Tag Archives: UNESCO Sites

Penang – Malaysia

Following the fantastic motorcycle journey through the Vietnamese Highlands, I decided it was time for some relaxation and party time by heading to Koh Phangan – an island off the coast of Thailand – to enjoy the hedonism of the Full Moon Party. After 5 days spent snorkelling, sunbathing, drinking, eating and dancing on the beautiful beaches of Haad Rin, I packed up my bag again to head for the mainland and continue my journey south for my flight to Melbourne in Australia 6 days later.

Massively hung-over from the 5-day festival, I headed to the mainland with Matt (whom I’d met right at the start of my journey) and bid farewell to him as he headed north back to Bangkok for a flight back to Germany. The journey lasted a gruelling 15-hours, combining a choppy boat with 3 minibuses. The most challenging was the 6-hour stint down from Surat Thani to the Malaysian border in a tiny Nissan minibus, squished into the back seat above the back wheel arch. I felt every single bump on the way and the driver had no hesitation in keeping his foot flat to the ground at all times meaning I kept smashing the top of my head against the steel roof. Topped with that my butt had gone to sleep within the first hour and I had to wait patiently in agony until the first stop which ended up being about 3 hours later. Not only that, but the minibus was double capacity, so it was stifling cramped and horrendously hot and sweaty. I somehow hung on through the pain barrier.

After the usual border control routine at Bukat Kaya Hitam, we finally arrived in Penang at around 10pm, and took a short boat journey across to the island from Butterworth. The place was deserted, but I managed to check myself into a small hostel just off the centre of town on the fourth attempt of asking. It was a dank, dark hostel that had nothing more to the room than a well-used mattress on the floor underneath a mosquito net that wouldn’t catch a fish. A bite to eat in the bar downstairs and a shower then saw me off to bed.

Penang is the second smallest state in Malaysia, with its constituent island (also known as Georgetown) home to the government seat. The island itself is an eerily interesting little place that felt like a quick pit-stop before continuing my journey towards Kuala Lumpur in the South. It was deserted of tourists which was surprising and for the most part was like any abandoned sea side town in the UK. It also had a strange British feel to it in parts owing to the country’s occupation by the British back in the late 1700s. In fact, the island was loaned out to Captain Francis Light in 1786 by Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Shah – this was a simple trade deal which gave the British access to local resources and acted as a hurdle to Dutch and French expansion in the area, in return for military protection against the neighbouring Burmese and Siamese armies.

Streets of Penang - Malaysia

Streets of Penang – Malaysia


Streets of Georgetown - Penang, Malaysia

Streets of Georgetown – Penang, Malaysia


Downtown Georgetown - Penang, Malaysia

Downtown Georgetown – Penang, Malaysia


Penang Modern Architecture - Malaysia

Penang Modern Architecture – Malaysia


Georgetown Clocktower - Penang, Malaysia

Georgetown Clocktower – Penang, Malaysia

However, aside from the overall empty feel of the town, it also was a perfect introduction to the diversity of the Malaysian culture. I didn’t have any preconception of the stereotypical Malay and it was easy to see why. The town was split between Chinese, Indian and Malay people who seemed to intertwine seamlessly. Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim religions would border each other in what looked like peaceful sentiment. On one side you’d have a church, the other a mosque, followed by a temple and a pagoda further on. There didn’t really seem to be any division between them – they shared each other’s space freely. The advantage of this diversity was the amazing collection of food you would come across – typical dishes being offered out on street stalls and restaurants alike from Chinese noodles, to Malay Nasi Goreng through to the curries and tandoori of Indian cuisine.

Street Stall Vendor - Penang, Malaysia

Street Stall Vendor – Penang, Malaysia


Street Food - Penang, Malaysia

Street Food – Penang, Malaysia

After wandering around the empty streets for a while, I ended up down in the harbour area where I visited Fort Cornwallis – a fort built by the British upon the island’s occupation. This was a picture of the emptiness I’d just experienced in the streets with little to offer in terms of attraction inside. But a piece of history nonetheless.

Entrance to Fort Cornwallis - Georgetown, Malaysia

Entrance to Fort Cornwallis – Georgetown, Malaysia


Tourist Guard - Fort Cornwallis - Georgetown, Malaysia

Tourist Guard – Fort Cornwallis – Georgetown, Malaysia


Inside Fort Cornwallis - Georgetown, Malaysia

Inside Fort Cornwallis – Georgetown, Malaysia

From there, I then headed south through Georgetown, stopping by a breathtaking Chinese clan house called the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi. The clan house belonged to the Khoo Kongsi – one of the Five Big Clans of Penang, and dates back around 650 years. The house was sprawled with amazing statues, artefacts and scriptures and the colours that enclosed it were stunning. Inside, families would be sat in prayer – a picture I was prohibited to take as I closed in.

