfed the east gate at Ta Som

20131223-124405.jpgI love the tree! – hugging a huge root at Preah Khan, roots breaking through a temple wall, looking up a buttress root into the canopy at Ta Prohm

Meal at Haven

I know it’s not strictly a temple highlight (OK, it’s got nothing at all to do with temples…) but I felt like the meal that we had at Haven should get a mention as it is definitely on my list of memorable experiences from our week in Siem Reap. Not only was the food amazing and the service friendly, but by eating there we were supporting a good cause.

Many children in Cambodia grow up in orphanages. When they come of age they are basically turned out to manage on their own. And so this training restaurant was founded (by a Swiss couple) to help give these young Cambodian adults a start in life by providing life support alongside a training in catering and hospitality.

20131220-141408.jpgA meal to remember: vegetable tempura to start, Khmer chicken curry for main, incredible chocolate cake for dessert, and rounded off with coffee and a shot of infused rice wine (this one was mango and green chilli)

If you’re planning a visit to Siem Reap we would highly recommend a meal at Haven, and it’s a good idea to phone or email ahead as when we just turned up one evening it was already fully booked on that night and the following night.

Andrew’s favourite temples of Angkor, Cambodia

I’ll admit it, and I’ll probably have my long-term traveller’s membership card revoked for saying it, but I hadn’t heard of Angkor Wat nor the Khmer Temples until I started flicking through the Cambodia Lonely Planet just a few weeks before we were due to arrive there.

Julie had just assumed that as Cambodia was in our plan from the start, I knew and shared her reason – the reason it seems – to visit Cambodia.

Well, after a week visiting the various temple complexes from our base in Siem Reap, I wouldn’t profess to being an expert, but I can tell you where they are, what they look like, roughly when they were built and most of all that you should definitely visit. They are, quite simply, magnificent.

Without further ado, here are my favourite of these stunning temples of worship…

4. Preah Ko

Located in the Roluos Group of temples which are a bit out of the way and hence much quieter, Preah Ko initially appealed to my sense of orderly lines and symmetrical placement

Preah Ko, Cambodia

Preah Ko: Small, quiet and detailed

After a modest entranceway, 6 brick temples stand on a raised platform in a 3×2 formation. The front 3 temples are dedicated to male members of the then King’s deified family, and the rear 3 to female members, with the front-central tower the tallest.

Preah Ko, Cambodia

Preah Ko: Plasterwork on the northernmost male prasat (stone hall); Female in plasterwork on the northernmost prasat; row of plasterwork heads

As we walked around the towers, we first noticed the carvings – male figures on the male temples, female on the female ones – then we noticed the symmetry was off. With the exception of the two middle towers, the alignment of the outer four is off in both axis with each other.

This “architectural jazz” initially put me off, but as we pondered their reasons we came up with some interesting ideas.. perhaps there’s some hidden meaning to the seemingly random alignment? Maybe the family members didn’t get along? Perhaps it’s a status thing, proximity to the main male central temple denoting importance or favouritism from King Indravarman I – the King responsible for its construction. The temples’ beauty together with the possibilities of wondrous conjecture makes this temple memorable for me, and it was fun to ponder out loud as we explored it.

3. Ta Prohm

Beloved for two reasons: firstly, the trees have started to reclaim the land in spectacular fashion, reaching through the temples, walls and corridors; and secondly, it was chosen as a filming location for Tomb Raider.

Ta Prohm, Cambodia

Ta Prohm: Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider. If I’d seen this movie still before we’d visited, our second picture would have me in it doing my best Angelina impression

Ta Prohm, Cambodia

Ta Prohm: Trees, trees, everywhere

I loved the high external walls, which encase a large open outer courtyard and the central densely-packed temples and corridors. Oh, and those probing roots of the giant, wonderful trees.

Ta Prohm, Cambodia

Ta Prohm: One of the smaller central temples in the Central Sanctuary

Ta Prohm is quite a busy temple because of its proximity to the Angkor Thom complex, sitting just outside the eastern gate and on the well travelled tourist trail called the small loop.

2. Neak Pean

Neak Pean isn’t a temple we could walk around. It was built in the middle of a large reservoir (a baray in Khmer) and was designed to be visited by boat. Today there’s a long, narrow walkway through the baray, and once we’d made our way to it we couldn’t actually get any closer than the outside edge of one of the 4 outside pools, something that made me appreciate it even more!

Neak Pean, Cambodia

Neak Pean: The walkway through the baray. As we couldn’t see anything of the temple on the approach, it was a deliciously tranquil build-up

Neak Pean, Cambodia

Neak Pean: Small. Watery. Wonderful.

