Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Blackout

Well that was interesting. Power only just got restored 5 minutes ago. Half an hour before that, the lights all went out dramatically - you could almost hear the winding down sounds of a hundred home appliances, air conditioners, TVs, computers, all going click, whirr, hum in decreasing tones into silence.

Then some idiots downstairs started whooping, hollering, and shouting. Bloody idiots - you'd think they'd never been through a blackout before. (confer Asimov's Nightfall) Come to think of it, they probably haven't. The last one I remembered was as a child, and it was those childhood memories that guided me to the candles when the lights went out this time. (damned useful things, tealights)

The thing is, I felt less helpless back then than I did now. We didn't depend on so much technology - this blackout saw us groping in darkness to find our torches (thankfully we have several round the house), our cordless phone stopped working since the base station is electrically powered (again, luck on part - we had a spare normal phone that we hooked up), and our handphones were down as well - I suspect the base stations were on the same grid. No TV, no internet, no blogging, no calling of friends to go "Hey, is there power at your place?" ... almost got out the Scrabble set to play by candlelight. I was all set to really go all emergency mode on this blackout, and then the lights came back on.

Still, it was quite a sight to set outside and see it dark all the way to Hougang. Some isolated buildings kept a few lights up somehow, but the woods were lovely, dark and deep as far as the eye could see. Which, admittedly, is not very far here, but still impressive.

The cats, by the way, reacted typically: Patch took one look at me with my torchlight, and stepped firmly under the bed with a "I'm staying RIGHT here until things get back to normal" look. Iffy, on the other hand, demonstrated fully the advantage of being a black cat in a dark room and was invisible for the duration. Followers of the Zone system would have rated her a zone 1, no doubt (follow the link and read down to the middle of the page)

Day 8: Of Balloons and Rainbows

Our day started with a balloon ride. For the princely sum of US$11, we got 10 minutes what was fundamentally an oversized, tethered helium balloon. If it were red, I would have made some snippy remark about red balloons (especially since said balloon is German in manufacture), but alas it was a bright cheery yellow. It reminded me of the Montgolfier balloon in appearance, although that one was hot-air.

Once aloft at 200 metres, there were plenty of opportunities for pseudo "aerial" photography (the shadow of the balloon is visible in this shot).

balloon shadow
Originally uploaded by Wahj.

Angkor is plainly visible, although it tends to blend in with the background vegetation: the best photograph is actually halfway up the ascent (or down the descent) when the towers of Angkor are silhouetted against the horizon. The only other site I could make out from the top was the hill of Phnom Bakhaeng: no amount of straining could resolve the Bayon, or any smaller temple. Thankfully, we had to share the doughnut shaped gondola with only one other tourist, which gave us enough room to roam around and take shots from all angles.

C3-15
Originally uploaded by Wahj.
I actually found the padi fields more interesting than the temples, since my lenses could frame Angkor big enough to make a truly interesting photograph.

The West Baray was also visible of course - one can hardly miss a man made rectangular reservoir several kilometres in length and at least a kilometre wide. K and I dropped by there on the way to the balloon, and were suitable impressed by the sheer size of it. Previously thought to have been constructed (along with similarly sized Eastern Baray) for irrigation purposes, there are some who now think it was purely for ceremonial purposes, which only increases the sense of awe at the determination required to build such a thing. It impresses in the same way as the Roman roads (which defied terrain to plough on in absolute straight lines) do, as an expression of man's control over nature. Water was central to ancient Khmer life, a steady supply being necessary for rice cultivation, and irrigation being necessary to plant two crops of rice per year, and the Barays, whether functional or ceremonial, are a gigantic expression of the ability to control that resource.

We revisited the Bayon, where I dropped my pinhole camera and cracked an edge ("precioussss!! my precioussssss!!!!"), and where we encountered a monk of dubious monkiness. Suffice to say that we thought he was probably either someone masquerading as a monk to get money from tourists, or a sadly materialistic monk who had figured out that everyone who comes to Angkor wants a shot of a monk in bright orange robes against the grey stones of a ruin (Steve McCurry has quite a few of those) and wouldn't mind paying a dollar for it. There's something really disturbing about watching a monk count the money in his wallet that way ...

For the sake of completism we hit Ta Keo, Thommanon and the other sites around the Victory Gate. As we were pulling away from Ta Keo, we spotted a rainbow, and Sang suggested we try for a photograph of it over Angkor Wat. Off we went, chasing the rainbow, and of course lost it before we reached Angkor. In the end, we sat outside Angkor and photographed the temple at sunset. I got my requisite picture of monks+temple

monks and temple
Originally uploaded by Wahj.

(hopefully they were more pukka monks this time, though it makes no difference to the photograph at that distance - you could stick anyone with a bald head in an orange robe and it would work, but it's the principle of it really. You need to know that those were real, honest to goodness, monky monks, right? =)

We also met this strange little girl with her pet puppy on the way out. The only sound she ever made was this strange "uummuh?" with a lilting intonation, almost like a birdcall. Of course it could have been because she had three strange people staring down at her, including this huge Auzzie bloke who gave her a little lecture (in the gentlest way) about treating her puppy better, which you can see him doing in the photograph

girl and puppy
Originally uploaded by Wahj.



And that was that. We spent the evening packing, trying to fit all the scarves and stuff in, while excluding any stray crickets (we had a Night of The Crickets a few days back - stirred up by the heavy rain, they invaded our room in levels that, while not-quite biblical, were enough to be irritating. I remember that evening we slept under the blanket, hearing crickets bounce off the walls, and being woken up once or twice by a particularly heavy cricket that landed on the blanket with suprising impact). After passing round some tips to the staff (especially Diamond and Pumpkin, who were really nice to us), we made ready to leave Cambodia.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Self-correction

Arrgh. I've caught a mistake in my postings, having labelled two consecutive days as "Day 2" and screwed up the sequence of my journal entries.

What's worse is having caught myself in the midst of catching myself in a mistake, and realising that I am possibly becoming as anal-retentive and particular as my job requires me to be. When you begin to self-edit for grammar, punctuation, and little niggly details (like making sure there are two spaces after each full-stop, and only one after each other punctuation mark), you know that the civil service has crept into your blood ...

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Day 7: Kbal Spean and Beng Mealea

16th June

Looking back at blog, I realise that the account I posted from Cambodia sums up neatly the events of this, perhaps the most exciting day of our Cambodia trip. I won't repeat it, but I will add some links ot the photos from that day.

The infra-red shots I took turned out quite alright. Looking at the negatives, I've concluded that the film can be metered safely at around ISO 400. These three shots show the surreal effect IR film has - vegetation turns a ghostly white, and seems to glow in bright sunlight.


angkor-roll-5-003
Originally uploaded by Wahj.

The famous lingas of Kbal Spean turned out to be somewhat less interesting as photographic subjects, but the waterfall became a lovely smooth gush in long exposure on my pinhole camera.

Day 6: Wherein we Revisit Banteay Kdei and Ta Prohm. There is also Pizza

15th June
Perhaps the most surreal thing to happen on this trip was when we sat down for lunch at Campucino Pizza, and the waiter showed me a well thumbed and evidently much-read copy of "Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and His Ideas", after having correctly identified us as Singaporeans. (Well, me at least. K he thought was English, and was very surprised to be told otherwise) I must say that most non-Singaporeans I have met express nothing but admiration for the man and his achievements, recognising that it was no mean feat bringing a nation out of the third world into (for all intents and purposes) the first. Certainly, when I compare what we have in Singapore, to what the Cambodians don't (clean water ... jobs ... an average yearly income higher than US$260) we can only feel fortunate.

Lunch at Campucino's was long, because it started pouring the moment we sat down. The long lunch break allowed us to catch up on the news (our friendly waiter kept us well stocked with newspapers to read), and I took this 14 minute exposure on the pinhole camera (poor K was not allowed to touch the table while this shot was being taken ... such a patient and understanding partner I have = )

There was an amputee begging outside the restaurant, but I had no small change left, having run the gauntlet at Banteay Kdei that morning and had my pockets lightened to the tune of ten US dollars (which bought me
- 1 wooden boat,
- 2 small brass figurines,
- 3 scarves,
- 4 flutes,
- 5 bangles
and 2 sets of postcards)
Looking at the beggar, I began to think that there was an inequality amongst beggars and hawkers - cute little boys and girls are more successful than surly teenagers and adults, children in rags are more likely to get a response than adult landmine amputees (there was a group of amputee musicians outside Ta Prohm, and they seemed to be getting less money, for arguably more honest work, than the kids harassing tourists inside). The more experienced ones even know what to say - all their talk is of "You give me money, I go to school", probably to most effective strategy to use on the younger set of tourists (like us) who tend to justify trampling through someone else's extreme poverty by thinking we're making some difference to the future of their country. I'm not sure that the one US dollar even goes to the child who sells me the scarf - the scarves (and the flutes, and the postcards) are obviously manufactured, and not by the children themselves - who takes the dollar away from the child at the end of the day, and gives the child another lot to sell? I kept imagining some Fagin figure lurking in the shadows.

angkor-roll-7-011
Originally uploaded by Wahj.

The rain continued into the afternoon, and we repaired to the guesthouse to make ready for our grand day out to Kbal Spean and Beng Mealea tomorrow.

Day 5: Banteay Samre, the East Mebon, and Ta Som

14th June

Banteay Samre and Ta Som are like little gems. Both are smaller temples than the ones we've seen before, but they are, as a result of their size, easier to comprehend than the larger ones. More human in scale and scope - more personal, rather than the massive imperial/royal scale of Angkor Wat.


Driving to Banteay Samre gave us our first look at rural Cambodia. The "commute" between Siem Reap and the main Angkor Sites is urbanised as you leave town, whereas the approach to Banteay Samre took us through an active village (as in people actually live there, as opposed to some "cultural village" nonsense). Again, we felt strange and self conscious puttering through on our tuk-tuk - I was reminded suddenly of how those poor ang-moh tourists on trishaw rides always looked being pedalled through our streets. K borrowed my hat for a while, and when it went flying from her hand off the tuk-tuk, I had to do an Indiana Jones and run back for it.

The rain more or less shut down our adventuring plans for the afternoon. I had hoped to swing by Neak Pean, on the chance that the heavy rain had filled the pools, but the rain caught up with us just outside the entrance, and by that time we were both so tired we didn't really want to do the whole umbrella-poncho-camera juggling act again.

Day 4: The Ruluos Group

13th June

I woke up early and spent the morning reading Patrick O'Brian and contemplating the dreary weather. After a late breakfast, and a consultation with Mr Sang (he was of the opinion that the rain had stopped for today), we set off for the Ruluos group.

We must have been the only people crazy enough to try and photograph in the rain. I actually took photos at Lolei and Preah Ko, juggling a camera and poncho, then juggling a camera and umbrella. I've come to the conclusion that all those atmospheric rain shots of Angkor Wat in Jaroslav Poncar's Angkor Revisited and Steve McCurry's Sanctuary require either
(a) extra limbs to hold camera and umnbrella
(b) superb waterproofing for camera
(c) an umrella-wallah to stand over you holding one of those breach umbrellas
or
(d) enough money that you just don't care about getting your cameras wet.

As it was, we enjoyed a nice spell of non-rain at the Bakong. There was a mute girl at Bakong, playing in the rain and the puddles. I remember thinking to myself "What a wonderfully expressive child, such communicative gestures and such an expressive face", then realising that she probably had to be this expressive to make up for not being able to speak.

We climbed to the top of the Bakong, snapped away happily, and in a rare moment of good timing, the first raindrop arrived just as I wound home my last shot for the day and felt the winder stick. Took that as sign that we were done for the day, and chugged home on the tuk-tuk to sleep the afternoon away.

