Banteay Srei is anti-Angkor. It is everything that Angkor Wat is not.
First off, Banteay Srei is remote, even by Cambodian standards. It takes more than 30 minutes by tuktuk from Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. As such, making the trip costs an additional $20 to the tuktuk per-diem rental. Despite the distance and the added cost, the rewards of visiting Banteay Srei are manifold.
Angkor means city. In fact, Angkor is the largest ancient city with an urban sprawl of 3,000 square kilometers, almost half the size of New York City! Come to think of it, a thousand years ago, Angkor must have been the NYC of that era, what with its kingdom’s power and influence on Southeast Asia and its massive monuments and temple-mountains forming that uniquely jagged Khmer skyline.
AJ was in Ta Prohm, a ruined ancient temple within Angkor Archaeological Park. I don’t only mean yours truly, but also the famous AJ: Angelina Jolie. The actress-humanitarian-mother shot some scenes for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in the Angkor complex, most memorably in Ta Prohm.
Pop culture would have us believe that enlightenment looked like the gaunt, hammy seriousness of Keanu Reeves in Little Buddha. But for the ancient Khmer, it was the face of Jayavarman VII, still revered in Cambodia as the greatest Khmer king. Continue reading “The Bayonic Man”→
I found myself walking through cloistered hallways alone. Only whispering zephyrs were within earshot. The moment conjured up the centuries past. In the silent, stone-dead here and now, I sat still on ancient landings, imagining what it must have been like 900 years ago. This gallery must have echoed the pitter-patter of scurrying monks. This courtyard must have seen bare-breasted women dancing as apsaras or performing rituals as devatas. This terrace must have borne the pomp and power of King Suryavarman II himself, the builder of Angkor Wat.
Siem Reap was the gateway to Angkor Wat. Tourists and archaeology aficionados would descend on the town before embarking on their Angkorian adventures. The daily influx of foreigners and their money had resuscitated this little backwater town into an oasis of modern (read: Western) trappings in the middle of the dust and poverty of Cambodia.
Even without the obligatory border check, you would know that you have entered Cambodia from Vietnam. Lush vegetation petered out to sparse shrubs in an arid landscape. Rolling terrain leveled off to a horizon-bordered flatland. This was my first impression of Cambodia, a country I would soon fall in love with.
The city had already been called Ho Chi Minh, but just like the locals, I still called it Saigon. The name was shorter and rolled off the mouth more easily. It helped that it was one syllable less and without that extra consonant no one knew how to pronounce. Surely, the musical Miss Saigon, with its stereotyped scantily-clad singing showgirls, further cemented its recall quality. But in another sense, Uncle Ho did embody this culturally eclectic city. I recently found out that Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese statesman this city was named after, had lived around the world. And many of the places he lived in had left their imprint on Ho Chi Minh, the city.
Every tourist should get out of the insulated confines of their tourist buses and walk the streets. It is on street level that a foreigner can feel the hustle and bustle, the soul and pulse of a city, its attendant dangers notwithstanding. Capturing street scenes on camera is akin to taking portrait photos; it preserves the look of a city at a certain age. These are some of the images I have captured with my Leica lens on the streets of Saigon: Continue reading “Saigon Street Scenes”→
It was my first trip overseas in five years. I had always loved to travel, but financial constraints kept me off the road. This time, I decided not to let my poverty get in the way of my dreams. Beggars couldn’t be choosers, but who said they couldn’t be travelers? I convinced some colleagues to pool our meager resources and planned for a DIY trip. I was like a (travel) virgin all over again, overwhelmed by that giddy combination of anticipation, anxiety, and awkwardness. The trip was truly a milestone, a turning of a page in my life.
I’m AJ, a teacher by profession and a traveler by passion. Despite my meager salary, I scrimp and save up to travel as much as I could. This blog is a valentine to those few-and-far-between trips I feel blessed to have taken.