Temple Primas: The Khmer Adventure

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So this post is waaaay overdue and for that I apologize. Now to relive my Cambodian adventures with me, you dear reader, have two ways of doing so. One: you may watch the video below by my travel buddy and wonderfully talented cousin, Carmen. Or two: you can slog through my rather lengthy photo set.

Or you can do both, I mean that would be cool seeing as you’re already here and all.

VIDEO MONTAGE TIME!

Temple Primas: Siem Reap, Cambodia 2013 from carmen del prado on Vimeo.

Thank you Carmen, for painstakingly recording every moment and for being the daily alarm clock for Anna and I.

SO. This whole trip was a spontaneous booking (hooray for seat sales!) that yours truly and my cousins Anna and Carmen just jumped into. We arrived at Siem Reap in the middle of the night and were immediately faced with two hurdles. One: our hostel couldn’t take us in because they had some kind of miscommunication with their bookings. Two: Immigrations wouldn’t let me through their gates because I’m an American passport holder. Despite my arguments and document-waving (yes, I was literally waving the piece of paper around) of my Philippine dual-citizenship accreditation, the officer made 0 effort to listen to me. Stressful as it was with the language barrier, everything worked out eventually.

Solution to number one: our hostel, Motherhome Inn, booked us at a neighboring hotel and arranged for airport transfers for us!

Solution to number two: No, no, you pay twenty dolla visa. So that was that. I got in line, shelled out the twenty bucks, and moved on with my life. Thank God I had an ID photo with me!

The next day brought us to a whopping eight temples! Siem Reap gave us a beautiful first day as our personal tuktuk driver Savong ferried us from temple to temple.

Hello, Carmen!

The temples were gargantuan sandstone creations. The first question that came to mind was how the hell did these ancient empires build these?! And how much dedication and free time must they have had to cover every surface with carvings and images? Even the tiniest of shrines were embellished with prayers and even bas relief carvings.

This right here was in the smallest entrance shrine, in a dark and and dank little enclosure. What the hell, man.

It was a little sad to see how many of the temples had fallen into ruin over the centuries. Many had already been reclaimed by the forest, including the Tomb Raider-famous Ta Prohm temple which looked as if modern Siem Reap had caught the trees as they were halfway through disassembling a Lego house.

This is the tree eating up the temple in the photo above this one. Wild!

One of our guides explained how many of the statues and bas reliefs were headless or faceless because of religious wars between the Buddhist and Hindu factions. While some kings would try to reconcile the two, others were purists who refused to share temples with other gods. The result: mass stone sculpture decapitation.

Poor guys didn’t stand a chance.

 

The ancient Khmer empire had such a rich culture that their beliefs were mirrored in their engineering. Temples had special chimney-like openings to let rainwater in. The water would then trickle over a stone peg (symbolizing the gods’ manhood, apparently) and into a fountain from which believers would drink in petition for fertility in their marriages.

Doorways would even be purposely lower than a person’s average height, as these would force temple visitors to bow several times on their way in!

Everywhere we went, the carvings only got more and more intricate, especially in Banteay Srey, dubbed the Lady Temple.

One of the locals we met along the way also told us that the pockmarked walls and pillars were not the effect of holy wars, but blatant robbery during the invasion and the ruin that followed. The holes, he explained, were scars of where gems and precious stones once glittered.

The temple-city had us running around all day, needless to say it was a photographer’s paradise.

Even the itty bitty spiders were photogenic.

 

… of course we did all the touristy mandatories:

I wasn’t posing, I swear!

Have you tried doing this with your DSLR? Turned my arms into jelly after a while.

And we did our fair share of literal tree hugging

Our final day in Siem Reap was the pièce de résistance, the most iconic symbol of the country, Angkor Wat.

Temples in Siem Reap were made by the Khmer kings for Shiva and their departed ancestors and family members. While other kings tried to out do each other in a my-ancestor’s-temple-is-awesomer-than-your-ancestor’s-temple showdown that spanned generations, one dude named Suryavarman II just said hey, screw you guys, I’m dedicating my temple to friggin’ Vishnu.

And so he did, and quite the temple Vishnu got. The three of us journeyed before the crack of dawn to the temple’s gardens to which scores of tourists and photographers were already camped out to catch the magic hour that the temple would be mirrored in the pool before it.

It was a cloudy and rainy dawn, but it was beautiful nonetheless!

We had a lovely little breakfast by the pond before exploring, which was a vast (and even still active) religious compound!

Most comfortable pants ever.

The fierce temple guardian

We wrapped up our visit with a series of failed jump shots:

Points for effort?

In conclusion of my longest post ever, I have to say Cambodia felt like more than just a tourist trip. I learned so much and met so many great people that by the time we had to leave, we felt like we were leaving home. Walking by the stones and carvings in the temples, you could almost still see and hear the people who had put them there. It was a great four days of disconnection from the bustling city life, and I would love to go back.

 

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