(Now, if I had been shooting on a digital camera, I would probably have spent the afternoon editing merrily away, but as it was, sleeping was the only thing to do)

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Day 3: Banteay Kdei, Ta Prohm, Pre Rup, Neak Pean, and Preah Khan

Day 3
12th June

It's amazing that even in Cambodia, I can still rejoice that it's payday. = )

I discovered that I much prefer the smaller temples to the larger complexes like Angkor Wat itself. Banteay Kdei is a medium sized linear temple, until Angkor and the Bayon, which are a series of square enclosures centred on a central shrine. Walking through Banteay Kdei is a much more purposeful journey, in the sense that you proceed to a known destination, whereas in Angkor and the Bayon, one is meant to circle around and read the bas-reliefs on each level before proceeding to the next higher one. Banteay Kdei has a hall of dancers, now a collection of roofless pillars with dancing apsaras carved into them. Along the left and right of the central axis as you proceed, there are a series of small enclosures, open spaces with grass and purple flowers surrounded by walls with doorways and carvings.

C2-21
Originally uploaded by Wahj.

Around this time, a lot of my photographs started to be of doorways and passageways, which was the main thing one saw at Banteay Kdei.

A thought also occurred to me that some of these temples would make excellent D&D maps - the standard description "You find yourself in a 5ft wide corridor proceeding east and west" actually comes alive once you've walked through some of these ruins. T, you need to map these temples when you come in December: you won't regret it. = )

Ta Prohm, on the other hand is an amazing site, spoiled somewhat by the coachloads of tours (even in this the low season) all wanting to pose for shots in front of that tree root. Amazingly, there were butterflies at Ta Prohm, crowds fo them, fluttering through the ruins. Ta Prohm was left in a semi-ruined state by the French to allow visitors a glimpse of the romantically ruined state the temples were in when first discovered - if they had known how much more tourists prefer a picturesque ruined temple, rather than a restored one, they might have saved themselves a lot of trouble and restoration work: Ta Prohm easily attracts as many visitors as the main Angkor Wat temple itself, all packed into a much smaller space. I managed to take a few pinhole photos (useful since the long exposures blur out unwanted interlopers. In this photo,

Ta Prohm
Originally uploaded by Wahj.

if you look carefully you can see a blur on the left side of the rubble that was a tourist straying into my shot: the 45 second exposure got rid of her nicely) and at one point, climbed on top of a wall and waited 10 minutes to try and get a nice clear shot of the towers (people just kept straying into my shot ... grr)

C2-28
Originally uploaded by Wahj.


K and I earmarked Banteay Kdei and Ta Prohm for a revisit even before we finished. One last thing to mention about these two temples: beware of the 4 little girls who lurk in the 400 metre stretch between the Western entrance of Banteay Kdei and the Eastern gate of Ta Prohm. They rule this entire stretch, and will ruthlessly plead, wheedle, and beg you to buy something from them. They are unbelievably persistent - not as rude as the fellow the previous day, but these kids don't know the meaning of the word "quit". The only way to get rid of them is to run the guantlet, and come within sight of the guards at Ta Prohm, whereupon they beat a hasty retreat. Think Wandering Monsters. = )

In the afternoon we visited three sites. Pre Rup was a nice change. A temple mountain with a nice breezy top, a good break after tramping round fairly enclosed temples. The lions looked strangely Babylonian to me, with their stylized manes. Next on the Grand Circuit was Neak Pean, which would have been spectacular had the pools of water been filled, but alas they were dry. Walking in to the site, K spotted a spiderweb, with a butterfly caught in it. We stood there for some time watching the poor creature, and this tourist walked by and said "Poor butterfly". I wish I could've told her that a few minutes later, with a dramatic flutter of wings, the butterfly escaped, floating away into the trees.

Last stop of the say was Preah Khan, a slightly eerie experience as we were about the last tourists in it, and it was getting dark. I remember Preah Khan as being very, very quiet, and very still - the kind of place where you instinctively speak softly. We walked through its almost deserted hallways and chambers for a while, then turned in for the day. Sang was not feeling well, a result of his having been rained upon yesterday - we felt really bad about that.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Day 2: Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and the Bayon

June 11th
Unfortunately, our visit to Angkor Wat ended on a sour note. A particularly nasty tout harassed me all the way from the Western gopura across the causeway, alternately begging, pleading, and threatening me to buy a postcard from him. First I was a friend (and therefore obliged to buy a postcard from him), then I wasn't a friend (because I didn't buy a postcard from him), then he outright lied, claiming that I had promised to buy a postcard from him (which I hadn't) then finally ended off by threatening ominously that he would remember me. Unfortunately, it is I who will remember him - as will every other tourist who has misfortune to bump into this pest. There are plenty of people selling scarves, postcards, and other trinkets outside the temples of Angkor, and most know not to cross the line where even sympathy for their poverty runs into exasperation at their harassment. Most also have enough sense to know that while pleading and nagging will merely irritate, threatening will definitely not make someone feel inclined to buy a postcard.

