Category Archives: Asia

Amazing Angkor Wat Photo Tour

35 photo tour of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temples

Angkor Wat is one of the most impressive sites in the world, and was immediately a highlight of my southeast Asia trip. The temples are breathtaking!  While you need to visit them in Cambodia to appreciate it, below is a photo tour of the experience.

I’ll start with some sunrise photos, because that’s what it’s famous for and I love them!  I’ll show you the geography, then sprinkle in a little history, with photos throughout the post.

Angkor Wat at sunrise
Angkor Wat at sunrise. This brilliant photo is from one of my favorite travel photographers, Trey Ratcliff at Stuck in Customs
Where is Angkor Wat?

Angkor Wat is located in Siem Reap, in Cambodia. Along with Angkor Thom, the Bayon temples, and Ta Prohm, Angkor might be the best two-day trip you can take in all of Asia.

Angkor Wat, in Siem Reap, Cambodia

History

Angkor Wat was built by the vanished Khmer empire. It was constructed during the reign of King Suryavarman II, who ruled from 1113 to at least 1145.

in the halls of Angkor Wat

Did you know?

Angkor is located in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Siem Reap literally translates to ‘defeat of Siam,’ which is today’s Thailand. It’s a conflict that goes back centuries, between the Siamese and Khmer people.

Angkor Wat sunrise in Cambodia
photo by JonJon Pascua

The real “tomb raider” ?

This is Angkor’s only temple with tombs, despite the “Tomb Raider” movie being shot at nearby Ta Prohm, where there’s no tombs.

The Library at Angkor Wat.
The Library at Angkor Wat. Photo from one of my favorite travel photographers, Trey Ratcliff

“Angkor Wat” translates to “The city that is a temple.”

Aspara dancers everywhere!

There are more than 1,860 carved Apsara dancers in Angkor Wat.

There are more than 1,860 carved Apsara dancers in Angkor Wat.
There are more than 1,860 carved Apsara dancers in the walls.
Did you know?

I found this interesting – “Angkor Wat” translates to “The city that is a temple.” It’s true, it’s both a city and temple at the same time.

Angkor Wat entrance - Angkor Wat at Visit50.com
“The city that is a temple.”

Stories in the Walls – a closer look

The walls of Ankor Wat tell stories of war heroes and battles from their troubled past - Visit50.com
The temple walls tell stories of war heroes and battles from their troubled past
Buddhist monk explores Angkor Wat
Buddhist monk explores the walls. Many tourists forget the religious significance
The Battle of Kurukshetra is the subject of this bas-relief at Angkor Wat.
The Battle of Kurukshetra is depicted in this impressive bas-relief.
How long did it take to build?

They say Angkor Wat took 30 years to build, which seems like a long time, until you see all the rich detail on nearly every wall. Nearly every wall has details you can miss!

a monk at - Angkor Wat
Nearly every wall has details you can miss!
Why was Angkor Wat built?

Scholars say the temples were built for funerary purposes, since its bas-reliefs are meant to be viewed anti-clockwise, a direction that was associated with death in the Khmer empire.

entrance of Angkor Wat

From Hindu to Buddhist?

This stone sculpture depicts the 8 arms of Vishnu, the powerful Hindu god, but with the head of Buddha. When Angkor Wat became a Buddhist temple, the head of Vishnu was replaced with the head of Buddha.

Count the arms...VERY powerful!
Count the arms…VERY powerful!

statue in Angkor Wat - count the armsMany devatas grace the walls. Devata is another word for deva, the Hindu term for deity

a devata graces the walls in Angkor Wat. Devata is another word for deva, the Hindu term for deity
Many devatas grace the walls. Devata is another word for deva, the Hindu term for deity
a youthful monk learns to read the future
a youthful monk learns to read the future
Angkor Wat statue missing its head after it got raided. They stole the heads!
Raided. They stole the heads!
Angkor Wat entrance
“Angkor Wat” translates to The city that is a temple
Cambodian wedding photo shoot at Angkor Wat
Cambodian wedding photo shoot. I saw wedding photo shoots both times I visited, so perhaps it’s a popular spot for wedding photos.
Anchor Wat reflection in the reflecting pool. It was under repair
under repair when we went – the green tarps typically aren’t there

reflection of the temple towers in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Ankor Wat and the reflecting pond
my first time in Cambodia and the reflecting pond

me at Angkor Wat

 

amazing Angkor Wat - best photo of the temples and reflecting pool in Cambodia
Photo from ITLWMT

temple at Angkor Wat

"Library" from Angkor Wat
“Library”. While its true purpose remains unknown, scholars say it most likely functioned broadly as a religious shrine, rather than strictly as repositories of manuscripts
devata at the entrance of Angkor Wat
devatas at the entrance

