From the Jahan in Southeast Asia
Jan 10, 2013 - Jahan
Siem Reap, Cambodia
The first full day for most of our guests is appropriately “paced,” given the jetlag most of them are no doubt experiencing.
It takes less than an hour to reach the pink sandstone structure of Banteay Srei, some 30 kilometres north of the main temple complex – well worth the effort to explore this little so-called “citadel of the women.” Intricately carved in the North Indian style of the 10th century, it has depictions of several Hindu deities (and devils), principally Indra, the god of war and of thunderstorms. Along the way, one passes through prosperous-looking farm communities flanking a new road that parallels the main route to Angkor Wat. Banteay Srei is a real gem, in contrast to the monolithic Angkor Wat and other major temples of Angkor, and provides a unique introduction to the glories of the early Khmer Empire.
Following lunch, we visited Artisans d’Angkor, a non-governmental project that teaches Khmer youth the ancient arts of their country, including wood and stone carving, painting in silk, lacquer work and other artisanal skills. This training permits them to make a living either in their home villages or assisting in restoration efforts at the temples of Angkor. Guests are given the opportunity to purchase the products of these budding artisans or fine silk products from the nearby silk farm.
The afternoon continued with a visit to Ta Prohm, the sprawling temple built by King Jayavarman VII in the mid 13th century in honour of his mother. This monument has deliberately been left much as the French found it six hundred years later, held together in many places only by the prolific strangler fig trees. The important exception to all this is the reconstruction done initially by Japan and, more recently, India, the main objective of which has been to improve safety for visitors. Upon viewing the major restoration of one of the long galleries along the south side of the temple, however, we are told that ancient treasures, buried centuries ago by the collapsed structures, have very recently been recovered.
The evening began with a reception, allowing guests to get acquainted with one another and with the Lindblad-National Geographic staff. Paula Swart provided a concise, beautifully illustrated introduction to the history of the Khmer Empire and the Angkor complex, with emphasis on the iconic Angkor Wat. She placed the Angkor civilization in its historical context by introducing the other major temple complexes in the region, Borobodur in Java and Bagan in Myanmar. The evening concluded with a sumptuous Khmer dinner and we retired early in anticipation of a predawn excursion to view sunrise at Angkor Wat.