Sour also, unfortunately, were the corner towers of the second enclosure of Angkor Wat. Bat piss. There's nothing like the smell of stale bat piss in a damp ruin, warmed gently by the wafting tropical winds, to take your mind off the beauty of Khmer architecture: I held my breath walking through everyone of them.

But, lest I give the impression that Angkor Wat was completely sour, let me hasten to add that the temple was everything it's been said to be. Angkor Wat is the largest, most well-preserved/restored temple complex in the Siem Reap area, and there's a sense of space and granduer about it. We took Dave's advice, and walked around the main complex after crossing the causeway from the west. This led us past the modern temple, and as we approached, a few enthusiastic monks shouted Hello Hello at us, and then switched to Goodbye Goodbye as we went past. I think that was the extent of their English.

We circled round the temple and approached the East gate from the inside. There, we found some children and their dog, one of whom shouted "One dollah, one dollah" at K when she took their photograph, switching to "One dollah more" after she paid them.

We saw a few of the famous bas-reliefs, but since our main interest was in photography (bas-reliefs, though challenging to photograph well, make for rather technical rather than inspiring photography), we moved up to the central sanctuary. Here we discovered that the ancient Khmers really tested the faith of believers - or rather, the legs, since the final steps to the central sanctuary were extremely steep. We didn't realise quite how steep they were until we tried to climb down. Both of us stood at the top of the steps for a long moment, pondering what seemed like an almost vertical drop. Eventually, we made it down, sideways and crab-like, clinging on to the stone like it was a ladder rather than a staircase. On the way down, we tried to warn a bunch of tourists who were starting to climb up. One lady started up the staircase a few steps, before deciding that it was probably a bad idea to attempt the climb in an ankle length skirt.

angkor-roll-2-001
Originally uploaded by Wahj.


Lunch was back at the guesthouse, after which we went to Angkor Thom, a far larger temple complex, containing a group of smaller sites. We stopped on the way in to photograph the south gate, with its impressive Naga bridge and our first sight of a face tower. We headed straight for the Bayon, which is the temple at the centre of Angkor Thom.

The Bayon is the most amazing temple. The initial impression of rubble and ruin gives way, as you reach the inner enclosures, to a forest of towers, each decorated with 4 faces, each smiling enigmatically off into the distance. It's like a labyrinth, where the only guide to direction is to keep going up until you reach the central tower. Perhaps this was the sense meant to be inspired in the believer who visited the temple - being lost in a familiar wilderness of faces with no hope of salvation except to reach the centre, and all the while surrounded by faces smiling down at you. The guide books offer alternate theories about the faces - some say they are of the bodhitsattva Lokesvara/Avalokistesvara, others suggest they are of Jayavarman VII, who apparently built half the temples in the Angkor Thom area, including the Bayon. If so, then there's a definite sense of Big Brother watching you at the Bayon.

b8-37
Originally uploaded by Wahj.


The heat of the day and the climbing took a lot out of us: after the Bayon, we skipped the neighbouring Baphuon (under reconstruction by the French, due for completion in 2003, according to the guidebooks. Ah) We briefly walked over the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King, before heading to Phnom Bakhaeng to do the touristy thing and catch the sunset. Now, for those of you for whom this makes sense, Phnom Bakhaeng is a hill almost exactly the same height and gradient as Peng Kang hill, except that it offers a great sunset view of Angkor Wat. K and I slogged up the hill painfully, reaching the top just as it started the rain. Needless to say, that ruled out all possibility of a sunset panorama. The most touching thing was that just after we reached the top, now decked out in ponchos, we saw Mr Sang, our driver, reaching the top carrying two umbrellas. The nice man had run all the way up the hill to bring them to us, and without even bothering to open one for himself.

We took the easier route down the hill, a long broad track with switchbacks cut for the elephant rides up the hill. A ride back in the rain followed by dinner, and we settled in for the night.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Day 1

As promised, I'm starting to transcribe the journals kept of the trip to Cambodia.

Day 1
10th June 2004
We had an uneventful, and suprisingly short flight (something to to be said for travelling to nearby countries), followed by an agonisingly long wait at the airport for visa application. K was the very last to get a visa, and we were half expecting that the driver sent to pick us up would have left, having had to wait almost an hour. Thankfully, he was still there, holding a sign with our ames on it, and that was our introduction to Mr Sang Kim Leng, who would drive us to every major temple in the Angkor area in his trusty tuk-tuk (or moto, since tuk-tuk is a Thai term).

Initial impressions of Cambodia were of space - physical and temporal, a sense of a slower pace of life and more time in between things and events. Not an unusual reaction coming from Singapore - I haven't been to many countries where I felt more harried than the one I came from. I caught sight of the Western Baray on the descent, an exciting moment.

We slept the whole afternoon, recovering from the all night packing, and arranged at dinner to go to Angkor Wat the next morning.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Back home

Just counted up my film: I shot a total of 27 rolls of film in the last 9 days. 7 rolls are medium format, all taken on my trusty pinhole camera (which, alas, i dropped on the second to last day and which has a crack in it now), 20 rolls are 35mm film. Of those, 1 is a roll of infra red film of highly dubious quality (1 year past expiry date, not stored under 13 degrees celsius as demanded by the instructions, and loaded, in defiance of the same instructions, in other than complete darkness). 9 are black and white (reliable Kodak Tri-X), 6 are Ektachrome slides, and 4 are Fuji Superia.

Developing, sorting through, and printing this lot is going to take me a month ...

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Rounding things up

Well, we did our last round of temple trips today, picking up the Victory Gate, Thommanon, and Ta Keo. Ironically, the only temple we have not visited is Banteay Srei, which leaves us something new to discover on the next trip.

The light was just fantastic today, possibly better than on any other day, and we even saw a rainbow as we left Ta Keo. Sang (our tuk-tuk driver) suggested we try to catch it over Angkor Wat, so off we went, chasing the rainbow. Needless to say, rainbows being emphemeral things, it had disappeared by then, but we had a serene few hours just sitting outside Angkor Wat waiting for it.

Right, it's off to pack now.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

A Grand Day Out

Had a spectacular day. The trip to Kbal Spean and Beng Mealea was everything we hoped it would be.

We had a good driver for our SUV, a well maintained Toyota Land Runner from 1993 (more about the car and the driver later). I quickly found out that when Dave told us that the road to Kbal Spean beyond Banteay Srei was dirt track, he was being precise: the moment we drove past Banteay Srei, the asphalt disappeared with a bump, and we were on dirt track, potholed and puddled all the way. We counted 2 overturned vehicles on route, both farm vehicles, which gives you some idea of the road conditions following the heavy rains we've been having. (Notwithstanding, we still saw one tuk-tuk carrying 3 tourists out from Kbal Spean - you'd have to have seen the conditions of the road to realise what an incredibly daft idea going out there in a tuk-tuk is!)

But the good thing about the rain is that the River of the Thousand Lingas (what the Kbal Spean site is called) was flowing with water, making for good photography. Dave told us that on a previous visit in the dry season, it had been minus the River. The lingas are mostly stylised carvings (circles, disks, some slight domes) in the bedrock of the river (a disappointment I'm sure for those who expected something more Linga like = ) along with some carvings of Buddhist images.

The second place we went to was Beng Mealea. It's like Ta Prohm, only more so. For a quick frame of reference, Ta Prohm is the one temple in the Angkor area that the French archaelogists left in an unrestored state, to let visitors have an idea of the state of disrepair the temples were in when first discovered. For those of you who remember, its also the background in the scene in Tomb Raider where Lara Croft follows a little girl who shows her the secret entrance to the temple.

angkor-roll-5-005
Originally uploaded by Wahj.