 

statue of animal guarding the city walls of Angkor Wat
guarding the complex walls
photo of the walls at the entrance.  8 meters high and 3 km long, and flanked by a moat.
The walls at the entrance are 8 meters high and 3 km long, and flanked by a moat.
The "swimming pool" at Angkor Wat
The “swimming pool” – looks good for being 1000 yrs old!
Cruciform gallery separating the courtyards in Angkor Wat
Cruciform gallery separating the courtyards
details of ruins. Look closely at everything - from a distance this looked like a pile of rocks
look closely at everything – from a distance this looked like a pile of rocks
tower at the temple
closeup of one of the towers
My favorite in the Angkor Wat complex?

Finally, if you’re going to Siem Reap, you’ll definitely also want to check out both the Bayon temples / Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm (post coming soon). Those are my favorites!

Angkor Wat video tours

Angkor Wat is breath-taking; every traveler should visit.

Angkor Wat – a 5 video aerial view tour

If you can’t get there, check out this impressive video of “Angkor Wat from the Air” from Matador Network:

Angkor Wat is at the top of the list of places to visit for Cambodia, and possibly all of Southeast Asia!  I’ve posted a photo tour, but this Angkor Wat video provides a different view – an aerial view of one of the 7 wonders of the world.

I love this photo! Angkor Wat video tour and this photo are via Matador Network
I love this photo! Photo is via Matador Network

Angkor Wat Video and photo is courtesy of Matador Network. Video is by awesome photographer/videographer Max Seigal.

The videos fly over and through my favorite temples –  Angkor WatBayon, Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm, all in Siem Reap Cambodia. For a photo tour of each, click the linked names.

Pro Tip — Plan for big crowds; it was packed both times I visited. Decide if you’re going to try to catch Angkor Wat at sunrise – if not, choose a different order to explore the temples to avoid the largest crowds. Even if that’s your plan, visit Angkor Wat to capture your sunrise photo, and then leave that temple to start at Angkor Thom, since most of the crowd just stays at Angkor Wat. Then come back for sunset. This Angkor Wat video, “Angkor Wat from the Air,”  will give you a sense of what the rest of the complex looks like.

The below videos provide a bit of the history:

Here’s Nat Geo‘s 1 hour documentary on Angkor Wat:

Nat Geo: Lost City of Angkor Wat

Ancient Megastructures – Angkor Wat:

Have you been to Angkor Wat in Cambodia? What’d you think of it?

My favorite in Angkor Wat?

Finally, if you’re going to Angkor Wat, you’ll definitely want to check out both the Bayon temples / Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm (post coming soon). Those are my favorites!

Bayon Temples Cambodia -216 smiling faces

Bayon temples – 216 gigantic faces

Welcome to the Bayon temples, built end of the 12th Century. The Bayon temples feature 216 faces! It’s a nearly surreal masterpiece, unlike any I’d ever seen.

29 photo Bayon tour:

I’ll start with geography, then stats on the scale, and even the history beyond it, with photos of Bayon throughout.

Are you ready to get started with the Bayon tour? Here we go!

Reflections of Bayon in Angkor Thom
Reflections of Bayon in Angkor Thom. Brilliant photo by Mike Behnken
Where is Bayon?

Bayon stands at the centre of Jayavarman’s capital, Angkor Thom, which is located in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Bayon temples in the Angkor Thom area of Siem Reap, Cambodia near Angkor Wat
it’s 90-degrees fahrenheit, but I kept reading about killer mosquitos. They said it’s crucial to get vaccinated, and cover yourself from head to toe.

Bayon by the numbers

First, let’s give a sense of the scale of these Bayon faces.

How many Bayon temples are there? How tall are these massive structures?

There are 216 gigantic faces on the Bayon temple towers. They faces measure as tall as 7 feet just for the face, and there’s 37 towers!

There are 216 gigantic faces on the Bayon temple towers, in the Angkor Thom area of Siem Reap, Cambodia near Angkor Wat
There are 216 gigantic faces on the Bayon temple towers

Who are the faces of?

They Bayon faces are everywhere, and you might be wondering if they’re of someone specific. They’re nearly the same face over and over and over. I was wondering the same question.

To clarify, most historians say that they represent Lokeshvara, a Buddhist deity that projected benevolence outward to the four directions, or even the king himself.

face from temple tower in bayon
Photo by Tartarin2009
Who’s Lokeshvary?

Here’s the explanation:

Initially the faces were believed to represent Brahma, the Hindu God of creation depicted with four heads. When it was later established that the Bayon was not a Hindu temple but a Buddhist one, archeologists believed the faces to be of Lokeshvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion. The similarity of statues of Jayavarman VII and the face towers had led some to believe that it is the King himself whose face is depicted on the towers.

Bayon temples History:

But who’s Jayavarman?

Bayon was the state temple of Jayavarman VII, a powerful ruler in the late 13th century (Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII). The temple sat at the center of Angkor Thom, a walled city that served as the capital of the Khmer Empire.

The white and green spots on the face are lichen (fungus, green alga).
The white and green spots on the face sculptures are lichen (fungus, green alga).

Cosmic Bayon?

Next, we’ll explain the cosmic angle.

The Bayon temple was “intended to evoke the form of Mt. Meru—the cosmic mountain at the center of the world in Buddhist cosmology. In keeping with this cosmic symbolism, the plan of the temple is based on a ‘yantra’, a symbol used by Tantric Buddhists as the basis of mandala diagrams that represent the layout of the universe. The temple honored not just one deity, but a host of gods found throughout the Khmer empire. Its central shrine held an image of Jayavarman VII, who perhaps imagined himself as a god-King ruling in the name of the Buddha” [source]

Bayon temples, built end of the 12th Century, capital of the Khmer Empire , Cambodia
Welcome to Bayon, built at the end of the 12th Century, capital of the Khmer Empire

Our guide explained how the bas-relief is showing Khmer soldiers going to war

our guide explains how the bas-relief is showing Khmer soldiers going to war
our guide explains how the bas-relief is showing Khmer soldiers going to war

Bayon faces are facing in all four directions on each tower. The faces are thought to represent Lokeshvara, a Buddhist deity that projected benevolence outward to the four directions

Facing in four directions on each Bayon tower, the faces are thought to represent Lokeshvara, a Buddhist deity that projected benevolence outward to the four directions.. Cambodia
Bayon faces are facing in all four directions on each tower. The faces are thought to represent Lokeshvara, a Buddhist deity that projected benevolence outward to the four directions.
Bayon In the Golden Hour Bayon temples in Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia
photo by Lee Phelps Photography
Aspara dancers at the Bayon temples Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Aspara dancers
great photos of the Bayon temples in Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia
so many great photos of the Bayon temples in Angkor Thom
photo from from the vantage point of the Bayon temple's the upper terrace, Cambodia
photo from from the vantage point of the Bayon temple’s the upper terrace
Bayon temples at Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia, near Angkor Wat
photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra
Smiling face of Avalokiteshvara at the Bayon temples at Angkor Thom, Cambodia
Smiling face of Avalokiteshvara

nearly every wall of Angkor Thom are sculpted, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Central structure tower of Bayon, in Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Central structure tower of Bayon

Details on every Bayon wall!

Next, I’d like you to focus in closer up on the actual walls. Every  wall has detail that’s interesting in Bayon!

