Although some restoration work is underway at the site, Ta Phrom temple remains in a state of disrepair. The quiet grandeur of this eight to nine hundred year old temple complex nonetheless shines through the rundown condition of many of the structures. In fact those conditions may actually enhance the grandeur. I remember being astonished by the soft colors and faded beauty of the Temple of the Sun in Beijing when I first visited in 1987. When I returned 25 years later, the site had been “restored” and looked like a gaudy movie set; it was very disappointing. In fairness, restoration work at the Forbidden City has, in my opinion, done an excellent job retaining the feel the place had before work began. Be that as it may, restoration is needed to preserve sites like Angkor Wat and the Forbidden City and to protect them from the damage the millions of tourists who visit each year can do, whether inadvertently or maliciously. Hopefully the work here will proceed with a sensitivity to retaining the sense of ancient power this place has.
Kampong Phluk village sits on the banks of Tonlé Sap Lake, the largest freshwater body in Southeast Asia. Water levels in the lake vary enormously between the dry season from roughly November to March and the rainy monsoon season from May to October. The Tonlé Sap River connects the lake to the Mekong River and water flows back and forth between the lake and the Mekong in a complex relationship determined by annual rains. The village is set on stilts to keep houses and other structures above the water line during the rainy flood season. I visited in late March when water levels are at their lowest. The woman on the stairs is bouncing back and forth – literally – between different levels of her house, apparently gathering the things needed to make lunch.
Carvings and bas-relief decorate the walls and surfaces of many of the temples that make up the Angkor Wat complex. The figure in the center is this wall art is the Hindu deity Shiva – I am pretty sure I have this right – and the figure below Shiva is a Garuda, a mythical bird that helps to protect the god. Not as certain I have that last part right. The photo was taken at Banteay Srei, a 10th century Khmer temple dedicated to Shiva. The carving pictured here is small and highly detailed, part of a larger section of wall. I had the camera up close to the wall and would guess the real-world dimensions of the artwork in this photo are roughly 15 by 10 inches (40 by 25 centimeters).
The Bayon temple, part of the enormous Angkor Wat temple area in Cambodia, has numerous faces of the Buddha carved into the temple’s towers. The best known of these is a smiling Buddha face. I tried to get a photo of that one, but it was surrounded by a large group of Chinese tourists taking photos in front of the face one or two at a time. I gave up and decided I could live with some shots of lesser known carvings.
Brother Phil and I arrived last night in Siem Reap and spent our first day visiting temples. This is the Bayon temple at Angkor Thom, a large area enclosed by a moat that was established in the 12th century and served as the capital city of the Khmer empire of the time. I learned a great deal today – more than I could absorb really – about the tensions between Hinduism and Buddhism that characterized much of the history of the Khmer civilization and are reflected in the construction of temples like this one and the sculptures and bas-relief carvings that decorate the temples. This trip is a short visit (three and a half days) to an area filled with ancient temples and ruins – enough time to get little more than a taste. And of course, some of that time will go to shooting photos.