Pandering to my perpendicular and symmetrical sensibilities, Neak Pean is comprised of a central circular tower that sits on a square base in a square pool with 4 smaller square pools on its cardinal sides. Water once flowed from the central pool through ornamental spouts into the other pools, and on into the baray. The spouts are each carved into different heads; an Elephant, a Horse, a Lion and a Human, with only the Elephant one visible from the north side viewing area.

Neak Pean, Cambodia

Neak Pean: The Elephant Head spout. Let me know if you spot the elephant because I can’t see it!

There was a little bit of construction or conservation going on when we visited, which I suspect was the reason we couldn’t get any closer. It didn’t spoil my enjoyment, but perhaps the other spouts might be more obvious to make out.

1. Baphuon

Baphuon is located in the massive Angkor Thom complex of temples, but set back from the main north-south road which affords it a welcome tranquility from the infrequent traffic. I loved the long, narrow, elevated entrance walkway with 2 rectangular pools at either side. Check this out:

Baphuon, Cambodia

Baphuon: Magnificent

Walking towards the temple, not only was I elevated physically, but somehow spiritually too. I felt important, but not in an egotistical sense, more of a regal one, and I found myself walking taller. My pace slowed, I savoured each step, and I had more time to appreciate the closeness of the surrounding forest.

Baphuon, Cambodia

Baphuon: The view from the first level, and the steep stairway to the second and third

The steps up to the top of Khmer temples are high and steep, to remind you that reaching the kingdom of the Gods is not an easy task. But the feeling I got from this long approach was a taster, a sample if you will, of what it feels like to be in that kingdom. It prepares you, entices you. It says “here is but a taste of what awaits you in the kingdom of the Gods. Climb the steps. You can do it.”

Baphuon, Cambodia

Baphuon: The view from the kingdom of the Gods (i.e. the top), looking down over the entrance

Baphuon, Cambodia

Baphuon: The perimeter of each level is a covered walkway or corridor

It may have been our timing, but on the two occasions we visited it was quiet. It’s not one of the “main” temples in the complex, but it is definitely my favourite.

If you’ve been to Angkor, which temples did you enjoy the most?

If you haven’t been yet, there are plenty of temples to see so make sure you give yourself the time to appreciate as many as you can!

Sunrise to sunset at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

We’re not in the habit of getting up at 4am but we’d heard that it was pretty much mandatory to see a sunrise when you visit the temples around Angkor Wat in western Cambodia. Our tuk-tuk driver, Mr Sokha, met us at 4.40am and we set off in the dark for the 20 minute drive. The sun doesn’t actually come up until 6.15am but because it’s a “must do” we needed to arrive early to get a good spot… Fortunately the enterprising local restaurant stalls were open and were happy to bring coffee to us so that we didn’t have to move from our place.

20131122-194527.jpgIt was still quite dark when we first arrived

20131212-164532.jpgThe crowds were soon massed beside the small lagoon to the north side of Angkor Wat’s entrance path

20131212-164554.jpgThe sky turned a beautiful shade of pink behind the iconic towers

20131212-165434.jpgUnfortunately the clouds rolled in before the sun actually rose over the temple but this still made for a pretty dramatic effect

The Angkor Wat temple complex is the largest religious building in the world. It’s easy to see why it is the foremost tourist attraction in Cambodia and features on the country’s flag, currency and the logo for a popular brand of beer. Built in 1113 by Suryavarman II, it features classical Khmer architecture, beautiful stone carvings and a graceful symmetry. If you have the time it is worth visiting several times to explore it fully and see the temple at different times of day. We were staying in the area for a week and made four visits in total to Angkor Wat –

  • once for sunrise
  • once to walk around inside the temple,
  • again to climb the steps to the central temple. Be warned, there is a restriction that you can only go into the temple with covered shoulders and knees, usually such restrictions are well publicised in guidebooks etc or there are scarves that you can borrow, but not here… On our previous visit I had been wearing a sleeveless top so we had to come back.
  • and finally for sunset – the temple faces west and looks beautiful in the evening light.

20131215-160737.jpgLooking down the inner causeway towards Angkor Wat, library in the inner courtyard, an eroded lion roars

20131215-160754.jpgAngkor Wat reflections

20131215-160809.jpgIn the galleries around the outside of the central temple complex are eight beautifully preserved bas-reliefs each 100m long. They depict a mixture of earthly and heavenly battles glorifying the Khmer kings and showing Hindu gods in often gruesome conflicts.

20131215-160825.jpgThe central sanctuary of the temple is called “Bakan”. Originally it contained a statue of the Hindu god Vishnu, now the four sides each contain a statue of the Buddha. There are many carvings of apsara, or heavenly nymphs, around Angkor Wat. The steps to the central temple are steep to remind worshippers that reaching the kingdom of the gods is not an easy task.

20131215-160839.jpgAngkor Wat in the late afternoon light.