Craig Writes: We've done the rounds of ancient temples and cities and here are my picks.
Angkor Wat is number one on my Cambodian menu of temples to see. This massive complex has two miracles of engineering too account for. Firstly, the temple. Built in the 12th century it is an impressive 1002 metres x 802 metres. That's over 800,000 square metres of temples and towers. The central tower is 65 metres high. It is one of the largest religious monuments in the world.
|Angkor Wat, east side|
|The west side and the reflection pond|
It was originally built as a Hindu temple but when one king went and another stepped up he happen to fancy Buddhism, so, it became a Buddhist temple. It is that revered it's on the national flag and that sneaky SOB Pol Pot had his headquarters there during the civil war because he knew it was that highly respected no one would bomb it. There are numerous bullet holes around the outside and a couple of bombs were dropped close but never in the temple. Once again I gladly find myself tipping my hat to the ingenuity and vision of man at his best. It is estimated to have taken 5 million tonnes of sandstone to build. This had to be dragged and floated there from a mountain 40 klms away.
Every surface has a relief on it of the most amazing detail. There are literally miles of them throughout the temple. Doors, walls and lintels were all carved to tell a thousand different stories. Engineers today say it would take 300 years to build in the modern era. A modern day stonemason recently tried to duplicate a section of the relief and it took him 22 days to finish 4 metres.
|Every conceivable surface beautifully carved|
|The detail was astounding|
|On and on and on it goes|
|If a picture tells a 1,000 words...|
This entire massive complex was completed in 37 years. AND, it was covered in gold leaf from head to toe. AND, this included the construction of a man made moat 3.6 kilometres around the entire site, 200 metres wide and 6 metres deep. The wall surrounding the site was 8 metres high. AND, the entire site was built on swamp land. It was on top of a fluctuating water table that would crack the foundations of anything built on it within the first few rainy seasons. This thing has been standing for a thousand years. AND, there is no cement or glues used to hold it together. Like Me Son in Vietnam, one piece on top of another. AND, well that should be enough, don't ya think?
Number two on my tasty temples menu would be Ta Prohm.
Not because I'm an Angelina Jolie fan and snippets of Tomb Raider were filmed there, because I'm not and it was a crap film. No, this is number two with a nod to Mother Nature because of the amazing and spectacular choke hold she has put on the place. Over the last four hundred years two demons of the tree kingdom, namely the the Silk Cotton Tree and the fabulously named, Strangler Fig have wrestled with the foundations and structure of this once great 12th century temple and have emerged clear winners. Their massive root systems have that intimately entwined themselves with the very fabric of the stonework that to try and separate the two would be a death sentence for them both. The roots look like prehistoric pieces of ginseng or ginger that would choke a T Rex and the root formations are a wonder of shapes and images. A cascading waterfall here, a giant python there and eerily a complex and thick curtain of roots that has grown around a small relief of Shiva leaving just the face exposed.
|A thousand year old picture frame|
|I once read that if humans disappeared, within 1,000 yrs you wouldn't know we'd been here.|
|Seeing this, I believe it|
|I love that in the end Mother Nature is still going to win|
|Look closely, can you find Shivas smiling face?|
Banteay Srei - aka The Lady Temple. Number three with a bullet. There is something very special about this 10th century temple built entirely in red sandstone. It's on a small scale compared to the others and unlike all the other temples, was originally constructed by a member of the kings court and not the king himself. It was mostly completed before the nobleman ran out of money and construction halted for some time before the king put his hand in his pocket and finished it. What makes this temple sooo special, are the carvings and inscriptions. The detail is phenomenal. Angor Wat and the others are world class but here the cream has risen to the top. They call it the lady temple because they believe that the patience required for the delicate nature of carving this fine, this intricate, could only have been done by women. While carvings else where have been a few mm to maybe one cm deep, these have a depth of two to three cm, giving all the reliefs a sense of depth not achieved anywhere else.
|A temple small in size but BIG in detail|
|Only red sandstone was used to give it that pinkish hue|
|Detail like nothing else we had seen|
|Precise, delicate and over one thousand years old|
Angkor Thom. The Great City. In the category of ancient cities in S.E.Asia this is my number one, Built in the 12th century, again, this was the last and greatest of the Khmer Empires cities. It was 9 sq kms with a 12 kilometre hand dug moat, complete with crocodiles, and an eight metre high wall. It was home to over 80,000 members of the royal court, noblemen and generally rich families. It was abandoned when the economic and political capital were moved to Phnom Penh and rediscovered when the French moved in in the 1800's.
|One of five causeways into the city|
|The faces are thought to represent the King|
|The early inhabitants must have felt very special living here|
The Tonle Sap. The Great Lake. The largest fresh water lake in S.E Asia. It supports over three million people who live around it and on it. That includes approximately 700 floating villages. This thing is one of gods cruel jokes. In the dry season the lake covers 2700 sq klms and is one metre deep. In the wet season it erupts to 15,000 sq klms and up to NINE METRES deep. Can you imagine, one minute you've got lake side property next minute just lake. Reality Check Time. We think our world has fallen apart when the bath overflows and the carpet gets ruined.
On the upside, this massive pulsing system with it's high annual influx of nutrients and sediment makes it the most fertile breeding ground for fish in S.E Asia. Not only does it support a population of millions it accounts for 75% of all of Cambodia's fresh water fish.
We got to play Mr and Mrs Santa today when we visited a couple of the floating schools. We took books, pencils and a big stash of hotel toiletries I had been collecting. You'd never believe a young kid would be so happy to get a small boxed sewing kit or a toothbrush.
|Just popping into the shops|
|Often the shops will come to you|
|These kids were so polite, lots of thank you's. Beautiful manners|
|See that red framed square on top of the striped pole?|
That my friends is the high tide mark in the wet season.