travel

  • Global ArchaeoVentures: The Diver Travels to Cambodia: Chapter Two

    Chapter Two of this special ArchaeoVenturers series begins in Siem Reap, with my friends and I joining up with our tour guide Mr. Raty (highly recommended services!), who was born in the province.  Along the way to the temple complex, Mr. Raty told us that while being a local tour guide is one of the more profitable professions in the area, they must take many expensive tests in order to become certified and to stay licensed, year after year. He is the only one in his family to be a tour guide and was very proud of how hard his family, in particular his mother, works in the agricultural realm of area. He also had one of the most infectious smiles I have ever seen- this was apparent anytime he mentioned a fact or tidbit about Angkor or Cambodian culture, which clearly made him happy to speak about. Also, I am not sure if every guide is this way, but Mr. Raty had a memory for specifics and dates that rivaled any academic I’ve ever met- all while speaking 5 languages! 

    You’ll hear some of the more interesting facts about Angkor Wat in the video, but since this is a syncing of hours of film footage and it has to be attention grabbing (thank you Tony Capelli!), I thought I wouldn’t make the video too audio heavy- the visuals of the temples tend to speak volumes more than I ever could. The interview with Mr. Raty however was important, and while I am still honing my interviewer skills, he was very eloquent while speaking about the affects of tourism and globalization on his community near Angkor. From his answers, we see that it’s a push-pull type relationship between the locals and foreigners- which I suppose is to be expected. The benefits of places with an abundance of tourist opportunities, like Angkor, means that the economy will grow from a natural resource (in this case, a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the locals will see immediate benefit from a growth in labor, infrastructure, investments, resources etc because the presence of foreigners demand those things. However, on the opposite end of the spectrum, as Mr. Raty pointed out, foreign influences come with baggage, like religious holidays (in this case it was Christmas) or out-of-place foods like Mexican taquerias, and even more serious is the pollution, a divide between those able to benefit from direct contact with tourists and those who are less monetarily affected, deforestation, wear and tear and safety of the tourist site for posterity, amongst other issues. In 2013, Angkor Wat experienced an excess of 2 million visitors (not Cambodia as a whole, just this site) with a steady nearly 20% yearly increase. I am certainly no economist, but there is an obvious constant struggle between maintaining massive historical sites like this temple complex for future generations of visitors, archaeologists, and other knowledge seekers, while still being able to reap the benefits of open access in the present day for millions of current visitors.

    As interesting as visiting this site was for me, it was more interesting hearing the perspectives of the local people that we encountered. Our tuk-tuk driver moonlighted as a tourist driver even though he has a full time job as a police officer. But they only get paid 90$ a month(!) for that, which isn’t enough to support his new wife and baby, he said that he gets 20$ a day to be a tuk-tuk driver around the site to supplement his income. Mr. Raty said he dreamed of traveling outside of Cambodia for the first time. Some people near the reflection pool (classic photo-op spot in Angkor Wat) who were visiting from another Cambodian province where there are no tourists, asked my friends to pose with them in photos in order to show their friends/family back home that they met ‘tourists’. Our guide said they wanted to pose with Hannah and Paul specifically because most visitors from other provinces were equating being fair skinned with being foreign, and those photos would prove they had the means to travel to places where tourists frequented.

    Just briefly, for Southeast Asia and Cambodia, the temple complex at Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites and was designated a World Heritage Site in 1992. Cambodia is in fact the only country to have a building on their national flag- and it is an image of Angkor Wat. The temple complex stretches over some 400 square km, throughout northwest Cambodia and contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th century to the 15th century. Places that we were able to visit included the famous Temple of Angkor Wat (which translates to Temple City or City of Temples), and Angkor Thom and the Bayon Temple (which will be featured in Chapter Three of the series). Words do not describe how magnificent these ruins of a long-lost Empire reveal themselves to visitors- calling it ‘stepping into the past’ could not be more literal. The imagination truly has the chance to run wild there, where tales of kings and gods of old become more real with each step up the stairway to heaven….

    Please stay tuned for Chapter 3 in “Global ArchaeoVentures: The Diver Travels to Cambodia” also known as “An ArchaeoVenture to Cambodia” where the story at Angkor Wat continues.
    Check Out “An ArchaeoVenture to Cambodia: Chapter 2″ on YouTube

    WATCH AGAIN:
    An ArchaeoVenture to Cambodia: Chapter 1 on YouTube
    An ArchaeoVenture to Cambodia: Chapter 3 on YouTube
    An ArchaeoVenture to Vietnam: Chapter 4 on YouTube

    Further Reading:
    – UNESCO: World Heritage Site
    Tourism Cambodia
    – BBC News: Are there too many tourists at Angkor’s temples?

