Thursday, October 20, 2016

Bayon temple at Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom is few km away from Angkor wat. It was established in 12th century by Jayavarman II who was the most powerful king of Khmer Empire. Looking at his achievements, he can be compared to Krishnadevaraya of Vijaynagar. Interestingly, while most of the Khmer kings were Hindus, Jayavarman II was a Buddhist. Most of the temples in Angkor Thom were built during his era. 

Bayon temple
Our second day in Siem Reap was mainly spent in the the Angkor Thom area. The first place of visit was Bayon, one of the most widely known temple. It is the only major temple dedicated to Buddha. 

From outside, though gigantic, the temple looks like a muddle of stones. The striking feature of Bayon is the 216 gigantic faces on the towers which many consider as the statue of Jayavarman II himself. Like Monalisa in Paris, the serenity of the face attracts lot of people.

Unfortunately, Bayon seemed to be the most difficult place to photograph. Unlike Angkor Wat, the space was limited in the inner galleries of Bayon. The intension of some tourists was to take photograph in various styles in front of the monuments. It was a nuisance. 

The temple consists of outer and inner gallery which is filled with Bas reliefs and the upper terrace which has the famous “face towers”. Most of the towers has faces on all its four faces. The significance of these faces is still not clear. 

The central tower had a statue of Buddha. But the later king Jayavarman VIII destroyed it and put in a well. It was recovered later during restoration in last century but now placed at a different location.

It took us about an hour to cover the entire temple. Like in Angkor wat, it was a feeling of happiness on seeing such an impressive structure notwithstanding the humidity of the place!!

One of the entrance gate for Angkor Thom

Monday, October 17, 2016

Sunrise at Angkor wat

Sunrise at Angkor wat is one of the most beautiful scene. As the sun rise behind the great temple of Angkor wat, the sky is littered with beautiful colour formation. For photography, the best location is in front of the pond overlooking the temple. It provides the perfect place for clear reflection.

You need to be prepared for crowds during sunrise. The numbers cross thousand and it is important to strategise beforehand if you want to take a nice photo. Some points to note are:
  • Visit Angkor wat on previous day to identify the spot you want to stand to take the photograph. Searching for the place amidst the crowd in the morning will not yield good results.
  • Be at the temple gate when it opens at 5AM. Sunrise happens at around 6 and if you are not taking photograph, it is ok to be just on time. But for taking photograph it is important to come early and claim the spot you want!!
  • Bring a tripod as you will taking photos in low light conditions.
  • Bring a torch as it is dark. It will take about 5-10 mins to reach the temple from parking lot.
  • While you have reached early and claimed a nice spot, people do try to squeeze in or come inside your frame. Gently let them know that they are obstructing you!!
  • Angkor wat temple is about 7 km from Siem Reap and it will take about 15-20 mins on tuk tuk to reach. Plan accordingly.
  • Weather can play spoilsport. Have a buffer day to mitigate bad weather conditions.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Angkor wat, Cambodia

Though I had heard about Angkor wat from childhood days, it was during my trip to Hampi 12 years ago where I got to know its grandeur. The guide there mentioned that the Hampi was the second largest temple complex in the world, the first being Angkor wat. I had then made up my mind to visit the temples in Cambodia. 

Some interesting facts about Angkor
  • As said, it is the largest temple complex and religious monument in the world.
  • It was built during 12th century by Hindu ruler King Suryavarman II of Khmer Empire dedicated to Vishnu.
  • Angkor was moved from Hindu to Buddhist in 13th century.
  • Angkor was appears in the Cambodian currency and national flag
  • The temple occupies the area of 402 hectares
  • The city of Angkor used far greater amount of stones than all the Egyptian pyramids combined.
  • The sandstone blocks were quarried from Kulen mountains 40 km away. 
  • The number of blocks range between 5 - 10 million weighing between 300 kg to 1.5 tons. You can imagine how did they transfer them to the temple site 1,000 years ago!!
  • After the fall of Khmer Empire, the grandeur of the temple made people believe that it was done by god as they could not imagine how humans could pull out such a huge temple.
  • Angkor wat had 2.1 million visitors last year.

Reaching Cambodia was simple. The Air Asia fight from Bengaluru took us to Siem Reap with a stopover at Bangkok. Siem Reap is the town where the temples are located. After arriving in Siem Reap, I had struck a deal with tuk tuk driver to take us to the temples. The next thing was to buy tickets. Tickets are available for single day, 3 days and 7 days. We purchased 3 day pass as we needed that amount of time to visit the temples we had in mind.

Having seen many temples in India, one thing that strikes in Angkor wat is the sheer size of the temple. It is so huge and its grandeur is visible from outside. The moat surrounds the temple from all sides. The first sign of tourist influx was seen as we crossed the moat. Angkor was attracts people from all over the world. Inspite of we being in off season, the number of visitors was still large. Taking a picture without humans in the frame is a challenge in Angkor wat, at least in the famous temples!!

The temple makes its appearance as we cross the moat and the outer wall. It just looks amazing. The outer wall is about 3.6 km long!!

It was a long walk from the parking lot to first gallery of the temple. As we entered into the temple, we decided to look at the famous bas reliefs of the temple. Situated on the walls of the outer gallery of the temple, they depict the episodes of Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Depicting Kurukshetra war

Heaven and hell

Milking the sea
The corridor of the temple where bas reliefs are located. Ropes are placed to ensure that people do not touch the carvings.

The way to second gallery of the temple. To get an idea of the size of the height of the plinth, look at the person removing the weeds. The temple is huge!!

The temple has thousands of depictions of aprasas and devatas. The one that is seen in the second gallery.

The tower is located at the inner gallery which requires a steep climb over the steps constructed. There was a long queue as only a limited set of people were allowed to get inside. The heat was unbearable and left me wondering how it would feel in peak summers!! 

The climb was indeed steep. Children were not allowed in inner gallery due to the steep climb. So Tanu happily sat outside playing with mobile while we ventured into the gallery. 

The central tower of the temple. 

View of the entrance to the temple as seen from the top.

We had already spent nearly 3-4 hours in the temple. The heat made us exhausted but we were a satisfied lot. Our water reserves has dried up and we headed to the shop outside the temple to drink tender coconut. What a satisfaction it gave!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Cambodia: e-visa or visa on arrival?

Cambodia has a very simple e-visa policy. One need to go to their website, fill in the details and upload the photograph. The e-visa is then sent to the registered email within 3 days. Sounds good but still I decided to get visa on arrival at Siem Reap airport. Why?

Tanu posing in front of Angkor wat temple in Cambodia
My preference was definitely e-visa as the process was simple. But while filling details for e-visa, I came to know that the fee was 40$ for e-visa whereas visa on arrival costs just 30$. Online stuff should be normally cheaper but that was not in the case of Cambodian e-visa. Since the payment is done by credit card, the banks also charge more exchange rate than normal rupee to dollar conversion. In general e-visa seemed more expensive than visa on arrival. Since we were three of us, the difference was significant.

Visa on arrival is not a always a smooth process. You need to fill the form in the immigration area, wait in the queue, pay the money, sometimes show the proof that you can sustain the cost of visit and wait for the passport. Once I had a long layover at Bangkok airport and decided to spend some time in the city. But the queue at visa on arrival counter was long and did not move even after an hour. I decided to give up. (Things are better now!!)

I started looking at internet where many people suggested to go via visa on arrival route. I decided to take their advice. The remaining of this post is about my experience about visa on arrival.

One need to fill immigration form and customs declaration while entering Cambodia. If visa is not available, then visa on arrival form needs to be filled. All three forms were provided in our Air Asia’s Bangkok-Siem Reap flight. So, by the time we landed in Siem Reap all necessary forms were filled. On arrival, we directly headed to visa on arrival counter, handed over the forms and passport with one passport sized photograph. Also, paid the money for visa. If photograph is not available, they charge 2$ extra. Note that they accept only US dollars in cash. It is important to have US dollars in cash as the exchange centres are available after immigration. 

Then we had to wait for our passports. It just took 2-3 minutes. The people working there were very efficient and the entire process was done in a jiffy. Unlike e-visa which is a paper copy, at airport the visa is stamped on the passport. 

And in another minute we crossed immigration and were at the baggage belt where our bag was waiting for us!! Even if I had e-visa, I would have ended up waiting at the baggage belt.

In general, I feel that the visa on arrival for Cambodia is a simple process. I would suggest to go for it unless you have the following concerns.
  • Visa on arrival consumes a page in passport. It may be an issue for few people who are running out of pages in passport.
  • Coming on land route. Note that visa on arrival is only available at Siem Reap and Phnom Penh airports and at few land crossings. Check their site for more details.
  • If you feel comfortable to have visa before arrival
  • Not having dollars in cash