But it pales in comparison to Beng Mealea, which is still tightly in the grip of the jungle. To get through Beng Mealea, we had to climb over rubble, squeeze through gaps in the walls, climb on top of the walls at times ... you really feel like Indiana Jones doing this!

Beng Melea
Originally uploaded by Wahj.

They've built wooden ramps and ladders in some places to make things a bit easier, but it was still really tough going at times. The atmosphere of discovery and adventure was also somewhat spoiled by the 3 unsolicited 'guides' who attached themselves to us and proceeded to treat us like absolute babies, pointing out every place to put a foot or grab a handhold on a rock, getting in the way of every photograph, and unhelpfully pointing out some very obvious parts of the temple ("Wall" ... "Gallery" ... etc), which a 3 year old could have spotted. In the end, Dave gave them all a tip of a dollar, because they had helped us to get over the really rough bits, althought we certainly would've done it without their un-asked-for help.

Fantastic day. On the way back, a little insight into the workings of Cambodian life. We were stopped at a toll booth, and our driver refused to pay. He pointed out that the vehicle we were in had military plates, which exmepted it from all road tolls. Turns out that the car we were in had been borrowed from a 5-star general, commander of the local military base. (yes, we're all wondering 'Who the heck is this driver?!?') The conversation between the toll booth and our driver (related and translated later to us by the driver) went something like this:

Toll Booth: You have to pay the toll
Driver: Tell you what, I'll just wait right here, while you call the General and ask him for the money.

Needless to say, we drove on through. So there you have it - patronage, politics, and power. And a grand day out.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

For the rain, it raineth every day ...

We've been on half-day trips for the past three days due to the rain - a spillover from the tropical storm that hit Vietnam. We're quite lucky to have had fine weather the first 3 days we were in Siem Reap, where we basically visited all the major sites - Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, the Bayon, the terraces of the elephants and Leper King, Banteay Kdei, Ta Prohm, Pre Rup, Neak Pean and Preah Khan. (here's a link to some pictures and info about them) The last three rainy days (and it was storming a few days ago, really flooding) we've swung by the Roluos group, Banteay Samre, and picked up some sites on the Big Circuit that we missed the first time round, like Ta Som and the East Mebon. Today we had just enough good weather to re-visit Banteay Kdei and Ta Prohm.

If all goes well, tomorrow is our big trip to Kbal Spean (riverbed site carved with Lingas, i.e. phalluses) Beng Mealea (an overgrown temple that's only just being cleared, reputed to be the place for that 'Indiana Jones' experience) and Banteay Srei (the site guidebooks routinely describe as 'the jewel in the crown of Khmer architecture'). The proprietor of the Peace of Angkor Villa, Dave, has very kindly arranged for a 4 wheel drive for us, given that the road past Banteay Srei is supposed to be a dirt track that may not be passable to normal vehicles after all this rain. I'm guessing that the weather tomorrow will be as per these few days (good in the morn, rain in the afternoon) so we'll only have the morning to visit all these sites. Keep the fingers crossed ...

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Angkor Wat

A quick update from Cambodia.

The ruins at Angkor Wat are just absolutely amazing. It's hard to describe them in general, because they really are a collection of quite diverse sites - Angkor Wat impresses with its size and grandeur, the Bayon (my favourite so far) is a maze of smiling stone faces that confront and mystify you at every turn, Ta Prohm is an utterly romantic ruin (ruined by the hordes of Japanese tourists we had to share it with) ... the list goes on. I shot so many photos on the first day, I thought I didn't, couldn't shoot any more on the second. I told Kris that I wouldn't take any photographs at Pre Rup ... then we stepped into the temple compound, and two seconds later, out came my camera.

It's that kind of place, where you don't know whether to take photographs, or just put down your camera and enjoy the feel. I snapped like crazy in the first 10 minutes at the Bayon, then had to stop because I just wanted to see the place ... then started again because there was just so much to shoot!

I'll post in more detail when I get back home - I've been keeping a journal, and will transcribe and postdate the entries when I get back - that is, if I have time: I'm at 12 rolls of film shot already in just 3 days, and I'll need to develop them when I get back. (note to self: whatever estimates of film requirements for the next trip here, just double them)