Siem Reap Angkor

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					     Siem Reap & Angkor

                          Heavens Above!
                              Story by Charlotte Shalgosky
                              Pictures by Charlotte Shalgosky
                              & Justin Eeles

32                                                         33
     Viewed from above, the majestic
     temple complexes of Angkor reveal
     not just the scale of the ancient
     Angkorian kingdoms, but also hidden
     secrets of the region’s past.

     In 1923, an English writer travelling in Asia
     came across one of the world’s most majestic
     stone temple complexes lying in the heart of the
     jungle. In a novel written in 1930, he described
     its stone galleries as “embroidered (with) many
     beautiful inventions...carvings of unimaginable
     variety...they are interminable; they are world
     famous.” The author was writing of Angkor Wat;
     his name, William Somerset Maugham.

     Dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu, Angkor Wat
     is just one of many temples – both discovered and,
     it is believed, undiscovered – covering hundreds
     of acres of peaceful woodland and jungle in
     northwest Cambodia, scattered around the once
     backwater, now booming, Siem Reap.

     It is a gigantic monument; imposing and
     magnificent, and one that has lasted for over
     1200 years. Its sudden, inexplicable decline
     around the tenth century has drawn scholars
     from all over the world to debate its silent past.

     The tall, four-towered main complex is
     surrounded by labyrinthine corridors leading
     to airy quadrants decorated with intricate
     carvings of Apsaras, sensual celestial dancers.
     In some areas, red pigment and gold leaf can still
     be seen, prompting one German stone expert to
     claim that the temple would once have been a
     riot of colour.

     Much of the area surrounding Angkor Wat was
     mined during the Pol Pot years, but the lethal
     ordnance among the ruins still did not stop
     the wholesale pilfering of large stone statues,
     most of them crudely hewn from the ancient
     sandstone. Examples of the beautiful Khmer
     workmanship now lie hidden away in private
     hands or in the awesome public collections at Le
     Musee Guimet in Paris.
                                    Continued on page 36

     This page, top: An
     overgrown entrance
     to the ‘jungle temple’
     Bottom: A maze-like
     Following page: Ang-
     kor Wat reflected in an
     adjacent pool

34                                                         35
     [Donald’s] aerial antics earned him a
     Khmer nickname, which translates as
     ‘Motor Hawk.’

      The landmines have also meant severe
      restrictions for scientists and archaeologists,
      whose access is limited to ‘safe’ or cleared areas,
      and well-trodden jungle paths. Yet today, one
      small group of men have found a way of exploring
      Angkor’s treasures without disturbing the
      sacred ground on which they were built.

      American Donald Cooney’s experience in Asia
      started – in unenviable fashion – as a young
      soldier in Vietnam. Undaunted by those
      memories, for the last three years he and a
      two like-minded pals have been volunteering
      their services for several months a year to the
      scientific community in and around Siem Reap.
      Cooney is an experienced hang glider and pilot,
      and regularly flies a self-assembly two-seat Micro-
      light aircraft over the region; undertaking aerial
      surveys and photography for a long list of world-
      class experts that range from ornithologists and
      archaeologists to hydrologists.

      Though he may be sorely tempted to turn the
      volunteer work into a commercial venture for
      paying passengers, Donald, one soon finds out,
      is not that kind’a guy. Impassioned by a love for
      Asia and a need to ‘give something back,’ this
      swashbuckling airman is living up to his word;
      on the side, he runs a small makeshift clinic
      next to the cow pasture that masquerades as his

      His team spend three months in the dry season
      (December to March) flying with their various
      scholars; plotting new sites, charting bird nests
      or migration patterns over the giant Ton Le Sap
      Lake, or surveying what could be the discovery
      of Asia’s oldest trade route, a long highway lying
      between Angkor Wat and Bantei Srei. Donald
      believes this was used by teams of elephants to
      bring cargo to and from what was the largest
      city in the pre-industrialised world.

                                     Continued on page 38

      This page, top: Bird’s-eye
      view of Angkor Wat
      Bottom: Airman and clini-
      cian, Donald Cooney
      Following page: Hovering
      over heritage

36                                                          37
     ...a stark reminder of the architectural
     and aesthetic superiority of the
                                                            Up, Up and Away!
                                                            …more aerial options
     Khmers as long ago as the 8th century,
                                                            Apart from the non-commercial micro-lighting,
     when most European kingdoms were                       helicopter flights over Angkor and the Ton Le Sap
                                                            Lake have been running for some years. Andrew,
     deep in the Dark Ages.                                 an affable Kiwi pilot conducts the trips on an ad
                                                            hoc basis from Siem Reap, and has even had the
                                                            pleasure of flying Tomb Raider’s Angelina Jolie
                                                            over the same region.
      He explains how the barei, or man-made watering
      holes along the route would have been the             Unlike the micro-light, helicopters can cover
      ‘filling stations’ for thirsty elephants, and how      more ground in less time, but the noise and
      the reliance and consumption of such a huge           enclosed space make it an entirely different
      megalopolis on local water supply probably lay        experience from the open-to-the-elements micro-
      at the root of the city’s downfall.                   light. Helicopter tours can also take in the Ton Le
                                                            Sap’s many Vietnamese and Cambodian floating
      The resounding success of Donald’s aerial work        villages which have existed for centuries.
      is testament to his generosity and diplomacy.
      From the start, he knew he had to win over            Two years ago, the Apsara authorities allowed a
      sceptical locals: everyone from the villagers to      tethered hot air balloon to be set up a kilometre
      the police and air traffic controllers. He did this    from Angkor Wat’s west gate. Though the fifteen-
      by taking them up in the air!                         minute ride is relatively short, the views over
                                                            the main complex can be fabulous if the weather
      Donald soon found out that none of them had           complies. Midday summer haze, and especially
      ever been in a plane before, let alone strapped       the effects of burning rice fields around February
      into a flimsy contraption that looks like a cross      or March, can hinder the essentially great views.
      between a lawn mover and a hang glider! His
      aerial antics soon earned him a Khmer nickname,       The balloon’s silent flight is one of the major
      which translates as ‘Motor Hawk.’                     advantages over the noisier motorised options,
                                                            but it does only give limited views of the main
      It is a heady experience flying with Donald on a       site and is liable to last-minute cancellation due
      steaming hot day; buffeted only slightly by the       to inclement weather. CS
      warm thermals, the micro-light moves almost
      unnoticeably above the vast green jungle below.
      Donald banks steeply to take in the symmetry
      and staggering scale of the rose pink temple of
      Bantei Srei; in the distance, the towers of Angkor
      Wat can just be seen peeping over the verdant
      canopy. The scale is incredible.                      Tethered Hot Air Balloon
                                                            Cost: USD 12
      The magnitude of the stone complex seen from
      above is breath-taking, while the buildings’
                                                            Helicopter Ride
      layout from the air is a stark reminder of the
      architectural and aesthetic superiority of the        Cost: USD 68
      Khmers as long ago as the 8th century, when
      most European kingdoms were deep in the Dark          Tel: +855 12 814 500

      Donald’s team hopes to return each year
      – pending private funding – to continue the
      important aerial work over Cambodia, and with
      his assistance it is very possible that new temples
      will be slowly opened up to archaeologists. In
      years to come, the public may find itself walking
      through stone ruins that were first spotted from                              Ballooning over natural and
                                                                                   man-made beauty
      the air by the Motor Hawk. By that time, Donald
      Cooney and his micro-light team will be part of
      the legend of Angkor.

38                                                                                                                39
     Sacred Stones
     Angkor’s spectacular ruins is a
     designated UNESCO World Heritage
     site, whose preservation, in the last
     turbulent decade, has attracted
     huge attention from over a dozen
     international teams of stone conser-
     Over the centuries, as the seasonal rains swept
     through the porous outer sandstone structures
     into the pock-marked pink laterite, moss, fungi
     and damp have crept into Angkor’s nooks and
     crannies, weakening surfaces and causing
     widespread crumbling.

     Further destruction occurred through the vain
     attempts of early Indian conservators who,
     knowing no better, sadly used concrete as a quick
     fix, causing whole chunks of masonry to collapse.

     Groups of (better informed) masonry experts
     from Germany, China, France, Italy and Japan

     have all been working round the clock to halt
     the inevitable deterioration caused by a variety
     of factors, human and natural – including the
     caustic effects of bat droppings, which eat into
     the precious stone carvings.

     The German Apsara Conservation project (GACP)
     is one such group who, for nearly a decade, have
     assisted in the consolidation and preservation
     of a huge portion of Angkor Wat’s breathtaking
     stone murals, undoubtedly saving many precious
     art pieces from quite literally turning into dust.
     In the last six years, experts have helped invent
     special epoxy resins that can coat fractures
     internally without impeding natural contractions
     in the stone caused by differences in humidity
     and varying temperatures.

     Using digital technology, experts have also
     archived every one of the temple’s carved apsaras,
     the same sandstone carvings that Maugham so
     delighted in, to preserve the delightful works for
     the future. The question now might be which will
     last longer: digital technology or the 1200 year-
     old stone relics. Will the temples enjoy yet another
     millennia, or will Angkor crumble from the
     ravages or tourism and commercial exploitation
     long before then? CS

     Experts from the German
     Apsara Conservation project
     work to save Angkor’s
     heritage from eventual

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     The Spa Community
     Shinta Mani is a luxury boutique resort
     with a difference; showing a genuine
     concern for the local community, and
     encouraging its guests to ‘experience’
     rather than simply ‘see.’
     18-room Shinta Mani (a Sanskrit phrase meaning
     ‘the gem that provides everything one desires’)
     is not just a luxury, boutique spa resort, but also
     an institute of hospitality providing non-fee
     paying hotel education to young, underprivileged
     Cambodians, funded by profits from the resort.

     Working closely with various local NGOs and
     charities to select students from the most under-
     privileged areas of the community, besides free
     education, students receive meals, uniforms,
     study materials and a monthly stipend to help the
     families of students survive.

     The first nine-month curriculum provides
     theoretical and practical kitchen education, and
     training includes English language, life skills, and
     the skills required for students to find employment
     upon graduation. Future curricula will include
     vocational education in guest service, as well as

     exposure to spa service skills. Guests of the resort
     are encouraged to visit the school and become
     acquainted with the aims of the project.

     As well as being a leading advocate of responsible
     and community-based tourism, Shinta Mani’s
     philosophy is that visitors to this retreat should
     not simply find a beautiful and pleasant place to
     stay, but embark on a journey of active enjoyment:
     especially in the spa arena.

     The Sanctuary Spa runs regular ‘Masters in
     Residence’ programs, where international experts
     teach a variety of disciplines, including Thai
     Massage, Yoga, Swedish Massage, and Tai Chi, and
     seeks to combine holistic healing treatments with
     more traditional therapies.

     Shinta Mani is managed by holistic resorts’
     operator, Sanctuary Resorts, which also manages
     The Bale in Bali, and recently opened La Flora
     in Khao Lak Thailand. The Racha, a Sanctuary
     Resort, opened in June of this year. Hotel de la Paix,
     Sanctuary Resorts’ 107-room and suite resort in
     central Siem Reap will open in Nov 2004. DB

     Shinta Mani

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     Index                                                          Siem Reap                                                                                                                                  Siem Reap
             Where to Stay                                                                                  Now safely in the custody of Raffles International, the company has been careful to keep
                                                                                                            true to its historical past with the original hotel’s cage lift, and wonderful, chessboard-tiled
                                                                                                            corridors. This is where the likes of latter-day celebrities such as Jackie Kennedy, Charlie
             Luxury hotel junkies will be relieved to know that accommodation in Siem Reap is no longer     Chaplin, and indeed Somerset Maugham all stayed, en route to the magnificent temples.
             restricted to dingy wooden guest houses. Since 2002, a host of swanky hotels have opened,
             and the number of rooms recently reached 5000, catering to the 320,000 visitors in 2003.
                                                                                                            Where to Eat
             Sofitel Royal Angkor
             The tranquil Sofitel Angkor Wat is the nearest property to the World Heritage Site. The vast    FCC Angkor
             lake and pool here simply have to be seen to be believed. 214 rooms and 24 suites are set,
             among tropical gardens, and the Angkor Spa provides smoothing relaxation for travellers.       With the same menu as Phnom Penh, the FCC Angkor has quickly earned a reputation for
             The five restaurants here include the expansive Mouhot’s Dream, which serves both Oriental      consistantly excellent food and unmatched service. Enjoy lunch on the terrace or dinner in
             and international cuisine.                                                                     the garden. For days travelling overland or lunch at the temples, take a gourmet sandwich
                                                                                                            made from freshly baked home-made bread and the finest meats.

             Shinta Mani
   ,                                            The Bopha Angkor Hotel, Restaurant & River Terrace
             The gorgeous sister-property, 18-room Shinta Mani with its courtyard spa is not just a
             luxury, boutique spa resort, but also an institute of hospitality providing non-fee paying     Draped in Khmer silks, this is the place to sample the flavours of old Cambodia. The cooks
             hotel education to young, underprivileged Cambodians, funded by profits from the resort.        here offer a variety of traditional Khmer dishes. There are even ten tea selections, blended
                                                                                                            with traditional flavours and aromatic leaves. Refreshments, cocktails, barbecues, ice creams
                                                                                                            and a large selection of crêpes are also served on the river terrace.

             FCC Angkor
             Located next to the Royal Residence
             The well-loved FCCC (Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Cambodia) has added a chic boutique
             hotel to its already gloriously swish bars in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Casually
             elegant, the FCCC Angkor is set within the grounds of the French Governor’s holiday home
             encompasses a large open bar and restaurant, outdoor dining terrace, BBQ area, and small
             arcade of shops set amidst a green, riverside location.

                                                                                                            What to Read
                                                                                                            Adoration and Glory: The Golden Age of Khmer Art by Bunker & Latchford
             The latest, mega-chic Aman boutique resort, the Amansara lies quietly (and namelessly)
                                                                                                            This book is a celebration of the artistic achievements of the Khmer peoples who
             behind huge black sliding gates, going for a more understated presence, hosting an eclectic
                                                                                                            founded Cambodia. The stone, bronze, silver, and gold objects discussed are drawn from
             range of clients from British ex-politician Sir Michael Heseltine, to British ex-rocker Mick
                                                                                                            major museum and private collections in Cambodia, UK, Thailand and the United States.

                                                                                                            Angkor: A Tour of the Monuments by Thierry Zephir
             The Pansea Angkor                                                                              From very rare historical accounts, a few fleeting ‘snap-shots’ among bas-relief carvings,
   ,                                                       but above all from an architectural heritage that is unique in the world, we have a
             The luxurious Orient-Express Group is sprucing up the recently acquired Pansea, an elegant     testimony to the brilliance of Khmer civilisation at the time when Angkor was the most
             resort with open-plan rooms and pool-sized bathtubs. Surrounded by majestic old trees, the     powerful empire ever to exist in Southeast Asia. Angkor is once again a magnet for many
             Baray-inspired pool here is finished in handmade tiles.                                         visitors.

             Grand Hotel D’Angkor
                                                                                                            How to Get There
             The mother of all Siem Reap hotels must be Grand Hotel D’Angkor. This Grande Dame of
                                                                                                            There are now direct flights to Siem Reap from Hong Kong, Singapore, Hanoi, HCMC,
             colonial edifices opened in 1926, its design inspired by a French colonial residence. Behind
                                                                                                            Bangkok (Bangkok Airways), Phuket, Kunming, and Vientiane.
             the exquisite, custard-coloured facade lies a magnificent hidden garden of frangipanis, with
             probably the largest, most superb pool in Asia.

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