Sunday, February 11, 2024

Around the World in 24 Days - A Story of Stone - Part 1 Southeast Asia

After flying around the globe and stopping at world-class destinations, I recognized that that the one connecting "fabric" that weaves these varied locations together was stone. Whether it be the chiseled Mesozoic sandstone of Angkor Wat, or the Neoproterozoic marble of the Taj Mahal, the Archean granite popping upon the Serengeti plain, or Eocene limestone at Egypt's temples and tombs, stone is the most elemental material - shaping structures, allowing civilization to advance. Barely anyone came on this exotic trip to learn about stone, yet nearly every stop was in one way or another shaped by it. I pick up this whirlwind of a story in Cambodia and its stone temples.

French poster announcing the splendor of Angkor Wat in Indochina (poster hanging in the Raffles Hotel)

Cambodia - Siem Reap

Half way around the world in Southeast Asia (but much father away in terms of culture, economics and cuisine) is the temple complex at Angkor Wat. The approach city is Siem Reap with over one million  inhabitants. It is a lively city near to Angkor Wat and Tonle Sap, the largest lake in Southeast Asia.

A new airport opened in October, financed by the Chinese government

Tuk-tuks on the streets of Siem Reap are a popular manner of travel and are inexpensive

We stayed three nights at the Raffles Hotel in Siem Reap, a classic colonial era masterpiece

Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom

Angkor Wat was constructed in the 12th century as a religious complex by King Suryavarman II. It covers over 400 acres and is the world's largest religious complex. It took twenty-eight years to build (from 1122 to 1150 CE) and the stone for the complex was quarried from the Kulun Mountains 25 miles away. The rocks were transported by rafts in canals and oxen carts over roads to the site (see the 2nd photo below). The monument contains between 5 and 10 million blocks of stone, using far greater amounts than all of the Egyptian pyramids combined. Its outer wall measures 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) long by 4/5ths of a kilometer wide (one half mile). It is a truly stunning monument to the Khmer dynasty.

The magnificent temple of Angkor Wat at its eastern entrance 

Depiction of oxen, elephants and men on the march - note the individual blocks of stone  

Stone motif detail of a palm tree

Many headed cobra in stone at the west entrance

The stone used is Late Triassic/Early Jurassic fluvial sandstone

One of the inner cloisters in Angkor Wat; it was likely filled with water when in use 

Angkor Thom and Bayon

Across the protective moat and toward Angkor Thom are a series of sandstone carved statues

Bayon is the main temple area in Angkor Thom and has numerous Buddha carved faces 

Tonle Sap

Tonle Sap is a natural lake in Cambodia that rises and falls over 10 meters (33 ft.) throughout the year. In the dry season when I visited, the lake is low and water flows from the lake, down the Tonle Sap river to the Mekong River. When the Mekong River floods in the monsoon season, it overflows its banks, spilling into the Tonle Sap river which subsequently fills Tonle Sap (Khmer for great lake or fresh river). See the Wikipedia page here for more graphics and information. If you note the hill in the photo below, I was quite taken by this feature as we approached the lake from Siem Reap. Out of nowhere, upon a vast lowland plain, a hill rose up on the shore of the lake. How did that happen? It is an erosional remnant on the plain, with a Khmer temple on top of it.

Tonle Sap (top) is the largest lake in Southwest Asia and teems with life - more info below

Tonle Sap shoreline with lake sediments exposed behind the boats; these are beneath water in the rainy season

Tonle Sap at its low stage (March and April) when the Mekong River is low

When the monsoon begins, the Mekong River floods and reverses flow into Tonle Sap

When the monsoon ends, the Tonle Sap River reverses flow and drains Tonle Sap

Home built on stilts to prevent flooding from lake water 

Floating houses rise and fall with the level of the lake

1 comment:

  1. Interesting info. Makes you wonder about the relationship between the original Angor Watt people and Tonle Sap on religious, economic, and societal aspects.


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