Ba Na Hills

The word Ba Na Hills is synonymous with a certain picture. What is that?…..Well, the Golden Bridge. The famous curved pedestrian bridge that appears to be held up over the world far below by two giant stone hands. That is where we were headed that beautiful morning from Da Nang.

Ba Na Hills

Basically, a hill station in the outskirts of Da Nang city, Ba Na hills was developed by French colonists and used as a leisure resort by them . Located 1500 metres above sea level, it is much cooler up there in the hills.

Sun World, the famous entertainment company has developed a theme park at the Ba Na Hills something on the lines of Disneyworld but amalgamated with Buddhist spirituality with pagodas and a Buddha statue and a Japanese garden.

Our Trip

A half hour drive from Da Nang and we were on Ba Na Hills. It was clear that we would encounter some rain but we were hoping that the sky would clear out soon. But since our plans had been pre fixed we could not change our visit date. This is one of the reasons why a day’s break in between is required while planning such trips. We do follow this when we do our own planning. But in group tours we have no choice!!

Some views as we approached the hills.

An obviously less than ideal day for a visit to Ba Na with the clouds and wind

The view of the multiple lines of cable cars going up

We arrived at Sun World .

Time Gate

The entrance to Sun World is called Time Gate and is designed with a Sun and Moon clock. This gate is symbolic of leaving reality behind and entering the world of Fantasy as one crosses the threshold.

The Time Gate with Sun and Moon clock

Once inside, we were greeted to a lovely village of statues, bridges and other features meant to replicate old town Hoi An.

Some pictures at Sun World lower level.

The bridges and other structures resembling Hoi An

The beautifully decorated interiors

After taking an escalator we reached the top from where we got a good view of the whole park.

The view from above

The rain played spoil sport with us on Ba Na Hills. Though it was difficult with the rain pouring down, we made the most of it as you will see in the pictures below. With purple rain coats purchased at the counter, we decided to counter the rain and danced and frolicked in the rain as if to throw a challenge at it!!!

We reached the cable car station holding the record for the longest nonstop cable car ride at 19,000 feet.

The cable car station from where we boarded the cable car.

The view from the cable car to the depth below would have been fantastic but with the rain beating down heavily, we were left with imaginary visuals!!!

We could just about see the huge waterfall as we passed by…

The waterfall….note the rain beating down on the cable car windows

Getting down from the cable car we reached Fantasy Park .

Fantasy Park is a huge indoor entertainment arena which features thrilling rides, arcade games and 4D cinemas. Though this part of it is more for kids, we decided to stay indoors to escape the rain and enjoy some of the games and rides.

The interiors of fantasy park with games and entertainment as in a theme park

Games where we participated, some with 4D experiences

After indulging ourselves in some of the games at Fantasy park, we stepped out see the French Village

As the name suggests, this part is modelled on the lines of an old French village and has traditional French architecture and shops. There are many shops and restaurants here but due to the rain most were shut. Some pictures

French Village

From there we visited the Debay Wine cellar.

A cosy Wine Cellar built by the French is a storage space for wine with wooden casks of various sizes and shapes. Some narrow tunnels led us underground into the storage spaces.

The Debay Wine Cellar

Out of the Wine cellar, we were again in open terrain with models of antique cars and other properties decorating the place.

The Decorations and all of us enjoying the rain

As we stood there, the cable cars whizzed past us….

The cable cars whizzing past….

And now to say…..last but not the least, we were at the Golden Bridge.

The Golden Bridge

The Golden Bridge perches on a prime location at Ba Na hills just outside Da Nang city in Central Vietnam. At a height of 1500 metres above sea level, it is a marvel with its golden hued frames and a curved shape. It was built as recently as 2018. The two gigantic hands that appear to hold the bridge up are symbolic of God holding up his gift from the ground. Its impressive design and location has made it a photographer’s delight!!

Some pictures from the Golden bridge….

The Golden Bridge

The coveted photo on the Golden Bridge drenched in rain

By this time we were all totally or partially drenched and with a stiff breeze, it was really cold. So we all escaped to the cosy indoor part of the park and tried to dry ourselves as much as possible.

Soon our guide arrived and escorted us to the exit and on to our bus as we were to drive to the airport to take the flight to Ho Chi Minh city that evening.

Our guide Mr Chi sees us off at the airport

Soon we flew off to Ho Chi Minh city, our last destination in Vietnam. See you next week with more travel tales from there. Till then, do keep your feedback and comments flowing in….

Old Town Hoi An

Old Town Hoi An is an example of a well preserved SouthEast Asian trading port dating back to the 15th to 19th centuries. It is a UNESCO World heritage site. Its buildings and street plan reflect indigenous and foreign influences that have been combined to produce this unique heritage site. It reflects an amalgamation of local with Chinese, Japanese and even European influences.

Narrow pedestrian streets lined by tightly packed unbroken rows of houses is the hall mark of Hoi An. The houses are tiled and have a timber frame with brick and wooden walls. A ferry quay, an open market, religious buildings and pagodas complete the town apart from the row of dwellings. One peculiarity of these buildings is that the front faces the road for easy customer access and the back faces the ferry quay enabling easy loading and unloading during the trading period. The streets are also in grid pattern and one can easily lose one’s way as the streets look so identical!

The entire area is a state property and this has helped preserve its original look. No modern buildings are allowed here although regular maintenance and restoration work is undertaken.