Side Alley to the Khoo Kongsi - Penang, Malaysia

Side Alley to the Khoo Kongsi – Penang, Malaysia


Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi - Penang, Malaysia

Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi – Penang, Malaysia


Entrance to the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi - Penang, Malaysia

Entrance to the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi – Penang, Malaysia


Architecture of the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi - Penang, Malaysia

Architecture of the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi – Penang, Malaysia


Porchway of the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi - Penang, Malaysia

Porchway of the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi – Penang, Malaysia


Main Room of Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi - Penang, Malaysia

Main Room of Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi – Penang, Malaysia


Decoration of the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi - Penang, Malaysia

Decoration of the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi – Penang, Malaysia


Architecture of the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi - Penang, Malaysia

Architecture of the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi – Penang, Malaysia


Art of the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi - Penang, Malaysia

Art of the Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi – Penang, Malaysia

After a short walk further up the street, I then came across the Masjid Kapitan Keling mosque. Afternoon prayer had just finished, so I was sat amass the mobs of mix-raced Muslims that swamped past me.

The Dome of the Kapitan Keling Mosque - Penang, Malaysia

The Dome of the Kapitan Keling Mosque – Penang, Malaysia


Kapitan Keling Mosque - Penang, Malaysia

Kapitan Keling Mosque – Penang, Malaysia


Crowds of the Kapitan Keling Mosque - Penang, Malaysia

Crowds of the Kapitan Keling Mosque – Penang, Malaysia

A stone throw later, I then stumbled upon the impressive Kuan Yin Teng Temple. Luckily, it was the temple’s 210th birthday and there was teems of people in and around it, praying and offering messages to ancestors inside. Outside, there were huge incense sticks that people would put up as an offering to the temple. Next to it, a huge bell sat where people threw messages and gifts into the fire for their ancestors. Inside, hoards of people would sit or stand praying with offerings for Shiva and the various deities and Gods. It was a bustling atmosphere that kept me there for a good hour or so.

Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda - Penang, Malaysia

Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda – Penang, Malaysia


Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda - Penang, Malaysia

Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda – Penang, Malaysia


Offering to the Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda - Penang, Malaysia

Offering to the Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda – Penang, Malaysia


Incense Sticks - Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda - Penang, Malaysia

Incense Sticks – Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda – Penang, Malaysia


Bell Furnace - Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda - Penang, Malaysia

Bell Furnace – Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda – Penang, Malaysia


Inside the Kuan Ying Teng - Penang, Malaysia

Inside the Kuan Ying Teng – Penang, Malaysia


Prayer Offering - Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda - Penang, Malaysia

Prayer Offering – Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda – Penang, Malaysia


Prayer Inside the Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda - Penang, Malaysia

Prayer Inside the Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda – Penang, Malaysia


Thoughtful - Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda, Malaysia

Thoughtful – Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda, Malaysia


Peaceful Profile - Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda - Penang, Malaysia

Peaceful Profile – Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda – Penang, Malaysia


Monks of the Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda - Penang, Malaysia

Monks of the Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda – Penang, Malaysia


Messages to Ancestors - Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda - Penang, Malaysia

Messages to Ancestors – Kuan Yin Teng Pagoda – Penang, Malaysia

Yet another two minutes up the road, the St George’s Church sat solemn in the sunlight, completely in contrast to the noise of the two Chinese temples and Mosque that I’d jumped from nearby.

St George's Church - Penang, Malaysia

St George’s Church – Penang, Malaysia

After some more snacks from street stalls, I then wandered past the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion – another UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was unfortunately closed, but I could see the striking blue façade that has become known to be Cheong Fatt Tze’s most elaborate and lavish works – the detailing and artisan works are even more refined than even those in his native home in Tai’pu; and is reputedly one of only two such buildings of its size outside China.

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion - Penang, Malaysia

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion – Penang, Malaysia

With most of the town covered off and at the height of the heat of the day, I then headed off to the hostel to grab my bags and head out for a bite to eat. A few hours went by watching the locals come and go amongst the bustling street stalls. As prominent with most of Asia, street food is central to its culture and the best place to catch local life. It’s as almost if the stalls acted as everybody’s kitchen – the streets could be virtually deserted before families fill it to the brim for dinner.

Lunch Gatherers - Penang, Malaysia

Lunch Gatherers – Penang, Malaysia


Locals of Penang - Malaysia

Locals of Penang – Malaysia


Local Pose - Penang, Malaysia

Local Pose – Penang, Malaysia


Local Advertisement - Penang, Malaysia

Local Advertisement – Penang, Malaysia

A few mixed juices later, it was then time to catch an 11pm overnight train to Kuala Lumpur.

Further Reading on Malaysia

 
Georgetown Penang Blog
http://www.georgetownpenang.com/

Leong Sang Tong Khoo Kongsi
http://www.khookongsi.com.my/

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
http://www.cheongfatttzemansion.com/

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Malaysia Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Ruins of Angkor – A Cambodian Adventure

Sandwiched in between my visit to Thailand and Vietnam, I took a brief trip into the Kingdom of Cambodia for a few days after my stop off in Bangkok. My original plan was to stay in Cambodia for a couple of weeks, but I’d heard some fantastic things about Vietnam, so I decided to head there as soon as I could. It meant that my visit to Cambodia was fleeting, checking out the Ruins of Angkor in Siem Riep, before heading down to Phnom Penh to sort out my visa for Vietnam.

Border Crossing - Thailand to Cambodia

Border Crossing – Thailand to Cambodia Taken on the Canon IXUS 50

My time with Matt (who I met on the plane from Kolkata) was cut short after only a couple of days in Bangkok, with the plan to meet up in a couple of weeks and head to Kho Phangan to check out the infamous Full Moon Party. He decided to go to Fiji for some diving and relaxation following his isolated and turbulent few months in the remote areas of India. After a heavy night out on the Khao San Road and hitting the sack at around 5am, I had to pick up my passport from an agency at 7am and catch a bus to Siem Riep. My decision to grab a quick snooze before I left was a bad idea. At around 7.30am, I bolted upright in blind panic knowing I was half an hour late, and ran as fast as I could to the agency on the Khao San Road. It wasn’t a revelation that the bus had left, but I luckily managed to pick up my passport and book a place on the next bus at 9am. I was struggling heavily from the night before and the next 14 hours were some of the most unbearable, introducing me to a world of scams and teaching me a valuable lesson to never party too hard the night before a long journey again.

The bus that I’d booked myself onto mimicked a cramped chicken coop, more claustrophobic than cheap flight seats in Europe. Even though I’m not the biggest person, I was completely squashed in, almost doubled up, with leg room that would only even just accommodate a small child. The air-conditioning was seemingly broken, with the windows of the bus completely sealed shut so we couldn’t even let in any fresh air. I passed out within minutes at a combination of tiredness from the night before and the intense heat that was building up on the bus.

Bus from Bangkok to Siem Riep

Bus from Bangkok to Siem Riep

After cooking nicely for a few hours, we finally had a chance to get off the bus, stopping off for lunch in the middle of nowhere. The wonderful scamming pleasures then began. There was only one restaurant in the whole area that was owned by the bus company. The food, although tasty, was three to four times more expensive than normal. We had suffered so much from heat stroke on the bus, that we were pretty much forced into buying a few expensive bottles of drink to take with us for the rest of the journey – of course all after re-hydrating on a couple at lunchtime. The bus driver also started to sell extortionately priced hotels for our stay in Siem Riep. Although Siem Riep was only actually about 250 miles away from Bangkok, the bus driver tried to convince us that we would arrive far too late to sort out a hotel. As if a place like Siem Riep with its huge tourist attraction would be short of a place to stay? A few signed up, but I stuck to my guns and turned it down. Having wasted a good 2 hours at the pit-stop for the bus driver to do the rounds, we then hit the road again and only an hour or so later, we arrived at immigrations at the border to Cambodia. This took another 2 hours to get through, and en-route, the bus driver started to try and force people to sell up their Thai Bhat for Cambodian Riel at some of the Currency Exchange booths which he was clearly getting a cut from. Apparently, Cambodia was short of Riel, so it was best to get it from the booths there – all for a nice tidy fee. Amazing how many people got scared and fell for it. You can see why the scams happen if droves of susceptible people keep arriving on their doorstep.

Upon hitting the road again, by sunset, we finally started to approach Siem Riep. The crowd on the bus were getting more and more irritated by the conditions we were in, and I was pleased to see a sign for Siem Riep outside the window that indicated we only had 25 kilometres to go. Then, all of a sudden, we pulled in off the road into another huge restaurant. The whole bus went berserk at the driver who said we had to stop here for an hour or so for no apparent reason, and then vanished off the bus and out of sight! We were literally in the middle of nowhere again. Other than the restaurant, the whole area was pitch black for as far as we could see. We were stranded and it was little shock to us that the restaurant offered more overpriced food and drinks. An hour and a half later, the bus driver turned up again to much aggravation from us all. He threatened to not take us further if we didn’t leave him alone and get on the bus. Fuming, we all got on as we had little choice and half an hour later at around 11pm, we arrived in Siem Riep some 14 hours later. And guess what, it was one last chance for the driver to sell us a hotel room.

Refusing, I headed off to a hostel with a group of youngsters and arranged to meet up with Paul and Boi, a Canadian and Dutch guy I met on the bus for a couple of drinks later. They had earlier caved into the charms of the bus driver and booked a separate hotel. The main strip of Siem Riep was pretty similar to the Khao San Road, although a bit classier. Again, apart from the back-to-back restaurant and bars catering for the tourists, local girls would constantly beckon you for entertainment at a price.

The next day was all about visiting the Ruins of Angkor. Visions of Lara Croft – Tomb Raider were in my head, and I couldn’t wait to go exploring like a kid again. The best way to visit the ruins is by motorbike and I decided to hire one with a guide for the whole day. The guide came under the alias, “Tom” – a lot of Asian people like to use a Western name with foreigners to avoid the possibility of embarrassing diction issues. He was a charming 21-year old guy who had been working as a guide for the last couple of years and his English was impeccably good meaning that we struck up a really good relationship throughout the day.

En route to the ruins, we had a chat about the struggles of Cambodia since the terrifying Khmer Rouge days in which one of the most atrocious and biggest acts of genocide occurred under the control of Pol Pot. An estimated 2 million people were killed which added up to a third of the population at the time. As a result of the country’s afflictions to this social engineering massacre, politics is extremely important and very comprehensible to the young population. A large proportion of the population who were killed were older which meant the demographic is much younger now, with many of them orphaned following the regime. He knew his country’s history through and through and was battling not only for his own survival, but for a political change in his country to try and bring greater democracy and standard of living to Cambodia. He respected the Western Democracies and had high hopes for reforms within Cambodia over the coming years to help modernize the country. He personally had worked as a guide for a few years and only earned $30 a month to care for his family. I have always thought that money was relative, that without knowing the costs of living, you couldn’t fully understand economic shortfalls. But, $30 a month here was still very minimal – he worked 7 days a week, living and sleeping at the agency where he worked, only getting a couple of days a month to go home to see his family in a village nearby. From what I gathered from him, poverty here was not as severe in comparison to India, but, people really were struggling for survival. He told me that he could make ten times more money if he had his own scooter rather than work for the agency. I asked him how much the scooter was, and it was a mere £200 ($320). I offered to give him a hand to get to his goal and help his family, cutting down a couple of years’ worth of saving, but he was too proud for me to give him even £50. He even almost didn’t take my tip at the end of the day. He knew how easy it would have been to take it, but he wanted to work for it himself. And that made me hugely respect him.

As we arrived at the ruins, my excitement started to build. Angkor served as an expansive seat to the Khmer Empire between the 9th and 15th centuries and covers an area of 400km squared, with a number of remnants of past cities, temples and hydraulic structures (basins, dykes, reservoirs, canals) as well as evidence of the Empire’s communication routes with expansive water reservoirs and huge urban estates. Temples such as Angkor Wat, the Bayon and Ta Phrom are perfect examples of Khmer architecture, each instilled with huge symbolic significance. Social class and ranking were important values to the Khmer civilization, and the architecture and layout of the successive capitals bear witness to this. The park is still inhabited, and many of the villages there still practice agriculture and rice cultivation, with its ancestry dating back to the Angkor period.

I managed to take in a handful of the most important and breath-taking of the sites. One of the most expansive was that of Angkor Thom (“Large City”) which included the breath-taking Bayon. The influence of Khmer art came to fruition here, with the area playing a fundamental role in its distinctive evolution. Its artistic development was key to a new distinction of oriental art and architecture, later influencing other Asian sub-continent designs.

Bayon - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Bayon – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia


Close-up of Bayon - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Close-up of Bayon – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia


Back of the Bayon - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Back of the Bayon – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia


Towers of Bayon - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Towers of Bayon – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia


Serpent of Bayon - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Serpent of Bayon – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia


Khmer Art of the Bayon - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Khmer Art of the Bayon – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

The Bayon was built by Jayavarman VII, a city dedicated to Buddha who is depicted heavily in its architecture. It also represented a spectacular maze of tunnels, turrets and sculptures.

Close-Up of Buddha Face - Bayon - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Close-Up of Buddha Face – Bayon – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia


Buddha Face - Bayon - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Buddha Face – Bayon – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia


Alleyways of Bayon - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Alleyways of Bayon – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

The Phimeanakas just to the North was built by Suryavarman I around the year 1000 to act as a huge fortification around his Royal Palace.

In 1050, the impressive state temple of the Baphuon was built to supersede them, but I could only take a glimpse of the exteriors as it was under maintenance. Next to this, the Terrace of the Elephants and the Leper King sat, with a huge man-made lake at its centre.

Baphuon - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Baphuon – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia


Phimeanakas - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Phimeanakas – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia


Terrace of the Elephants - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Terrace of the Elephants – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Then in 1113, Suryavarman II started the next great phase of construction, which gave birth to the most impressive and famous of all Khmer architecture, Angkor Wat. This huge collection of temples is dedicated to Vishnu, set within an extensive enclosure to become one of the most complete of the complexes.

Moat of Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Moat of Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Walkway to Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Walkway to Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Main Causeway to Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Main Causeway to Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Perimeter Entrance to Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Perimeter Entrance to Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Entrance to Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Entrance to Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Vishnu Statue - Angkor Wat - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Vishnu Statue – Angkor Wat – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Terraces of Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Terraces of Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Stairway of Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Stairway of Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Inside Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Inside Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

As you walked through, you could witness some of the impressive Khmer art with extensive galleries etched on the walls around you.

Gallery Entrance - Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Gallery Entrance – Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Galleries of Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Galleries of Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Khmer Art - Galleries of Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Khmer Art – Galleries of Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Khmer Art - Galleries of Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Khmer Art – Galleries of Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Khmer Art - Galleries of Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Khmer Art – Galleries of Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Khmer Art - Galleries of Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Khmer Art – Galleries of Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

The foliage around was also breath-taking – not particularly in appearance, but in the raw sounds of the wildlife that hid away. The sound of the crickets was intense, so much so that I peeled away from the ruins for around half an hour to sit and listen.

View from Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

View from Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Later in the day, I then visited Ta Phrom, which for me was the most impressive and exciting of all the ruins. The remains of Ta Phrom sits within the jungle, with most of the structures now embedded within the jungle itself which over the centuries has surrounded the city. Within its walls, huge trees were interlocked into the temple foundations, with the great jungle fauna decorating it. For these reasons, the ruins still had plenty of life to them.

Ta Phrom Entrance - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Ta Phrom Entrance – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Ta Phrom - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Ta Phrom – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Ta Phrom Galleries - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Ta Phrom Galleries – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Gallery Art - Ta Phrom - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Gallery Art – Ta Phrom – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Gallery Art - Ta Phrom - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Gallery Art – Ta Phrom – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Gallery Art - Ta Phrom - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Gallery Art – Ta Phrom – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

At sunset, I then headed over to the hills of Phnom Bahkeng, which was also built in the 9th century. Although it was far too crowded, you could see why it was the main attraction at sunset, with the spectacular views out over the rest of Angkor.

Sunset Over Siem Riep - Phnom Bakheng - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Sunset Over Siem Riep – Phnom Bakheng – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Sunset Over Siem Riep - Phnom Bakheng - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Sunset Over Siem Riep – Phnom Bakheng – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Sunset Over Siem Riep - Phnom Bakheng - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Sunset Over Siem Riep – Phnom Bakheng – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Land Mine Victims Playing Music - Phnom Bakheng - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Land Mine Victims Playing Music – Phnom Bakheng – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Cambodian Child with Treat - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Cambodian Child with Treat – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Lethal Chaotic Decent from Phnom Bakheng - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Lethal Chaotic Decent from Phnom Bakheng – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Before darkness truly engulfed me, I headed back to Siem Riep on the back of Tom’s scooter. With a fond farewell, I headed into my bungalow to settle down for an early night after the vividly adventurous day.

Me in Front of the Bayon - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Me in Front of the Bayon – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Further Reading on The Ruins of Angkor

 
UNESCO World Heritage Site
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/668/

The Angkor Guide
http://www.theangkorguide.com/

Siem Riep
http://www.siemreapcambodia.org/

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Cambodia Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Town of Agra and The Taj Mahal

One of the biggest things I was looking forward to was the visit of the Taj Mahal in Agra – one of the great modern Wonders of the World. What I didn’t expect was that it brought with it a unique and contrasting experience to the visit of the Golden Temple of Amritsar, together with a stomach-crunching introduction to the complex connotations of poverty.

One thing that has always played with my mind is the way poverty is defined. Some aspects of society will link poverty to money which in turn links to happiness. But what does poverty actually mean? Poverty and money don’t necessarily have a direct link. You can be wealthy, but poorly enriched. You can be financially poor, but lead rich lives. Agra ended up being one of the first places on my travels that I came into conflict with what poverty really means.

As planned, Roberto, Jon, Hannah and I were picked up after breakfast at 8am by taxi for a 600km journey to the magnificent Taj Mahal in Agra. We were due to take another train to Agra from New Delhi, but traditional Friday prayers at the mausoleum meant that we had to jump in a cab instead.

Cow at Breakfast Caught on Canon IXUS 50 - New Delhi, India

Cow at Breakfast Caught on Canon IXUS 50 – New Delhi, India

The drive down to Agra was another torrent affair. Jon was unfortunately initiated to the front passenger seat on our first car journey between New Delhi and Ludhiana when we arrived in India, and for some inexplicable reason, took up the baton again. With Roberto, Hannah and I sat in the back snoozing happily; Jon’s fingernails were etching ever more into the dashboard in front of him. The Indian Highway Code relied heavily on two things – brakes and horns. If there was any kind of Indian MOT (automobile road safety test), then there would only be two fat boxes to tick. This car was tested out fully. But, it failed on brakes.

Our peaceful sleep in the back of the car was stopped abruptly about half way to Agra when our cabbie, whom we named “Drives”, decided to put on his gloves for a “Destruction Derby” type mission.

Drives - Agra, India

Drives – Agra, India

I was jolted out of my snooze to a terrified-looking Jon as we had evidently just swerved out of the way of a stationary cow in the middle of the road. Drives then proceeded to put his foot down to make up lost time in an apparent traffic jam whilst leaving New Delhi. All that was missing were some duelling banjos as we started to play chicken with anything that crossed our path. Drives was obviously capable of reading signs as we came bumper to bumper with huge trucks displaying, “Use Your Horn”, something he took up with ease. It was a shame it didn’t have a sign next to it saying, “Keep Your Distance”. At speeds of 120 kilometres per hour, he would duck in and out of the backs of trucks and cars in the hope that there was a gap to overtake. With complete lack of acceleration, Drives would take all necessary risks to get past any obstacle, often with ensuing cars coming head on at us. At points, the road would somehow fit 5 or 6 cars into a two-lane contraflow. We even had to tackle the puzzle combination of truck, car and cow; instead of braking in behind, Drives would choose to put his foot down and, at the last ditch, veer off the edge of the road, throwing dust and mud up behind us, the back-end swerving, jumping and trying to keep upright on the road. Even when we begged him to slow down (as we’d rather live than be an hour or so later on arrival), he would check to see if we had succumbed to our naps again before continuing on his death defying driving.

After five hours, we arrived in Agra a little bit more stressed out than planned. And what we pulled into was one of the worst places I have ever visited.

Streets of Agra Captured on Canon IXUS 50, India

Streets of Agra Captured on Canon IXUS 50, India

Donkey Walk Captured on Canon IXUS 50 - Agra, India

Donkey Walk Captured on Canon IXUS 50 – Agra, India

One thing I learnt is that we aren’t appreciative enough about the luxuries we have back home, but at the same time, we’ve lost the importance of “being” that gets overloaded by material possessions we have. I have witnessed the importance of “being” in many areas of the world that simply choose to ignore the privileges of the industrial world – as I continue to write about my experiences, this will be plain to see. But for Agra, this place was a classifiable shit-hole. Ironically, it’s a place that completely contrasts the beauty of the Taj Mahal at its banks. The streets were grimy and dusty, with excrement everywhere.

Excrement in Streets Captured on Canon IXUS 50 - Agra, India

Excrement in Streets Captured on Canon IXUS 50 – Agra, India

People were sheltered by half-completed breezeblock apartments and corrugated iron, lacking windows, doors, or any kind of hospitable necessities. Others would dwell in shacks. People in the streets were desperate; much so that they were extremely over bearing and unwelcoming in their attitudes. You really felt at unease around them as they tried to leech off you and trick you in every way.

Locals In Debate - Agra, India

Locals In Debate – Agra, India

There was no humility about it, no manner of hiding it. And you could completely understand why. Here, amidst the crumbling of social deprivation, a striking famous landmark would attract hordes of tourists from around the world, the government cashing- in on its obvious attraction. On the outskirts, its people would rot away in the quagmires, scrapping for survival as the funds from the tomb are swallowed up, undistributed to the local community.

Street Toilet - Agra, India

Street Toilet – Agra, India

The River Yamuna, an angry pitch-black border, would divide the Taj Mahal and the desolate city nearby.

Embankment of Agra, India

Embankment of Agra, India

Even the hotel we stayed in was falling apart – it didn’t even cash-in on the possibility of tourist money. Roberto and Jon’s room was infested with cockroaches, and many others the same. Luckily for Hannah and I, we were checked into a recently sterilised room. But we realised later that the lack of investment in the town meant that tourists weren’t staying. They would come from New Delhi, and then leave immediately. And you could see why. Even if you tried to interact with the locals, you felt at disquiet doing so. They needed money from the outside, yet didn’t make outsiders feel welcome. No one seemed interested in investing funds into the city.

Local Businessman Captured on Canon IXUS 50 - Agra, India

Local Businessman Captured on Canon IXUS 50 – Agra, India

Local Haberdasher Captured on Canon IXUS 50 - Agra, India

Local Haberdasher Captured on Canon IXUS 50 – Agra, India

Away from the austerity of Agra, we escaped to the conflicting solace of the Taj Mahal, a true modern Wonder of the World.

Darwaza of the Taj Mahal - Agra, India

Darwaza of the Taj Mahal – Agra, India

Upon passing through the Darwaza, the majestic red sandstone main gateway, your eyes would then fixate upon the spectacular white marble walls of the huge mausoleum.

Taj Mahal - Agra, India

Taj Mahal – Agra, India

Once you get your mind off the myriad of tourists surrounding it, you can’t help but transfix yourself on its sheer size, on first appearance dwarfing St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Taj Mahal - Agra, India

Taj Mahal – Agra, India

It sits tall, proud and elegant in amongst the beautiful surrounding Bageecha gardens. It almost appears floating in the sky.

Most of the day was spent just wandering the gardens whilst taking the site in, making full use of the camera, recording the ever-changing colours of the façade as daylight shifted.

Sunset on the Taj Mahal - Agra, India

Sunset on the Taj Mahal – Agra, India

The Dome of the Taj Mahal - Agra, India

The Dome of the Taj Mahal – Agra, India

Incredibly enough, although the tomb is sprawling, the actual crypt itself is quite small, with a couple of mid-sized chambers by its side.

We felt it strange that although there are traditional prayers on Fridays which closes the site to tourists, it didn’t seem overly religious, probably owing to the overbearing amount of tourists. We didn’t see any locals praying at all, in complete dissimilarity to the experiences of the Golden Temple of Amritsar. The Golden Temple was a much more touching and important experience, one that leaves a mark on you, one that makes you think and self-assess. It has its own unique physical beauty, but the religious experience surrounding it completely outweighs what you take away from the Taj Mahal itself. Don’t get me wrong, the Taj Mahal is fascinating and an incredible work of art that should be visited. But its potency here is that upon leaving its astonishing grounds to confront Agra once more, it forces you to try and surmise how two worlds divided by apparent wealth can also both lack the richness of being…

Local Gardener - Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Local Gardener – Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Further Reading on Agra and The Taj Mahal

 
Taj Mahal Tourist Information
http://www.tajmahal.org.uk//

Agra and The Taj Mahal
http://www.tajmahal.com/

UNESCO – The Taj Mahal
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/252/

More Photography :

 
“The India Collection” by Antematters

Posted in India Also tagged , , , , , , , , , |

A Brief Encounter with New Delhi

The enticing visit to New Delhi turned out to be a very brief encounter as I travelled across Northern India from Punjab towards Kolkata in West Bengal with Roberto, Jon and Hannah. It was a Wednesday and we were due to stay a couple of nights before heading down to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal on Friday, but a moment of panic struck when we were told that it would be traditionally closed for prayer. That meant we had to cut down our time in the city to an afternoon and hire a taxi to Agra early Thursday morning.

Street Life of New Delhi, India

Street Life of New Delhi, India

After taking an early morning train from Amritsar, Roberto, Jon, Hannah and I touched down in what we expected to be a daunting but alluring metropolis. The encounter with the first set of tuk-tuk drivers in Amritsar set the benchmark for what we might stumble across in our journey throughout India, but to our surprise, we actually felt quite abandoned upon arrival. The city was a far cry from what we expected as we left the station towards the centre of town to drop off our bags at the hotel. We didn’t feel threatened or pressurised in any way as we wandered through the main bazaar, checking out the many small winding alleyways, bustling with kiosks selling all types of merchandise.

Indian Kiosk - New Delhi, India

Indian Kiosk – New Delhi, India

The streets were much cleaner than expected; much cleaner than our familiar preconceptions of dirt and squalor of India’s slums.