    Map of Angkor Temples (Credit: Tourism Cambodia)
    Ticket into Angkor Wat
    Obligatory entrance photo

    Reflection Pool

    Reflection Pool Panorama

    Part of the temple

    A rare moment capture without other tourists in background

    Heartbreaking graffiti on stone pillars

    A view of one of the inner temple towers

    Angkor Wat library
  • Global ArchaeoVentures: The Diver Travels to Cambodia: Chapter Three

    Chapter 3 of “An ArchaeoVenture in Cambodia” begins just after our lunch stop with our guide, Mr. Raty. There were three distinct places that we visited after Angkor Wat that morning, in the order of Ta Prohm, Bayon Temple, and Phnom Bakheng:

    • Ta Prohm (1186 CE): Originally named, Rajavihara (Royal Temple), is one of the most visited temples in the religious complexes, most likely for its unique look of ruined beauty mixed with invasive natural elements (in this case, ever expanding jungle trees that thrive amidst the native temple architecture and encapsulate the historic remains). The word “Ta” means ancestors and “Prohm” originates from Brahma, Hindu god of creation. As an ode to inaccurate archaeological depictions, which Katie and I talk about in the #AVProject (), I must not forget to mention that the famous Lara Croft: Tomb Raider movie was filmed here, one of the only Cambodian sites depicted with accuracy in the movie- and I must have heard at least 30 different tourists mention it in the hour we wandered around. Our guide said that after the movie came out, there was certainly a larger influx of questions about the temple’s role in the movie, how it was filmed, if Angelina Jolie had been there, etc…, and that many of these questions were still asked today. Because Ta Prohm’s beauty literally lays in ruin, there is a major restoration project being undertaken all over the UNESCO World Heritage Site, as you can see in the video. This restorative conservation is a partnership project of the Archaeological Survey of India and the APSARA (Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap) that has been ongoing since 2004. It is said to be a difficult task as the teams are avoiding vegetation removal, which is used to illustrate “how the trees and the complex coexist.” Oddly enough, Ta Prohm has also been at the center of creationist/evolutionary debate in recent years as a ‘stegosaurus’ has been discovered (see below image) amongst the depictions- judge for yourself! 
    Mr. Raty with Hannah & Me at Ta Prohm
    Jungle Overtaking Temple
    Stegosaurus? Rhino? Boar? Heffelump? 
    Restoration
    Temples for Days
    • Bayon Temple (dating from the 12th century CE): Bayon was the very center of Angkor Thom (Big City), which was the capital built by King Jayavarman VII. It’s position is the manifestation of the intersection between heaven and earth. The many faces of Buddha is how I recall this temple site- Mr. Raty said there are over 2000 large faces carved on the 54 towers! He mentioned that many people point out that the Buddha’s look as though they are smiling and that some have made comparisons to the Mona Lisa’s cryptic smile. There is a tourist stop here that no matter how hard thou doth protest, you must take a rubbing/kissing nose photo with this one Buddha, reminiscent of those timed photos taken at the leaning Tower of Pisa. Between 1995-2001, UNESCO and the Japanese Government Team for the Safeguarding of Angkor (JSA) conducted an extensive research and conservation project at this temple. The World Bank warns that Bayon, and other temple towers, are sinking into their sandy foundations as the hospitality industry drains underground water reservoirs- something to seriously consider as a foreign visitor.
    ‘Smile of Angkor’
    Perfect Positioning
    Hannah & I Trying to Read One of the Bas-Reliefs
    Bayon Central Tower

    View of Heaven & Earth
    • Phnom Bakheng (Built at the end of the 9th century): Known as “sunset on the hill,” this is where to be when the day comes to a close- and you know you’re in the right spot as suddenly hundreds upon hundreds of people have the very same interest in watching dusk fall from the top of the temple mountain. And it’s certainly a hike up, and at the top you realize why- it has an unrivaled view of the valley of Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. I’ve never seen more selfie sticks in my life until that moment waiting for the sunset- so many selfies to be had in the twilight of evening (if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em)…. However this popularity comes at a steep price: the World Monuments Fund puts Phnom Bakheng is one of the most endangered of all the complexes. More than 3,000 tourists push their way to the top, up the narrow stone staircases every single evening (myself and friends included).
    Clambering for Elbow-Room at the Top 
    The Art of Squeezing Into Tight Spaces
    What did I say? #sunsetselfie
    At Dusk
    A huge bonus at the end of our time in Siem Reap, was that I was able to take a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the temple complexes (although that morning the wind had a different plan in mind). While we were supposed to go over Angkor Wat, we ended up flying over several other smaller temples on the way, and after over an hour in the air, we overshot our landing site three times because of tall trees. While we flew over many little villages, the children and adults would yell from below (even before the sun was up) and our handlers would give us handfuls of candy to toss overboard. I still have mixed feelings about this because it seems like a very unnecessary practice to feed into, but then, what do I know anyway- when we finally landed in a random rice paddy field (complete with ankle-deep water and fire ants!), all those nearby children ran up begging for candy but then all whipped out their smartphones to take pictures of the balloon that many were claiming to never have seen before. Moral of the story- hot air balloons are always worth it, despite wet pants and bug bites on your toes…
    Unknown Temple From the Air
    Unknown Temple Being Restored From the Air
    Giant Hot Air Balloon on the Exodus Across the Rice Paddy
    NEXT UP VIETNAM MONTAGE!! 
    Please stay tuned for Chapter 4 and Final in “Global ArchaeoVentures: The Diver Travels to Vietnam” also known as “An ArchaeoVenture to Vietnam” where a montage of travel and scuba dive footage await.
    Check out “An ArchaeoVenture to Cambodia: Chapter Three” on YouTube

    WATCH AGAIN:
    An ArchaeoVenture to Cambodia: Chapter 1 on YouTube
    An ArchaeoVenture to Cambodia: Chapter 2 on YouTube
    An ArchaeoVenture to Vietnam: Chapter 4 on YouTube

    Further Reading: