The old saying states that travelling makes the world feel smaller
I could have read a thousand books about India and I would have had an intellectual concept of it. But now I have smelled the hot stench of the streets of Delhi. I have listened to the loud jangle of the music and admired the way the sun makes the marble of the Taj Mahal glow. India is real to me now, in taste, sight, sound, feel and smell.
So, as I travel I move slowly throughout the world, illuminating parts of it in my understanding. The map lights up like a switchboard, each country making more sense to me as I encounter it first-hand.
Like zooming in on Google Maps, each destination expands in complexity as soon as the plane descends towards the soil. The closer you get to a country, the more the tiny spots on the map start to become visible. You start to realize that you could explore this small section of the world for years and still not see it all.
Before I traveled to Peru, I had a vague idea of what Peru was. I had images of llamas and Machu Picchu and colourful traditional clothes. This was just the beginning of an understanding. When I got on the ground, I learned so much more.
I visited towns like Arequipa and Ollantaytambo, places I had never heard of before. I took long bus rides where I came to understand the landscapes and how the terrain fit together. Peru was once a simplified concept in my head. Now it is a more detailed rendering, complete with details such as the sweet taste of Inca Cola on a dusty roadside and the smell of grilled guinea pig.
This effect of a destination expanding in your mind as you soak in more details, it never seems to stop. During four months in Melbourne, Australia every pub and café I visited made the city grow bigger in my mind. With every walk, I discovered new parks and trails. The idea of “Melbourne” expanded further and further in my mind as I filled more details. It’s now more than just a dot on a map for me, it’s a huge world where I immersed myself for a while and made many memories.
You’ll go to Cambodia and meet a German, who tells you about their lovely hometown in Bavaria. You’ll put it on the list. While you are in Germany you will meet a Brit, who waxes poetic about their time in the Algarve region of Portugal. You’ll put it on the list.
It’s no use – because when you go there you will learn about somewhere else that you must see. There’s always something more to discover, just around the next bend. I urge you to see what happens when you push beyond the edges of the map in your head and start to feel the world expand. It’s dizzying and exciting to feel it stretching out in all directions around you.
So, the world just keeps getting bigger. It’s like an ever-expanding smorgasbord. You keep eating but you keep noticing new dishes being added to the edges of the table.
How can I check off every item on my bucket list? With each one I complete; I end up finding five more that I want to add. How can you see all of something that keeps growing and changing at such a rate? You can’t, it’s impossible.
But damn it, I’m going to try my very best
Right across the border of Si Saket and Kantharalak in northeastern Thailand, Prasat Preah Vihear
is a Khmer temple stunningly situated atop a 525-metre cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains in Cambodia.
Predating Angkor Wat
by 100 years, the history of the temple/fortress is somewhat unclear, but it is known to be dedicated to the god Shiva and thought to have been constructed in the reign of Suryavarman I (1002-50), with further significant additions by Suryavarman II (1113-50). Unlike most Khmer temples, the temple is constructed on a long north-south axis, instead of the usual rectangular plan facing east.
Though easily accessible from present-day Thailand, and for some years occupied by that country, the temple was nonetheless claimed by Cambodia on the basis of a map prepared during French colonial times. In 1959 Cambodia brought the dispute to the International Court of Justice, which in 1962 ruled that, because Thailand had for years accepted this map, Cambodia had sovereignty over Preah Vihear. Soon afterwards Cambodia was plunged into civil war. The temple remained open to the public from Thailand (although unreachable from Cambodia) until 1975, when it was occupied by the Khmer Rouge. It re-opened from the Thai side in 1998, and in 2003 Cambodia completed the construction of a long-awaited access road allowing Cambodians to visit the temple. In 2008, after a contentious nomination process, the temple was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Getting there Preah Vihear Temple - Cambodia
The easiest way to reach Preah Vihear is from the town of Sra’em
, 30km south. Four hotels exist 1 km west of the town center, on route 2625. Prices range from $7 to $12.
The road from Siem Reap
to the base of Prasat Preah Vihear via Anlong Veng
, a distance of about 210 km, is fully paved. A 4×4 or moto will be required to scale the steep road going up the hill, which you can arrange at the ticket office near the base of the hill; a 4×4 costs $25 round-trip and a moto $5 round-trip.
There is no public bus from Anlong Veng to Preah Vihear (public transit to Sra’em does exist.) A private car needs to be negotiated for about $50 although the starting price may be over $100 so bargain hard.
Cambodian soldiers have established defensive positions near Preah Vihear, though they welcome tourists. Soldiers no longer expect gifts and are quite hospitable when you are on the ancient staircase (eastern) side. Although there’s no entrance fee, you do need to stop by the ticket office at the base of hill and get a ticket, passport required
which will be checked on the way up and at the temple. The ticket office also arranges transport by pick-up truck ($25 round-trip) and motorcycle ($5 round-trip). A new road for the first 3 kilometres has reasonable grades, but the last 2 kilometres are on the old road and have extremely steep sections.
The “Ancient Pathway” on the east side of the temple is now open to visitors; it’s a pleasant descent with more than 2,000 steps through the forest; a modern wooden staircase parallels the largely ruined stone staircase, though two sections of old path are used. (Jan. 2013) The base of the staircase (which is more preserved) can also be accessed via a well signposted graded dirt road to the east of the ticket office.
