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Siem Reap, Cambodia – Impressions

Siem Reap, meaning ‘the defeat of Siam’, is the centre of all tourism in Cambodia. Nearby is the Angkor Archaeological Park where there are of over 50 temple ruins – the once capitals of the Empire of Angkor.

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From 835 AD to 1307 AD the Empire of Angkor, also known as the Khmer Empire, ruled much of South East Asia including what is now Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and much of Vietnam. Angkor was the capital city at the centre of the empire and at its centre was a grand temple. When a new king took control of the empire he would often establish a new capital nearby and build a grand temple at its centre. Over time there were many such cities and central temples built.

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While most of the earlier temples were constructed using sandstone, later temples were built from less long-lasting materials. Most of these temples have long since disappeared. Like the ruins of the Mayans in Central America, Angkor is thought to have been abandoned because of drought and a lack of water in the region.

Angkor Wat

Built between 1113 AD and 1150 AD, Angkor Wat, at 1.5 km by 1.3 km, is the largest religious monument ever to have been built. Meaning ‘City Pagoda’, the temple grounds housed an entire city and while the other temples in the region were abandoned over the years, Angkor Wat remained in use.

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Angkor Wat is made up of concentric galleries found in most Khmer temples that lead to a main central temple. Each concentric gallery is built taller than the previous one to form a pyramid, another typical Khmer structural design. The Angkor Wat temple is surrounded by a wide moat with only two causeways leading into it.

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Angkor Wat is a major Hindu temple designed to resemble Mount Meru in Northern India, the home of the Hindu gods. It has five main towers to represent the five main peeks of the sacred mountain.

Angkor Thom

Built around 1200 AD, Angkor Thom, meaning ‘Great City’, was the largest and the last of the Angkor capital cities.

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At the four entry points to the city there is a face-tower gate representing the Hindu God Brahma. At the centre of Angkor Thom is the Bayon Temple.

Bayon 

Built around 1200 AD as the temple at the centre of Angkor Thom, it is thought to be one of the most powerful religious structures ever built.

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The temple is very complex and is thought to have been reworked several times since its creation. There were 49 distinct towers, most with the four faces of Brahma built into them. They were arranged in ever higher tiers to create a stone mountain.

Ta Prohm

Built around 1186 AD as a monastery temple, it was dedicated to King Jayavarman VII’s mother.

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While many of the temples in the region were reassembled, La Prohm was left in its natural state with only a minimal amount of work done to prevent further collapse. The ruins are said to have a romantic atmosphere because of the intertwining trees growing through the structure.

Banteay Kdei

Built around 1200 AD its name means ‘Citadel of Many Chambers’.

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It was constructed over another temple built 200 years earlier and has been left in its ruined stated.

Prasat Kravan

Dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu, the small structure was built in 921 AD.

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The name means ‘Cardamom Sanctuary’ after a tree that once stood in the compound.

Pre Rup

Built in 961 AD by the then King Rajendravarman as the centre of his capital city.

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Pre Rup means ‘turning the body’ and is a cremation rite where the ashes of the dead are rotated at certain times during the ceremony. After the king’s death, the capital was moved back to Angkor.

Banteay Samre 

Constructed around 1130 AD its main tower is the same as those at Angkor Wat although it has many similarities to temples of northern Thailand.

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East Mebon

East Mebon temple is known as the Elephant Temple because of the several elephant statues around the structure.

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It was built as an island on the now dry East Baray, a water reservoir measuring 7.5 kilometres by 1.8 kilometres.

Ta Som

This small temple is said to be a miniature version of Ta Prohm or Banteay Kdei temples. It is known as Gaurasrigajaratna – the Jewel of the Propitious White Elephant.

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Neak Poan

Near Poan is a small monument at the centre of a large pond, which is at the centre of a further four smaller ponds.

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Build in the late 12th century it was built on an island in a water reservoir. It is speculated to represent a sacred Himalayan lake said to hold healing waters with four rivers running from it.

Preah Khan

This large temple was also a Buddhist university with more than a thousand teachers.

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It was said to have been built on a lake of blood, the site of a major battle to recapture Angkor from the Cham empire, where the Cham King was slain.

Pub Street and Night Markets
One day is just not enough to see all the temple ruins, and even in two days I only saw 13 of the 53. But after two days out on a tuk-tuk in the heat and intense humidity I was templed out.

At night Siem Reap lights up around two main areas, Pub Street and the Night Markets. You can tell when you’re in the area because of the large neon signs announcing them. Overall, it’s very touristic with many restaurants, bars and markets.

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Next, it’s time to leave Cambodia and head back to Thailand.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

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Bangkok, Thailand – Impressions

Bangkok is known in Thai as Krung Thep Mahanakhon, which means “City of the Deity”.

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After my brother headed home I travelled to Bangkok to continue my adventures. But never alone long, I met a British girl at the hostel and we spent 3 days exploring the city.

Day 1 – Getting Around In Bangkok

Cruising Chao Phraya River
The rapid growth of the city has caused major troubles with traffic congestion and pollution. While four metro train lines have been built to combat this, they do little to cover the city. Only one train stop goes near the Chao Phraya River, where commuters can transfer to express boats to move along its length. As these boats are the easiest ways to see the city, we booked tickets and headed out to see what Bangkok had to offer.

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Wat Pho – Temple of the Reclining Buddha
Named after a temple in India where the Buddha was believed to have lived, Wat Pho is a massive complex with many traditional Thai designed temples and buildings. It is also known as the home of traditional Thai Massage.

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A major building in the complex contains a massive golden buddha in a reclining position. It’s the most popular building on the site where tourists filter in one side, around the feet and out past the back of the head.

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Khao San Road
Originally a rice market, the road is now considered a backpacker ghetto and party zone. As I prefer quieter hostels, I didn’t to stay in the area. During the day there are plentiful backpackers, markets and food stalls. In the evenings, bars appear and backpackers party away the night.

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Democracy Monument
At the end of Khao San Road is the grand monument commemorating the Siamese Revolution of 1932 which led to the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. Unfortunately, the widening of the road to accommodate the monument and ceremonial boulevard meant mass evictions of local residents and the cutting down of hundreds of shade trees.

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Wat Saket
Known as the Golden Mountain, this Buddhist temple sits atop an artificial mountain. The temple has a rounded golden feature atop it giving it the sense of being a mountain. The roof of the temple allows great views across Bangkok.

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Wat Suthat
One of the ten first-grade temples in Bangkok. King Rama I began the construction himself in 1807. King Rama II helped to carve the doors during his reign and the temple was finally completed by King Rama III in 1847. There are 28 Chinese pagodas at the base of the temple to commemorate the 28 buddhas born on this earth.

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Day 2 – Wat? More Temples?
Bangkok is the city of temples and while we’d visited several on day one there were a couple more we wanted to see.

The Victory Monument
Our hostel was right near the monument commemorating the 59 Thais killed during the 2 month Franco-Thai war in 1941. The outcome of the war was decided by the Japanese, who didn’t want a prolonged war between two of its allies just prior to its own war of conquest in SE Asia.

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Jim Thompson House
One of the most popular tourist locations in Thailand, the house was created by a US soldier during the 1950’s and 60’s. He put together 6 Thai houses made from Teak and brought from all over Thailand. After Jim went missing in Malaysia, his nephew created the Jim Thompson Foundation and turned the site into a museum.

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The Grand Palace and The Emerald Buddha Temple
Another of the most popular tourist attractions in Thailand, the Grand Palace was the home to the Kings of Siam between 1782 and 1925. The Palace compound is huge with many Temples, Halls and of course, the Palace.

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The compound is also the site of the Emerald Buddha Temple, home of a famous buddha statue. Labelled ‘emerald’ because of its green colour, it’s actually carved from Jasper. The statue has a long history, being carved in India, taken to Sri Lanka, lost on its way to Burma and ending up in Angkor Wat in Cambodia before the Siamese invaded and claimed it. Unfortunately, photos aren’t permitted within the temple.

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What Arun – Temple of Dawn
Once home to Emerald Buddha and named after a Hindu God, the Temple of Dawn is said to catch the first rays of the sun each morning, glowing with pearly iridescence.

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The main temple has very steep stairs that climb two tiers and give great views of the city.

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Day 3 – Market Day

All templed out by day 3, my British companion and I decided to explore a couple of weekend markets around the city.

Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market
Bangkok has several floating markets, although the largest and most popular take over 90 minutes outside the city. We aimed for a smaller, less touristy floating market closer to central Bangkok. A floating market is a river market navigable by boat, with other boats and vendors along the sides of the river selling goods. Khlong Lat Mayom only has a small floating aspect…

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The market is mainly a food market which stretches across the river but with only the occasional boat floating by. As it was raining we were happy not to be on the water. Instead we enjoyed the local food, a spicy chicken side and some fried squid eggs in a batter. Interesting.

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Chatuchak Weekend Markets
Known as Jatujak in the Thai language, the markets are not only the largest markets in the city, but the largest markets I’ve ever been to. As the name suggests, it’s only open on the weekends, and is vastly busy during this time.

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The markets have 27 sections and 8000 stalls! Beyond seeing the markets, my major reason for going was to find and consume a fried scorpion on a stick. Unfortunately, after spending hours searching, I wasn’t able to find one so settled for a frozen banana dipped in chocolate and chopped almonds instead. While not entirely the dish I was looking for, it would have to do but my search will continue.

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Overall, Bangkok is a busy capital city with plenty to do assuming you aren’t already over temples.

Next, I catch my first sleeper train to Vientiane, capital of Laos.

The Lone Trail Wanderer