Dave's Photo & Travelblogue

Photo shoots. World travel advice. Tips on Munich & environs.

Temples of Angkor

Based on a friend’s advice, I hired a guide to visit Angkor Archaeological Park. Best advice yet! It cost me $25 for a full day, plus $12 for the tuk-tuk (my guide brought his own excellent driver). I met Saron and Mr. Nan early on July 20th.

First things first: if you see Angkor Wat without a guide, it’s just a big pile of old stones. Even with a guidebook, you’ll spend hours figuring out where you are and which paragraph describes the temple or carving you’re facing. Then, you won’t know where to go next or what’s the best nearby temple – so you’ll need 2-3 days to see what a guide can show you in one day. Think of how much you spent to get here. The extra $25 for a guide (probably split between a group of 2-4) is nothing!

Here’s the first temple we saw. As an experiment, they have left the large trees growing amid the stones. Cutting them (and the subsequent root-system decay) can destabilize the stones and cause a collapse, if its not done carefully.

Tree growing on an Angkor temple

My guide Saron (http://www.sarontours.com/) is one of the most friendly, honest, and well-spoken natives I’ve met in Asia. His prices are reasonable, he really knows his stuff, and he didn’t try to persuade me for any shopping or donations. Besides this, I really appreciated his humanitarian outlook, as he formerly worked in community outreach and education programs. Besides explaining Angkor, he showed me Cambodia from a native’s viewpoint.

Face hidden by trees - I hear this is on a guidebook cover

When people think of Angkor Wat, this is the temple that comes to mind:

Angkor Wat temple

But the Angkor complex is so much more. There are hundreds of temples, and Angkor Thom is actually a whole city interspersed here and there with temples. Each King had to build temples to the gods and to his forebears, so over hundreds of years, this really added up. Many have been restored to reach the condition they’re in today, and teams from several nations are working hard on further restorations.

There’s so much to say about Angkor, and I have too many photos! I’ll just give a brief selection of memorable moments. Here’s a comical carving (from the kilometers of wall carvings at the complex). See if you can figure it out:

Angkor wall carving - turtle bite

The man and his wife are walking with a pole between them. But she has walked too close behind him! The turtle hanging from the pole has bitten him in the butt, so he’s upset with her.

From the correct angle, the Buddha faces seem to be rubbing noses:

Buddhas touching noses

Some of the temples still have moats around them. These are actually for structural reasons! The foundations were built on sand, and wet sand is more stable. Many temples collapsed when their moats dried up. The builders also learned from their mistakes: temples without enough stairways collapsed, so newer temples have more stairways angled in many directions. Think of the stairways like European cathedral buttresses.

Angkor temple - reflection in the pond

Eventually I’ll write more posts about the fascinating Angor Wat and surrounding temples. But I hope this taste has piqued your interest in traveling to Cambodia! It’s a wonderful country, and I can thank my guide Saron for making the experience even better.

Posted 11 years, 4 months ago at 3:22 pm.


Japanese Peter Griffin?

One question for anyone from Hiroshima: who is this guy whose caricature is on this Carp-themed bar? (the Carp are Hiroshima’s baseball team). He’s got Peter Griffin’s famous, ah,  double . . . balled . . . chin. And how does he eat with no mouth?

Hiroshima Carp themed bar/restaurant

I’ve been traveling around Japan on the shinkansen – Japan’s ultra-fast bullet trains that criss-cross the country. On June 30th I headed back toward Tokyo from Hiroshima.

JR Line Shinkansen train in Japan

The shinkansen is amazing compared to airplanes.

You can arrive on the platform anytime up until departure and just walk on. No security check or ticket/passport check. Bring any food and drinks you want. Luggage weigh-in: nope. Speed is up to around 300km/h (~190mph).

One drawback is that it’s incredibly expensive, so Japanese usually just take the shinkansen if their company is paying for it. Foreigners can get a JR Railpass for varying durations if they are visiting for tourism, which is definitely worth it.

Note: if you want a Railpass, you have to buy a “Railpass exchange order” in advance, before leaving home for Japan! You cannot get a Railpass in Japan unless you’ve pre-purchased this exchange order, and it’s only available for tourists.

Himeji Castle on the hilltop

On the way to Tokyo, I stopped at Himeji Castle, one of the best-preserved castles in Japan. It retains its original style without much modification, displaying at every turn how it was built almost entirely with defense from invading Samurai in mind.

Irregularly-spaced steps at Himeji Castle

Steps are unevenly spaced so that invaders would have trouble running up them, keeping their eyes focused on the ground instead of watching out for arrows. Gates and passages are low to make warriors duck, and many passages would be tough on horseback. The final entry path to the main keep is sloped downhill, to confuse enemy commanders who are used to following uphill paths to such keeps. Dungeons & Dragons fans would love the construction of this place!

Himeji is undergoing renovation, but I was lucky that it’s not yet fully covered with scaffolding (as it soon will be, until 2014!). Only the center courtyard/castle was closed to visits. I saw a lot of the surrounding castle buildings and got many pictures with little or no scaffolding. But check on the status before you visit, because it might be a disappointment if you can’t even see the castle on the hilltop.

Read tomorrow’s entry for a better feel of Tokyo, when I visit the Modern Art Museum and Akihabara Electric Town!

Posted 11 years, 4 months ago at 3:00 pm.

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Monkey Alert

June 27th was a ten miler. At least, by the end of the day I felt like I’d walked ten miles. Nijo Castle, in the center of Kyoto, was definitely worth the trip – although I was a bit disappointed on a few counts. So don’t get quite as excited as I did beforehand.

You can’t take photos inside the castle. The “Nightingale Floors,” designed to squeak with each step to alert the Shogun to intruders, don’t squeak much anymore (and sound nothing like a bird). And in the very nice gardens, 80% of the paths were roped off – so views and camera angles were quite limited.

On the upside, it’s very old, has a rich history, and is quite a beautiful work of architectural art. Here’s my attempt an an artistic shot of Nijo Castle sans tourists.

Nijo Castle in Kyoto

And one of the gardens, filled with very traditionally-pruned trees:

Garden at Nijo Castle

I also visited the Manga Museum (no photos allowed), and the Kyoto Gyoen National Garden where the Imperial Palace is located (not open to tourists, but sometimes private tours).

While in the garden, I saw a cluster of Japanese with massive cameras pointed at the canopy of a huge camphor tree. I joined this crowd of 400mm f/4 lenses with my puny 200mm f/5.6, and managed to spot this guy. If I’d known Japanese, I would have asked to try the big Nikon (it was around 400-600mm, not sure). Here’s the sharpest I could do without a tripod, using my 18-200mm VR.

Some kind of Japanese owl, I suppose

Did I mention that I love Japanese Maples? Especially the red-leafed ones!

Red Japanese Maple

I’ll just include one shot from Arashiyama Monkey Park, where some very tame Japanese Monkeys (also known as Snow Monkeys) live. I still have to email the monkey family this portrait. You have no idea how long it took the parents to get their little one to stay still for the camera.

Japanese Monkey Family Portrait

Tomorrow I visit the first city in human history to be nuclear bombed. What is Hiroshima like now, and how do they portray their grisly legacy? I’ll do my best to show you.

Posted 11 years, 4 months ago at 3:03 pm.

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