Our Trip

Hoi An is situated near Danang city and we did a day trip to Hoi An from Danang.

A visit to Ancient Town Hoi An involves lot of walking. If one has to experience the street and its people, one has to walk along the streets, bargain with the locals, taste their food and visit their religious monuments. This is exactly what we did.

Since most streets cannot accommodate buses, we engaged buggies to visit some of the shops.

The typical buggies

The buggy took us to the central area of the old town.

A board welcomed us to this old town with its old world charm….

The board and the cycle rickshaw

Typical streets in Hoi An and of course the colourful lanterns are not to be missed!!

The Hoi An Riverside

Most of the roads lead to the riverside which is part of the old trading port of Hoi An . This part is lined by cafes , bistros, bars, and restaurants and offers various local delicacies. Pavement vendors throng the place in the evening .

This part gets lit up with lanterns in the evenings making it a beautiful sight.

The Riverside

The beautifully lit riverfront at dusk

Walking along the streets of Hoi An , I managed to capture a shot of a typical Vietnamese fruit seller . But I must confess, the look on her face made me feel sad. Though she became the subject of a colourful photograph for me, the harsh realities of her daily life reflect on her face….

A typical Vietnamese fruitseller

Accompanied by our guide, we walked along the crisscross streets of Hoi An.

One of the main attractions we visited was the Japanese Bridge.

The Japanese Bridge

It is believed that this was built by the Japanese to reach the Chinese quarter across the river. It is covered with a roof and is made of wood. The bridge is one of the iconic images of Hoi An.

The Japanese Bridge

Phuc Kien Temple

This temple serves both as a place of worship and as an assembly hall or meeting place for the Chinese. It was built by people from Fujian in China who had settled down at Hoi An.

The grand portico of the temple stands out with its pink colour. Once we enter, there is a yard with statues, bonsai and fountains. Another section of the temple has a huge table like a conference hall.

The heady smell of incense hits one as one enters the temple. It was only much later that I realised that the red spirals seen hanging from the ceiling are actually incense sticks. These sticks had tags with names of family members who had made the offerings.

Some pictures…

The pink exteriors of Phuc Kien Temple

The shrine

The incense spirals

The Old House of Tan Ky

Aged over a couple of centuries, this house is one of the preserved ancient houses at Hoi An. It has a mix of Chinese and Japanese architecture.

The house is packed with wooden antiques and one lady guide escorted us around the house and highlighted the features of the house. At many places, the walls have a line along its walls, showing the water level at the time of flooding of Hoi An.

Some pictures…

The board displayed outside the Tan Ky house

Guide explaining the inside features of the heritage house

The Chinese alphabets made of bird images at the heritage house

Ba Mu Temple

A traditional Vietnamese temple, the architecture was really beautiful. Some pictures…

The Ba Mu Temple

Massage Parlours

Massage parlours dot the streets of Hoi An.

After a tiring day walking along the streets of Hoi An in the humid climate, some of us decided to go in for a relaxing massage at one of the innumerable massage parlours here.

A foot massage in progress

Hoi An Memories show

After the round up of this ancient town, we were booked for a show called Hoi An Memories. It portrays the story of Hoi An over the years. Very colourful and musical, it was a visual treat indeed.

If we could understand the language of the songs, the stories would have been more clear, that’s what I felt. But the presentation, visual impacts, the properties used and the upkeep of the complex was good. Unfortunately, rain played spoil sport halfway through and we had to move into to safer seats. That added to the adventure…Some pictures..

The illuminated open air theatre complex

The entrance and the inside of the complex

The climax scene of the show

Half drenched, we all got into our bus and reached the hotel in anticipation of our tour to the Ba Na Hills the next day. What we did at Ba Na Hills will form the subject of my next blog. I can only tell you, it turned out to be another adventurous trip!!

Till then do keep your comments, likes, feedback flowing in.

See you next week at Ba Na….

The Marble Mountains

Arriving Da Nang one late evening, we checked into our hotel and what a sight it was from the 17th floor of our hotel room. The lights of Da Nang city were twinkling like stars welcoming us as we drew apart the curtains in the room. We stood and took in the views…

Lit up Da Nang city

Soon the intercom buzzed and we were invited to the room assigned to one of our co passengers on the tour. Reaching there, we were taken aback by the instantly organised dinner. A Bhelpuri (an Indian savoury snack) party had been organised with the food brought by our friends in the group and we all had a great time eating it ,singing songs and some even dancing.

A collage of the pictures taken during the dinner party

A relaxed sleep and we woke up to the invitation to visit the beach which was bang opposite the hotel. Since we had to get ready for the day, we did not join in, but we did enjoy the views of the beach from the rooms on the opposite side. Take a look…

View of Da Nang Beach from hotel

View of Lady Buddha from hotel

After breakfast we set out to explore the Marble Mountains along with our guide.

Da Nang is famous for its beaches and innumerable beach resorts dot the shoreline. As we drove past, we saw some real beautiful beaches and resorts.

The beautiful Da Nang beachfront and the numerous high end resorts that dot the beach

As we drove along, I noticed a lot of marble shops where sculptures were displayed.

I was given to understand later that at the foot of the marble mountains is Non Nuoc Village where lot of marble handicrafts are made from the last part of the 18th century. Lifeless marble blocks are chiselled painstakingly into beautiful statues full of life. Marble for this was initially taken from the marble mountains but soon it was clear that the mountains were getting depleted and then it was banned. Now marble is sourced from elsewhere.

One of the many marble sculpture shops on the route

A 20 minute drive from our hotel in Da Nang, we were at the Marble Mountains which are five craggy marble towers soaring upwards from the surrounding plains.

The Marble Mountain Pagoda from below

These five peaks are named after the five elements : water, wood, metal, earth and fire. Today it is home to a network of caves, tunnels, towers and pagodas built by Mahayana Buddhists.

Local belief is that these mountains are part of a broken dragon egg . Cham legend says that a dragon flew to the beach and laid an egg there. After some time, the egg hatched and a beautiful fairy flew out. The egg was broken into five pieces and that became the marble mountains. Whatever be the belief, it is today partly a historical treasure, partly a natural wonder and partly a spiritual place ; but all in all it is beautiful and offers great views of the city below and the beaches.

As one walks around one discovers innumerable caves of different sizes with mossy walls and the surrounding plants creating an exotic atmosphere.

Thuy Son, the Water mountain is the highest and most beautiful of the mountains. Home to 17th century pagodas and numerous caves, it is the most popular among tourists and locals who come here to worship. It is a hiking destination and offers great views of the ocean.

An elevator took us to the top of the mountain . From there the views of the famed beaches of Da Nang was beautiful.

The elevator to the top

View from the mountain top. Some of the other marble mountains seen in the backdrop

The Da Nang Beach view from the marble mountain

Our group on top of Marble Mountain

After reaching the top by elevator, we walked along the different labelled paths to see the attractions there.

The entire walking area is well paved with steps with marble railings and landscaped with bonsai and other plants like a garden.

The Landscaped Walking Paths

We walked around taking in the views and admiring the creations in marble….

The most prominent of these creations is a Pagoda tower which has seven floors and almost 200 stone Buddha statues inside. This can be seen from far away.

Besides the tower there is the 10 metre tall Buddha statue in pure white marble in meditative pose.

The Pagoda Tower Linh Ung Pagoda

The White Marble Buddha at Linh Ung Pagoda

The Marble mountains are full of caves with small openings. Many places, one has to carefully manoeuvre oneself and take care of the steep stairs too. So we did not attempt to go too much into the caves. Just visited the caves and peeped inside. Many of them are dark but beautiful carvings are seen on the rock walls. Due to the darkness, pictures were not very clear though!

Huyen Khong Buddhist Grotto

This is a grotto that has been carved into the marble mountains and a sacred place of worship for Buddhists. This is the largest cave in the marble mountains. The Buddha statue here has been carved into the mountain. Another peculiarity is the opening at the top for light to fall on the statues.

Huyen Khong Buddhist Grotto

Some of the other grottos and statues we saw are depicted in the pictures below..

A narrow cave leading into a dark abyss with carvings on the walls.

Another Buddha statue in white marble

A standing Buddha statue more pinkish in colour

An arch with a dragon and Lady Buddha inside

Walking up and down the stairs and along narrow caves in the humid climate had tired most of us out and so we headed for the bus to our next destination which was Old Town Hoi An.

See you next week at Hoi An. Till then, do subscribe, like and comment on my blog…

Cat Ba Island

Call it destiny, call it by any other name….but that is what brought us to this beautiful island Cat Ba.

As I told you in the last episode, due to the uncertain weather conditions, our tour itinerary was tweaked a little bit by our tour operator to accommodate as much as possible and Cat Ba island was part of that.

Cat Ba island is the largest of the islands of the Cat Ba archipelago consisting of 367 islands. This archipelago makes up the south eastern edge of Lan Ha Bay in Northern Vietnam. located 23 kms away from Ha Long city, this island is blessed with pristine beauty, forests, sea, mountains, hills, beaches and cave formations with stalactites and stalagmites.

Approximately half its area is covered by the Cat Ba National Park that is home to a diverse range of terrestrial life including the Cat Ba Langur. This is part of the UNESCO Cat Ba Biosphere Reserve and along with this , shares the unique scenic beauty of the Ha Long area thus making it a very attractive tourist destination.

Visitors can choose to relax on the beaches, trek through the tropical rain forest or explore the mangroves and the unique cave formations seen here. Millions of years of geological tectonics have created the Trung Trang caves here where we are headed today.

Our Trip

Taking a boat from beside our junk boat, we travelled for about 30 minutes before we reached Cat Ba island. From there, after a short walk, we boarded a bus that drove us uphill through some winding roads and tropical rain forests.

The jetty at Cat Ba Island.

Our guide in the caves with the bus that drove us uphill to Trung Trang Caves

The tropical rain forests through which we drove uphill.

And finally, we reached the Trung Trang Cave

The path leading to the caves

A walk of a little over a kilometre through a pathway led us to flight of stairs.

The stairway to the caves

At places on the stairway were landings from where we could admire the mountains and forests.

The landing on the stairway that highlights the mountains and forests around

And finally we reached the cave entrance.

Once we reached the cave, our guide instructed us to strictly remain together and follow him. He also warned us of the slippery nature of the rocks at places. At many places, the passage was very narrow and short and we had to manoeuvre ourselves carefully. At places there were lights in the cave too.

Since description will not do justice to the beauty of the caves, let me just leave you with some pictures….

At the cave entrance

Some pictures of nature’s art work

At places, we could see the water trickling down the side of the rocks, the process which over thousands of years has shaped these rock formations.

Water trickling down the rocks.

And a shrine for the creator!!

One of the old exits where the steps have been damaged

By the time we walked through these caves, we were sweating due to the hot humid weather outside and the site of the exit was welcome…

The stairway leading to the exit.

Wiping our sweat and a little tired, we walked towards the exit and the bus awaiting us. But the views of cave interiors were really worth the sweat and toil!!!

Boarding the bus, we reached the jetty from where we boarded the boat that took us to Ha Long city jetty and from there we were on to the bus to the airport to fly out to Danang that evening.

Enroute, we visited a pearl factory and saw interesting live demonstrations of pearl embedding and harvesting,

A short description of the birth of a pearl.

The oysters are harvested from the ocean bed and kept alive. A small bit of tissue is embedded into the live oyster which is opened very delicately. The oyster is then closed and kept in a metal mesh which is then returned to the water for a few months. The embedded tissue acts as an irritant and the live oyster secretes some juices which cover the embedded tissue and gradually the size of the pearl increases. After a few months, the mesh is lifted out and the oyster is opened up very delicately and the pearl is harvested.

The entire process requires deft and delicate hands and long incubation periods which explains the high cost of these pearls.

Some pictures…

Different varieties of oysters and pearls at the factory

Opening up a live oyster

Embedding tissue into an oyster

Embedded oysters ready to return to the sea bed.

A short video on the birth of a pearl…harvesting an oyster

After the demonstrations we were invited to the showroom where some of us did some pearl shopping and we returned to the bus.

After a long drive we were dropped off at Hanoi airport and we took the flight out to Danang. See you next week at Danang. Till then, keep your likes and comments coming in. Do subscribe and give your feedback too!

Ha Long Bay

A trip to Vietnam is incomplete without a tour to Ha Long Bay .This picturesque bay is known for its emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone karsts topped by rainforests. Aerial views of this bay from drones can be really breath taking making it a popular film shooting destination .We all were also looking forward to this visit to Ha Long Bay.

A designated UNESCO World Heritage site, it is spread over an area of more than 1500sq kms and has close to 2000 limestone monolithic karsts ; most of them covered with tropical rainforests. The word Ha Long means “descending dragon”. Some of the karsts are hollow and contain enormous caves with stalactite and stalagmite formations. At many places, the lower part of the islet has got eroded and there are arched entrances to bays inside.

The emerald waters of the bay with the towering islets.

Ha Long Bay….An Overview

Legend has it that celestial dragons intervened when Vietnam was under attack by the Mongols and these dragons fractured the landscape into thousands of islands making it difficult for the Mongols.

On a more practical note, these karst landscapes have been sculpted by wind and water over millions of years. These formations offer tremendous potential for kayaking, climbing, caving, hiking and of course photography!!

The hundreds of rocky islands which constitute the beautiful bay are individual towers where the intervening plains have been submerged by the sea. There are two distinct eco systems co existing here; the evergreen rainforests and a marine and coastal ecosystem.

Of the almost 2000 islands in the bay, around 40 are inhabited. Fishing communities live on these islands, some of them on floating houses. They sustain themselves by fishing, aquaculture and ; of late, tourism.

The environmental impact of tourism has also taken its toll with mangroves and sea beds being cleared for boat jetties and wharfs.

At the centre of the bay is an area of around 330 square kms where there are more than 770 limestone formations making this area the most popular area for the traditional junk boats to cruise.

Junk Boats

Junk boats are actually small cruise ships with residential accommodation of various categories, restaurants, pubs, swimming pools and other recreational activities on board. An overnight stay at one of the junk boats helps tourists enjoy the bay, see the bay at sunrise and sunset and indulge in other activities like kayaking and visiting the caves in the bay.

A typical junk boat

Our Trip

Our trip to Ha Long bay started with an early morning departure from our hotel at Hanoi in our tour bus. It was a bright and sunny day and we were looking forward to the junk boat cruise. Enroute, we stopped at a traditional handicraft emporium where artisans were seen painting and stitching beautiful pictures. We were told that many of the workers were handicapped and this helped them find a livelihood too.

Artisans at work!

As we neared Ha Long city, the weather changed and it looked cloudy and gloomy. Soon, our guide Ang told us that he had some disappointing news for us ! A storm was approaching the bay and many of the junk boat tours for the day were cancelled. That really put us all off and the gloominess outside descended into the bus.

After a couple of calls and conversations that did not sound very encouraging, Ang said that our tour agency had made alternate arrangements for us and so there would be a slight change in the itinerary.

Soon we headed to another area of the bay which was not impacted by the storm. After alighting from the bus, we reached a boat jetty from where a small mechanised boat took us to our junk boat.

Parts of Ha Long City lashed by rain

Walking to the small boat. Large junk boats anchored on either side.

Soon we boarded the boat that took us out to the bay to board our junk boat for the cruise. After about 30 minutes, we reached our junk boat and boarded it. We all had cabins just like hotel rooms with a large glass door balcony overlooking the bay. After lunch, the boat started its cruise and it was very beautiful indeed! Some pictures….

Some views of Ha Long Bay

Soon we had a lady coming alongside selling everything from liquor to daily necessities!

A short video of the Ha Long Bay cruise

After the cruise on the bay, our junk boat anchored at a particular place and we got ready for a sampan ride under some of the limestone karsts. We reached a jetty from where the kayaking and sampan boat rides started.

The Sampan boat jetty.

Sampan is a wooden boat which can be rowed by a single person and can be easily manoeuvred under the limestone karsts.

Our Sampan and the boatman, Note the crevice under the hill through which he rowed us into another bay

Sampan enters the opening under the karst

The enclosed bay where kayaking was on

A short video of the sampan traversing the under surface of the karst

After spending some time on the sampan where the boatman took us to various parts of the bay, we returned to our junk boat.

By then it was getting dark and after freshening up we all gathered on the upper deck to enjoy the bay views in the dark sipping hot and cold drinks.

The lit up junk boats look like jewels in the bay

After dinner, we rested for the night to get up to the sunrise views at Ha Long Bay. Some pictures…

The sun rises to another beautiful day at Ha Long Bay

After the sun rise views we had to get ready for yet another amazing sight at Ha Long, the Cat Ba island about which, I shall detail in my next episode.

Till then do keep your feedback and comments coming in..

Hanoi 2

Our second day at Hanoi dawned and we were all ready for another day of sightseeing with Mr Ang. After a sumptuous breakfast at the hotel, we met Ang and boarded our bus for the trip. One unique feature of this group tour was that we started each day with a small prayer in the bus thanking the Lord for everything and asking him to take care of the world. The prayer had such a soothing feel that it kept us happy throughout the day.

Our first destination was Tran Quoc Pagoda

Tran Quoc Pagoda is more than 1500 years old and the oldest pagoda in Hanoi. It was first located on the banks of the Red River where it was damaged. Then it was moved on to this island on the West Lake and from then on was called Tran Quoc Pagoda meaning National Defence. The Tran Quoc has ancient Buddhist architecture.

The serene ambience of the gardens, the beautiful West Lake and the architecture of the buildings in the complex make this place very beautiful.

At the entrance, I found something unique and nice. A lady had some birds which we can purchase and release from the cage, like saving a living creature.

Saving the birds…the Vietnamese way…

The beautiful ambience with the ubiquitous lotus
Entrance to Tran Quoc Pagoda

Once you enter the complex, there is a huge pipal tree in the courtyard outside the main shrine. This tree was presented as a sapling by the President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad in 1958 . It has now grown into a massive tree. The Pipal is considered very sacred by the Buddhists as Buddha got enlightenment from under the Bodhi tree.

The Pipal Tree gifted by India

Once you pass the tree you reach the main shrine where locals pray regularly.

The shrine and a local offering prayers

The Stupa

A 11 storey high Stupa forms the highlight of this complex and can be seen from far away. Each floor has a vaulted window with the image of Buddha. The top of the stupa has a lotus.

The Stupa

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Our next destination was the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum which houses the embalmed body of the Vietnamese revolutionary leader and President Ho Chi Minh. It is located at Ba Dinh Square where the declaration of Vietnamese independence and establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam took place. The mausoleum is built on the same lines as the Lenin mausoleum in Russia as Ho Chi Minh was an ardent follower of Lenin and communism. The Ba Dinh square also houses the Vietnamese parliament.

On either side of the main building are platforms used for parade viewing. The front of this platform has a banner reading President Ho Chi Minh on one side and the other reading Long live the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh is highly revered by the Vietnamese and they call him Uncle Ho. He is considered as God by the local people.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Reads Long live Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Situated next to the Mausoleum, was another attraction, the One Pillar Pagoda.

One Pillar Pagoda

A historic temple located in central Hanoi, it has unique architecture and stands on one pillar. It resembles a lotus which is the Vietnamese national flower and consists of a square shrine standing on one pillar in the middle of a pond.

It was built in the 11th century when the King wanted a son to follow on with his legacy, but he did not have a son. One night, he dreamt of a lotus with a beautiful lady and a son. Hence the temple is built like a lotus in the pond. After that, he had a son and so many locals come here to worship asking for sons and grandsons. This is a highly revered place of worship for the locals and one has to follow a reasonably decent dress code here.

In most of the Vietnamese temples, we find fruits as offerings by the devotees. Bunches of burnt incense sticks are also commonly seen.

One Pillar Pagoda

The shrine with offerings by the devotees

The Temple Of Literature

An oasis of peace and tranquillity in the midst of chaotic traffic of the city; this is a place for meditation and self reflection . Once a famous University, today it is a memorial.

Built in 1070 as a University, dedicated to Confucius, it is one of the better preserved monuments at Hanoi. This university was dedicated to science and literature and admitted students from the nobility who were taught Confucian values. Exceptionally, outstanding children from among the commoners were also admitted here. So, it was considered a matter of pride to secure an admission to this great university. It blossomed into the Vietnam Imperial Academy, a coveted university.

The temple of literature is also an outstanding example of traditional Vietnamese architecture. Many parts of this memorial were damaged in the Vietnam war and rebuilt there after. Some pictures….

A model of the Temple of Literature complex gives one a perspective of how huge it is!!!!

The main gate of The Temple of Literature

This gate leads one into a huge complex with five courtyards. There is a long paved walkway through the complex.

The long walkway through the university complex

The pond and another enclosure inside the complex

The Turtle is considered very sacred and lucky in Vietnam. The students used to touch the turtle before their exams. Now preserved in an enclosure. Turtle is also a symbol of longevity.

A gold plated ceramic turtle preserved in a glass enclosure

There are many stone turtles with plaques on their back with inscribed names of the students who acquired degrees here. Acquiring a degree was a very prestigious thing and hence plaques with names of such students was installed here.

The turtles with plaques and Ang with his flag guiding us along

A statue of a bird that brings happiness lies in the complex and everyone of us touched it…..to be happy!!!!

The bird of happiness( note that even the bird is on a turtle back!)

Traditional Vietnamese architecture in wood in full display at the final courtyard leading to the shrines

And finally the shrine dedicated to the Master himself…Confucius

By now, we were all tired and it was time for lunch. We headed to an Indian restaurant for lunch.

At first sight, I knew the owner was a Tamilian with ash smeared on his forehead and a typical accent. But the guy seemed reluctant to acknowledge his roots!!!

Another Indian restaurant at Hanoi

Post lunch, we had a small shopping session and headed right back to down town Hanoi for a Cyclo tour.

Cyclo Tour

It is basically a cycle rickshaw in which two passengers can sit and they take you around the narrow by lanes of the Old Quarter of Hanoi.

With two wheelers whizzing past and screeching to a halt now and then, it can be quiet an adventure filled activity with your heart in your mouth every now and then. The drivers are elderly people and one almost feels sorry for them. The Old Quarter of Hanoi has narrow streets and each street has shops selling particular goods like one lane for hardware shops, one lane for jewellery shops etc.

Take a look at some pictures of our adventurous trip in the old quarter of Hanoi.

Our driver along with the cycle rickshaw

Manoeuvring the streets of Old Quarter Hanoi

A typical shop in the Old Quarter of Hanoi

A short video of the cyclo tour

After an hour of this adventure through the old quarter, we got off the rickshaw in one piece and headed for dinner and back to the hotel. Next day was expected to be a long day but a very picturesque one, visiting Halong Bay.

See you next week at Halong Bay. Till then, do keep your comments and feedback coming like the two wheelers of Hanoi…..

Hanoi 1

Hanoi was our first destination on the Viet Cam tour.

We were to fly to Singapore and from there on to Hanoi. With a lot of anticipation and excitement, we reached Mumbai airport and found this giant beauty of an A 380 getting ready to fly us to Singapore. The multiple boarding chutes at different levels were all set to welcome us.

The Singapore Airlines A 380 awaiting us!!

After an overnight flight, we landed early morning at Singapore where the other half of the group met up with us.

The ladies in the group had a quick photo session at Singapore Airport

After taking the connecting flight to Hanoi, we reached Hanoi around noon. The Noi Bai International airport at Hanoi welcomed us with this picture…..

The Noi Bai Airport at Hanoi

Our Guide at Hanoi Mr Ang received us at the airport and our first halt was at “Dalcheeni”, the Indian restaurant where we had lunch and proceeded to our hotel.

Dalcheeni, the Indian restaurant in Hanoi

After lunch we proceeded to our hotel Sheraton Hanoi . It was Christmas time and the decorations were out at the hotel.

Christmas decorations at Sheraton Hanoi

After a short rest at the hotel, we left with our guide to get our first glimpses of Hanoi. We drove down to downtown Hanoi which more or less centres around the Hoan Kiem Lake.

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, located next to the Red River and the word Hanoi means “inside the river”. Hanoi gave me a sense of familiarity; what with the chaotic traffic of two wheelers whizzing past me as I tried to look around and absorb the ambience.

But as soon as it was dark, the scenario changed. The streets around the Hoan Kiem Lake became walking streets and no vehicular traffic was allowed on the roads. Most restaurants spread out small stools on the footpath ready to welcome locals and tourists. Street vendors had spread out their wares all along the roadside and locals started pouring in with families to spend an evening full of food and fun. We also walked around enjoying the fun ambience and soaking in the local feel. Some pictures of an evening in downtown Hanoi…

The low stools so typically spread out outside the restaurant

A street vendor with her colourful wares waiting for customers!

Vietnamese street food

Vietnamese coffee

Vietnamese coffee is world famous and the streets are lined with specialised coffee parlours and shops selling coffee powder. We visited one such coffee parlour and tried out the authentic Vietnamese coffee.

The coffee flavour was good but what put me off was that it was only lukewarm. Used to piping hot coffee back home, I was honestly a little disappointed . Different coffee flavours are available and the most fascinating one was egg coffee!! Many of us purchased coffee powder to brew piping hot Vietnamese coffee back home.

Most shops were advertising Weasel coffee and that was something that intrigued me. I was told that the weasels eat coffee pods and the beans collected from their poop is weasel coffee! It is considered a delicacy coffee and is more expensive than the other coffee. I must admit, I did not have the courage to try that out.

A shop selling Vietnamese coffee.

Water puppet show

Our next scheduled activity was a water puppet show. It was at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. Water puppetry is an ancient tradition of the Vietnamese dating back to the 11th century when the farmers practised this when theirs fields got flooded. The puppets are made of wood and then lacquered. The shows are performed in a waist deep pool. A large bamboo rod supports the puppet under water while the puppeteers control them from behind a screen. The audience gets the feeling that the puppets are moving in water.

During the show the daily life of the Vietnamese including duck herding, fishing, rice farming, rowing and royal parades are recreated using colourful puppets. Some of the performances are depictions of folklore. It is accompanied by traditional orchestra and narrations.

Some pictures from the water puppet show….

Outside the water puppet theatre

Exhibits of puppets inside the theatre

The puppets on water and musicians by the side of the pool

The stage and one of the performances

A video of one of the performances

The red bridge

Another sight that attracted all of us was a beautifully illuminated bridge on the Hoan Kiem Lake. It was lit up with red lights and looked very attractive. Our guide Ang explained to us that the bridge was Huc Bridge which led to Jade islet on Hoan Kiem Lake where the Ngoc Son temple was located .

The Red Bridge

Ngoc Son Temple

One of the most famous destinations at Hanoi, the Ngoc Son temple sits on a small island on the lake connected to the shore by the Huc Bridge built in typical Vietnamese style. It is a sacred shrine for the local people and a popular tourist destination for tourists.

Apart from the regular shrine where locals worship, there is a glass case with a preserved turtle in it. The turtle is holy to the Vietnamese who believe that the turtle is linked with a magic sword used to defeat foreign invaders.

There are beautiful bonsai collections in the premises too.

The bridge and the temple entrance

The shrine at Ngoc Son Temple

The preserved turtle

A huge bonsai tree at the Ngoc Son complex

Our group members taking rest at the temple complex before dinner time

By now we were all hungry and Ang took us to a Vietnamese vegetarian restaurant . The name of the restaurant was UDham.

Vietnamese restaurant

Traditional Vietnamese vegetarian fare , sticky rice, rice paper rolls and pumpkin soup in that order

After enjoying the Vietnamese cuisine which was light on the belly, we returned to the hotel for the night. Next day was another day of sightseeing around Hanoi which will be featured in my next episode.

Till then, enjoy the views, puppetry and cuisine and continue your support with feedback and comments.

Tonle Sap and the Floating Villages

Most people associate Cambodia with Angkor Wat and the ruins of the Khmer dynasty. Let me take you on an unusual journey today, to the Tonle Sap lake and the floating villages around this lake. This is perhaps not on everyone’s list of places to see near Siem Reap; but let me tell you, it is a rather unique place, with a sad story behind it . A little bit on how these villages came to be ; will answer the natural questions that arise in your mind as you read along and see the pictures. The Tonle Sap is located south of Siem Reap. A short drive of about 40 minutes takes one to the northern tip of the lake where the floating village is situated.

Let me first tell you about my first encounter with Tonle Sap. I had a window seat on my flight from Ho Chi Minh city to Siem Reap. As the captain’s voice over the audio system heralded our landing at Siem Reap, I could see large water bodies and something that looked like marshlands below. It was not one of those clear days and it was nearing 6 pm. Wondering what this could be, I clicked some pictures for what it was worth. It was only two days later that I realised that what I had seen was the Tonle Sap lake and the floating villages. Take a look….

Tonle Sap and the villages ….an aerial View

The Tonle Sap [Sap is lake and Tonle is saltless in Khmer]

Tonle Sap is the largest fresh water lake in South East Asia. It is not only a lake, but a complete eco system and a biosphere reserve. It provides water to half of Cambodia’s crops and almost all the requirements of fish . Apart from that, it is an important transportation link here. The Tonle Sap was a source of abundance to the ancient Khmers. In fact many historians attribute the prosperity of the ancient Khmer empire to the bounty provided by the Tonle Sap.

I have heard of increase and decrease in river water and drying up of lakes in summer but I was not aware of seasonal changes of this magnitude any where else.

During the dry season the Tonle Sap lake covers an area of 2500 sq. kms with a length of 160 kms. During the wet season, the lake grows over 16000 sq. kms with a length of 250 kms. That is a drastic increase in volume by 6 times !!!. A very unusual phenomenon occurs here. The Tonle Sap river takes water from the Tonle Sap lake and merges with the Mekong River. The flow of water towards the sea reverses during the wet months depending on the pressure of water in the Mekong river and the lake swells up enormously. Effectively the Tonle Sap lake is a large bowl which fills with water when the river flows into it and empties out when the river changes direction as it does every year!

The Tonle Sap is the focal point of life for a large section of Cambodians who depend on it directly or indirectly for their livelihood. Fishing , particularly exporting fish products like fish paste is the backbone of their survival. There are at least 300 species of fish living in the Tonle Sap . The floods help growth of large fish and they are easy to catch when the water recedes as they get caught in shallow pools or in the bamboo wires and nets.

The silt deposited during flooding is extremely fertile and local farmers have developed indigenous rice varieties that grow here.

There is a forest, a mangrove forest at the edge of the Tonle Sap that is an important eco system in itself. It is an important spawning and breeding ground for fish. This vital eco system harbours fish, snakes, turtles, otters and even crocodiles. A large number of water birds like storks and pelicans thrive here.

There are environmental concerns around this entire eco system. There has been a notable decrease in the numbers and variety of fish partly due to excessive fishing and partly due to conversion of traditional spawning grounds into agricultural areas. Dams built across the Mekong River are also a threat to the eco system of the Tonle Sap.

Floating Villages

The people who live in these floating villages are mainly immigrant Vietnamese who suffered heavy losses during the Khmer Rouge period. Many of the immigrants were killed in the civil war. The others who decided to stay in Cambodia continued in refugee camps and finally settled in these floating villages. As they do not have certification proving their Cambodian identity, they are considered stateless migrants and cannot own land. They are caught in the cycle of poverty and statelessness.