A scene from the eastern gallery shows a Khmer army on the march in the Cambodia ruins
A scene from the eastern gallery shows a Khmer army on the march
scene from the outer gallery. Our guide said it shows Chinese expats negotiating with Khmer merchants at an Angkorean market.
This scene is from the outer gallery at the Bayon temples. Our guide said it shows Chinese expats negotiating with Khmer merchants at an Angkorean market.

walls of Angkor Thom in Cambodia walls of Bayon in Angkor Thom in Cambodia

face to face in the ruins
face to face at the Bayon temples of Angkor Thom near Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

faces of the Bayon temples, in the Bayon ruins in Angkor Wat Angkor Thom area in Cambodiafaces of the Bayon temples, in the Bayon ruins in Angkor Wat Angkor Thom area in Cambodia -014

Finally, let’s finish the tour with some more photos of these structures. You can’t tell from my expression here but I loved it! my face between the faces, in Angkor Wat Angkor Thom area in Cambodia

wide shot of the Bayon temples in Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia
photo from Tushar Dayal

Face in Angkor Thom area in Cambodia

Angkor Wat Itinerary

If you have just a day or two, make sure you get to these three areas of temples.

  • The Bayon temples
  • Angkor Wat
  • Ta Prohm (post coming soon!)

Those three are all near each other in Cambodia. They’re easily the best 1-2 day trip you can take in southeast Asia.faces on the temples, in the ruins in Angkor Thom area in CambodiaBayon temples in Angkor Thom are an impressive display of Khmer architecture

entrance to Bayon temples, in the Bayon complex - Bayon ruins in Angkor Wat Angkor Thom area in Cambodia
entrance to Bayon temples area
How to get to the Bayon temples and Angkor Wat

You might be wondering how you’ll get all the way to Siem Reap. Most visitors seem to build it into their Thailand trip.

Siem Reap is a short flight from Bangkok, Thailand. Do it!

Want more Cambodia photos?

I’ve posted a bunch more about Cambodia too! Check out the crown jewel, with a photo tour of Angkor Wat, and an   Angkor Wat Video Tour,

Finally, I’ve included links to learn more of the history of the Bayon temples at the center of Angkor Thom, in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Swimming in Shark Infested Waters

I went swimming in shark infested waters – and lived to tell about it!

Swimming in Shark Infested Waters – SCUBA Diving with sharks, no cage

We went SCUBA diving in the Semporna Archipelago, and sharks were everywhere!  This was only my second time seeing whitetip reef sharks while SCUBA diving so I was still getting comfortable with the idea of it. Eventually I got really excited to see (and photograph sharks – we saw a dozens of sharks per dive!

I’ve received tons of questions about diving with sharks, so I’ll tell you about it here. I’ll also attempt to dispel some myths about sharks.

Whitetip Reef shark - notice the white on the tip of his fin. Swimming in shark infested waters
These majestic creatures get their name from the tips of their fin – see the dorsal fin in this photo. I was this close in Borneo!

Are sharks dangerous??

This is the most common question I get when people hear my excitement about swimming with sharks.  The short answer: No.  Sharks are not inherently dangerous to people.

We’ve all seen the movie Jaws, but not all sharks are the same. The overwhelming majority of sharks are not dangerous (unless provoked).  These were reef sharks – people commonly refer to them as “vegetarian”* sharks!

They’re just as scared of us, as we’re the same size as them.

Are reef sharks dangerous?

Whitetip Reef sharks are curious. They’ll swim right up to you, and fortunately aren’t typically aggressive unless provoked.

Are dangerous sharks in Borneo?

When you dive safely and don’t provoke sharks, it’s safe. The places where I went are safe when diving safely.  Sipadan and the Semporna Archipelago also have a reputation for having Hammer Head Sharks, but the divers I met said they hadn’t seen them in a long time.

[Note – unlike what my dive master told me, whitetip reef sharks are not actually “vegetarians” – their diet is explained below]

Reef Shark infested waters in Semporna Archipelago Borneo Diving

Why are they called Whitetip Reef Sharks?

Whitetip Reef Sharks get their name from their fins, both of which are white tipped.  Whitetip Reef Sharks can be found swimming alongside us and the other fish. They also like to hang out near the ocean floor and in caves.

holy sh*t! that's a shark! Up close with a whitetip reef shark in Borneo. shark infested waters were safe. I went swimming in shark infested waters, and lived to tell about it!
Up close with a white tip reef shark in Borneo

“Wait, you went diving with sharks and weren’t even protected in a cage??”

Do you need a cage to dive in “shark infested waters” ?  

Nope! I live dangerously. Seriously, with a few precautions, not all sharks are aggressive and a cage isn’t necessary for Borneo and in many other regions of the world, assuming you’re not deliberately doing stupid things (listed below). If you treat them with respect and are smart, they’re not the vicious predators you see in movies like “Jaws.”

“I would do anything … but I won’t do that” –

Are all shark species safe to go diving without a cage?

No! I wouldn’t seek out Bull Sharks or Tiger Sharks, or the Great White, the “most feared predator on earth,” to dive with.  There are people that do (including some in the comments below), and SCUBA diving tourism is souring, but it’s all about comfort level and education.

Here’s what I do NOT recommend:
  • You don’t want to deliberately confuse a shark as to their food. I wouldn’t dive with a group that deliberately throws dead fish and blood in the water (called “chum” – more on “chumming” from wikipedia here), and I don’t recommend you do either.
  • I wouldn’t go spear fishing, as they’ll try to steal catches and maybe get curious. Some say they also hear the sound of a spear gun and respond in seconds.
  • I also wouldn’t recommend that you make physical contact with a shark, tease a shark, or otherwise mess with their environment.

All three of these are messing with the shark’s environment, and leads to accidents. Why increase your risk and make it dangerous?

Perhaps I’ll feel differently over time. I doubt it As of now this is where my comfort level is. I was just swimming and photographing in their world, and loving it!

How close did you get? 

This was my first shark sighting of the day. I'd see many more and much closer. I was swimming in "shark infested waters" and loving it!
This was my first shark sighting of the day. I’d see many more and much closer.

What do whitetip reef sharks eat?

If they don’t eat people…what do whitetip reef sharks eat?

Whitetip Sharks hunt at night, and like to eat octopus, crabs, and lobsters, and hang out on the ocean floor near potential meals. They have a blunt snout so when they’re getting into caves, they can still snatch some lunch. They also mix into their diet some bony fish, including eels, squirrelfishes, snappers, surgeonfishes, triggerfish, damselfishes, parrotfishes, and goatfishes. Yum!

Scuba diving swimming with sharks! white tip reef shark on the ocean floor
whitetip reef sharks often like to hang out near the ocean floor

Even after seeing dozens of reef sharks in the Semporna Archipelago, it was still exciting!

Reef Sharks come in 3 varieties –

  • Whitetip Reef Shark, Triaenodon obesus (sometimes written as White Tipped Reef Sharks or White Tip Reef Shark)
  • Gray Reef Shark, Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos (also called Grey Reef Sharks)
  • Blackfin Reef Shark, Carcharhinus melanopterus (also called Blacktip Reef Sharks)
The Whitetip Reef Shark has a similar name as Oceanic Whitetip Sharks, but these are VERY different.

reef shark! these shark infested waters only had safe sharks

How big are baby sharks?

Baby Whitetip Reef Sharks are 20-24 inches, after a 5-month pregnancy.

Are Whitetip Reef Sharks an endangered species?

No, but their conservation status is “near threatened.” Fisherman hunt them for their fins, to make “shark fin soup.”

Visibility was poor, but I was still able to see this shark right in front of me
Visibility was poor, but I was still able to see this shark right in front of me

Where were these shark infested waters photos from? 

Sipadan is easily my favorite SCUBA dive site yet! Sipadan is located in the Semporna Archipelago in Borneo. I was momentarily terrified when I found myself eye-to-eye with a shark during my SCUBA Diving open water test, in Bali Indonesia, but by the time I got to Malaysian Borneo I was seeking them out. I found plenty!  The Semporna Archipelago is known for having tons of whitetip reef sharks and it didn’t disappoint.

when I finished clearing my mask, look what appeared
when I finished clearing my mask, look what appeared

Discovery Channel’s Shark Week typically premieres in August in the United States – check listings.

If you’re thinking about getting open water Padi certified for scuba diving, I’ve put together what you need to know here.

These weren’t largest sharks I was in the water with – I also went Snorkeling with Whale Sharks in the Philippines – awesome!

I also saw sharks in Bali, and sharks in Thailand and will post about those soon too.

What has your experience been? Have you ever gone swimming in shark infested waters, without a cage?