The best, easiest and safest way to get to Preah Vihear from Siem Reap is to arrange private tour – taxi driver (best to arrange it with assistance of your hotel or guest house) will take you there and return you the same day. Be prepared for an early morning departure (6 am) and for approximately 12 hours return trip. It is certainly worth it. You can also arrange (via your hotel or guest house) for certified Tour Guide (price depends on the language). You should have your passport with you for this trip.
What to see
- The adventure starts with 162 stone steps (1), a fairly steep climb that will get you warmed up. Your reward is a short set of stairs decorated with nagas and Gopura I (3), a solitary pavilion with a fluttering Cambodian flag.
- A 500-metre gently climbing avenue leads up to Gopura II (6), another small pavilion, and a large boray (water cistern, to the left.
- Another avenue leads to, yes, Gopura III (9), but also the first courtyard of the temple. Make a detour to the left side of the gopura to see relics of a more modern era, in the form of a rusting artillery gun and a few bunkers.
- A short causeway leads to the inevitable Gopura IV (14) and behind it the second courtyard. On the other side of the courtyard is Gopura V – theGalleries (17) , and beyond it the Main Sanctuary (18), the centrepiece of the site which now houses a miniature Buddhist temple.
- But what makes the effort worthwhile lies just outside, so sneak out the left side to find yourself at Pei Ta Da Cliff, with a sheer 500 metre drop and a jaw-dropping vista of the Cambodian jungles below. To contemplate the view without getting sunstroke, locate the crevice that leads into a little cavern of sorts, with shade provided by the tip of the cliff overhead.
Siem Reap (Khmer: ក្រុងសៀមរាប, pronounced [siəm riəp] is the capital city of Siem Reap Province in northwestern Cambodia, and a popular resort town as the gateway to Angkor region.
Siem Reap has colonial and Chinese-style architecture in the Old French Quarter, and around the Old Market. In the city, there are museums, traditional Apsara dance performances, a Cambodian cultural village, souvenir and handy-craft shops, silk farms, rice-paddies in the countryside, fishing villages and a bird sanctuary near the Tonle Sap Lake.
Siem Reap today—being a popular tourist destination—has a large number of hotels, resorts, restaurants and businesses closely related to tourism. This is much owed to its proximity to the Angkor temples, the most popular tourist attraction in Cambodia.
Re-discovery of Angkor
Siem Reap was little more than a village when French explorers such as Henri Mouhot “re-discovered” Angkor in the 19th century. Western visitors however have visited the temple much earlier, for example António da Madalena in 1586″. In 1901 the École française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO; French School of the Far East) began a long association with Angkor by funding an expedition into Siam to the Bayon. The EFEO took responsibility for clearing and restoring the whole site. In the same year, the first tourists arrived in Angkor – an unprecedented 200 of them in three months. Angkor had been ‘rescued’ from the jungle and was assuming its place in the modern world.
With the acquisition of Angkor by the French in 1907 due to the Franco-Siamese agreement, Siem Reap began to grow, absorbing the first wave of tourists. The Grand Hotel d’Angkor opened its doors in 1929 and the temples of Angkor remained one of Asia’s leading draws until the late 1960s, luring visitors like Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Kennedy. In 1975, the population of Siem Reap, along with that of the rest of the cities and towns in Cambodia, was evacuated by the communist Khmer Rouge and driven into the countryside.
As with the rest of the country, Siem Reap’s history (and the memories of its people) is coloured by the spectre of the brutal Khmer Rouge Regime, though since Pol Pot’s death in 1998, relative stability and a rejuvenated tourist industry have been important steps in an important, if tentative, journey forward to recovery. With the advent of war, Siem Reap entered a long slumber from which it only began to awake in the mid-1990s.
Today, Siem Reap serves as a small gateway town to the world famous heritage site of the Angkor temples. Thanks to those attractions, Siem Reap has transformed itself into a major tourist hub. Siem Reap nowadays is a vibrant town with modern hotels and architectural styles. Despite international influences, Siem Reap and its people have conserved much of the town’s image, culture and traditions.
It was our pleasure and honour to be hosts to Alena Vasilyeva - artist & painter from Russia.
Alena managed to make a number of paintings inspired by the temples of Angkor Wat and we are pleased to be able to present them to you with permission from the author.
Alena will be back to Siem Reap and River Queen Guesthouse in December 2015 and we cannot wait to see her again.
Angkor Thom (Khmer: អង្គរធំ; literally: “Great City”), located in present day Cambodia, was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire. It was established in the late twelfth century by King Jayavarman VII. It covers an area of 9 km², within which are located several monuments from earlier eras as well as those established by Jayavarman and his successors. At the centre of the city is Jayavarman’s state temple, the Bayon, with the other major sites clustered around the Victory Square immediately to the north.
The first nature conservation and endangered wildlife rescue and breeding centre in Cambodia
Angkor Wat Rear View – Photo by Diego Delso Dawn view of the temple of Angkor Wat, with 2 Nāgas in the foreground, a gallery in the middle and the temple mountain in the back. The Angkor Wat was first a Hindu and later a Buddhist temple complex built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century, and capital of the Khmer Empire, today Cambodia. This temple complex is the best preserved temple in the site and a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag.