The Temples of Angkor: Part V
We were back on the Angkorian temple circuit today. The late 12th century Banteay Kdei was our first stop.
I immediately enjoyed shooting this Buddhist temple because of the few tourists and the lovely nun that greeted everyone at the main entrance. Sitting in a large stone corridor below the Buddha, she would hand out incense to visitors willing to donate money for good luck.
Progressing further into Kdei, we watched as a young Khmer painter used his surroundings for inspiration in his watercolor work. Impressed with his ability to not just capture a subject, but also the feeling one has when seeing it, we purchased one of his works for his asking price of ten dollars. He was happy to allow me to photograph him while he painted.
Reading through these posts about Cambodia, you may have noticed how I give the price of things we’ve purchased in U.S. Dollars. This isn’t because I’m an American. A bit of a side note worth mentioning: The Khmer Rouge destroyed all money during Pol Pot’s reign of terror. After being thrown out of power by the Vietnamese army, Cambodians reverted to buying necessities with rice and other non-cash valuables until monetary paper began to be produced again. The production of Riel was a slow process and now the US Dollar is used parallel with the Cambodian Riel. In Siem Reap, the USD is actually preferred by local business.
Once we finished exploring Banteay, we walked across the road to see Sra Srang which is translated “Pool of Ablutions.” This is a massive man-made basin that was reserved for the king and his wives to bathe.
In the tuk tuk again, Mr Tong drove us on the hour-long ride to Banteay Srei. ”A Hindu temple meaning “Citadel of the Women,” it’s said that it must have been built by a woman as the elaborate carvings are considered too fine for the hand of a man (Lonely Planet: Angkor Wat & Siem Reap, p. 98).”
Arriving on site, we can vouch that the previous statement is true. Of all the temples we’ve visited thus far, the carvings in Srei’s pinkish stone are deep and brilliantly executed.
Of all the temples in Cambodia, Angkor Wat is the most famous. We saved this for our last full day in Cambodia. After another hour in the tuk tuk, watching the countryside go by, we arrived at what is considered one of the largest religious structures in the world. Its name actually means “Temple that is a City.” The name is perfectly fitting. Everything about this place is massive in scale. Angkor definitely earns its right as one of the world’s wonders.
Famous in Khmer culture are Apsara dancers. You see them carved in pillars and walls throughout the Angkor temples. ’Ap’ means ‘heaven’ and ‘sara’ means ‘dancer,’ so Apsara basically means ‘heavenly dancer.’ It’s an ancient style of dance that still continues today. Jill and I couldn’t leave Cambodia without taking in such an important part this fine Asian culture. Booking a show through our hotel at Motherhome Inn provided transportation, dinner and watching the apsaras.
We both greatly appreciated the unique and beautiful dance. Their dress was covered in jewels and heavy in gold. Their hands, feet, and legs focused on slow, but controlled flexibility. We wondered if a qualification to be an Apsara dancer was double jointed hands and feet. They were able to pull their fingers and toes backwards into crescent shapes with ease.
To those of you who kept up with our posts from Cambodia, thank you! But don’t worry, even though our tour of the Angkorian temples has come to a close, there is still more to see from around Cambodia. Then on to leg two of our journey: Vietnam! Sign up and stay tuned!