Back Streets of New Delhi, India

Back Streets of New Delhi, India

A quick bite to eat at one of the local restaurants then changed our minds in an instant as the fears of Delhi belly started to come to fruition. The streets didn’t bear resemblance to the bleakness hidden away behind its façade, the true identity of New Delhi hitting you slap in the face behind closed doors. All four of us looked at each other in anguish at the dining options, all dark, dank and filthy abodes.

Local Restaurant - New Delhi, India

Local Restaurant – New Delhi, India

We eventually just picked what looked like the most hygienic, and prayed for a lucky outcome. In all honesty, the food was delicious, en par with the delicacies we had tasted so far, but we couldn’t help but fear how the food had been prepared behind the scenes.

Indian Cuisine - New Delhi, India

Indian Cuisine – New Delhi, India

The restaurant was grimy from top to bottom; it looked like the end of shift clean-up took about five minutes, probably using an assortment of soiled cloths. Many of the best places to eat whilst travelling are those that are unkempt, but you just couldn’t help but feel this was beyond the mark.

After lunch, we then embarked on a frantic adventure through the city after bartering with one of the many tuk-tuk drivers. I think it cost about twenty pounds between us to hire a guy who guided us to the main attractions, the usual fracas of traffic greeting us throughout the day.

Roberto with Tuk-Tuk Driver - New Delhi, India

Roberto with Tuk-Tuk Driver – New Delhi, India

Again, the streets were much cleaner than expected and much more European in appearance, with huge wide main roads in and out of the centre. Around the flanks, many green thriving parks would decorate the city, with old crumbling buildings from the British occupation hiding amongst the new modern style buildings.

Our first point of call was the fascinating Humayun’s Tomb, one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Humayun's Tomb - New Delhi, India

Humayun’s Tomb – New Delhi, India

Humuyun was the Second Mughal Emperor of India and his wife commissioned the site some 14 years after his death. The Mughal-style tomb was built in 1570 and was one of the first garden tombs on the Indian subcontinent that later provided inspiration for the creation of the Taj Mahal in Agra. The beautiful lush gardens provided a perfect backdrop to the saturated red sandstone and marble façades.

Isa Khan Niyazi's Tomb - New Delhi, India

Isa Khan Niyazi’s Tomb – New Delhi, India

Later, we then stopped off at the Gandhi Memorial – a pleasant and peaceful garden where Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on 31st January 1947, some 6 months on from the declaration of Indian independence and following on from years of fighting for social reform in India.

Gandhi Path - Gandhi Memorial, New Delhi, India

Gandhi Path – Gandhi Memorial, New Delhi, India


Gandhi Gong - Gandhi Memorial, New Delhi, India

Gandhi Gong – Gandhi Memorial, New Delhi, India

This gave us time to learn more about his life and achievements, his battles for a more equal democratic India, his resistance against racism, inequality and brutal treatment by the British, and also the fight for the preservation of Hindu-Muslim relations.

Gandi Statement - Gandhi Memorial, New Delhi, India

Gandi Statement – Gandhi Memorial, New Delhi, India

From there, we headed off to stroll around another fascinating piece of Mughal Architecture – the Red Fort. This is a 17th century expansive fort-structured palace that served as home to the Mughal Emperors of India, another UNESCO World Heritage site and perfect example of the beautiful architectural achievements of the Mughal era.

Red Fort - New Delhi, India

Red Fort – New Delhi, India

A brief stop at the India Gate ended the day before we headed back to the centre of town for an evening spent in some of the local bars, whilst checking out some of the street stalls by night.

Golden Arch of the India Gate - New Delhi, India

Golden Arch of the India Gate – New Delhi, India

Although it was nice to see some fascinating architecture and take in the views of the surrounding city, I couldn’t help but feel that throughout the day, we didn’t really see the true New Delhi, and being the fleeting visit it was, just packed in as much of the touristy parts as possible. But, India is a vast expansive plane with ever-changing captivations. Time was therefore a scarcity on this trip with more variety to be seen outside the metropolis life we are used to back home. There was much more excitement held for what was to come…

Ghosts in the Night - New Delhi, India

Ghosts in the Night – New Delhi, India


Fruit Stall by Night - New Delhi, India

Fruit Stall by Night – New Delhi, India

Further Reading on New Delhi

 
New Delhi Tourism
http://delhitourism.nic.in/delhitourism/tourist_place/humayun_tomb.jsp/

UNESCO – Humayun’s Tomb
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/232/

UNESCO – The Red Fort
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/231/

Gandhi Memorial
http://gandhimemorial.org/

More Photography :

 
“The India Collection” by Antematters

Posted in India Also tagged , , , , , , , , |