Life in these floating villages is quite a challenge and 90 percent of the villagers earn a livelihood from fishing and agriculture. Life of the villagers is intertwined with the lake, the fish, and the cycles of rising and falling waters of the lake. Pollution is threatening their health . No public sewage system exists and they use the lake (which is also the source of water supply) as a toilet and garbage dump!!

We took a drive from Siem Reap in our tour bus and reached the ferry boarding point. From there we boarded a Tara boat which took us on this tour of the floating villages.

Kampong Phluk

This is one of the four floating villages near Tonle Sap and the one we visited. The houses are made of bamboo and stand on stilts 6 to 10 meters high which are anchored to the bottom of the lake. It tends to give a feeling of a nomadic settlement but far from it; it has houses, schools, markets, churches, monasteries, hospitals and even a police station! The only mode of transportation is by boat and everyone is familiar with it.

As I said earlier, the muddy waters of the lake are used by these people for their daily requirements. The extreme poverty of the inhabitants of the village can be judged from this!

During the dry season, the water recedes and the stilts are clearly seen. During the wet season, the lake fills in and the villagers use the water for all their needs.

As the boat went past the houses, we saw the villagers going about their routines like fishing, washing and cooking. There are dogs, cats , poultry and pigs living there too!

As we reached the floating village.

A close up of the floating houses

The villagers go about their routine life

Trash and filth surrounding the houses

Man and animal coexisting under trying circumstances!!

A Floating Shrine

A floating restaurant

As I sat in the boat and looked at the houses and it’s people, something pulled at my heart strings. Am I not indirectly also causing pollution and environmental damage here as a tourist? That was a question I had no answer to. You see, it a chicken and egg situation. The villagers do benefit from the tourism that has started flourishing here. Many of them have left traditional occupations and turned to the tourist industry. All the same, I wouldn’t like tourists continuously looking at my house and surroundings as if it were a zoo! The helplessness of these people really touched me…..

Honestly, when our guide mentioned about floating villages, I only thought of some beautiful elite luxurious floating village. It was only when I reached the boat jetty and took the boat that I realised how wrong I had been!!!

As I was lost in thought, the sun was slowly going down on the Tonle Sap Lake. We just sat there on the boat and witnessed the sun setting on another day of our Viet Cam holiday. Share the feel….

The Sun sets on Tonle Sap….

With mixed feelings, we returned to our hotel for the night. As usual, the exchange of pictures took place and quietly, the sad thoughts took a back seat as we continued on our holiday.

This was my last blog on Cambodia and from next week, we move on to Vietnam. See you next week at Hanoi. Till then, do subscribe, like and comment on my blog. Your feedbacks are welcome too!!

The river of Thousand Lingas

Located 30 kms northeast of Siem Reap, is the Phnom Kulen National Park. This was not part of our original itinerary but we visited this place as per our guide Sarath’s suggestion. A long drive along a mud road through a jungle took us to this destination. A giant reclining Buddha, a waterfall and a thousand lingas carved on the river bed are the attractions here.

Brief history :

Phnom Kulen (Mountain of Lychees in Khmer) is the birthplace of Khmer civilisation. It was here that King Jayavarman II declared himself the King of the Khmer Empire . He started the Devaraja cult where the King is equated to God and that is reflected in many of the faces in the ancient temples we saw at Angkor

His successors expanded the empire and built several temples and monuments here. Today, this area is a partially forested site with temples, ancient reservoirs, ponds, plots ,ceramic kilns and rock paintings sites ; all part of an ancient urban complex. Mahendraparvata or Phnom Kulen represents a significant milestone in urban development.

Legend of Mahendra Parvata

During the Khmer period, this area was called Mahendraparvata…… Mahendra ( The Great Indra in Sanskrit) and parvata (mountain). It is very significant as it is one of the earliest capitals of the Angkor period ranging between the 9th and 15th centuries. . Legend has it that Mahendraparvata was the mountain lifted to Lanka by Hanuman to extract Sanjeevani ( a lifesaving herbal plant)

Mahendraparvata on Phnom Kulen has suffered damages from the ravages of time, looting during the Cambodian war, climate change and other factors. Following the collapse of the Khmer regime in the 15th century, Phnom Kulen was largely abandoned except for the reclining buddha which was a pilgrim centre. During the Khmer Rouge period, it became their strong hold and many statues were relocated to Phnom Penh while others were looted and fell into private hands.

It was only in 2008 that the Angkor authorities have started excavations, explorations here leading to many new findings. Restoration and conservation activities are now on.

The river of Thousand Lingas

This mountain range is also the place of origin of the Siem Reap river. It occupies the position of a local aquifer for the entire region draining most of the plateau before reaching Angkor. It is believed that water which flows over the images of Gods is purified. The King wanted his subjects to get pure water and that is probably the cause of The Thousand Lingas and other images carved on the river beds. The entire water from the rivers, channels and other aquifer network ultimately enters the Tonle Sap lake which we will visit in our future episodes.

The Kbal Spean river which is a small tributary of the Siem Reap river flows through this National Park. The Kbal Spean river is known as the Sahasralinga River( River of thousand lingas). [Sahasra in Sanskrit is thousand and Linga is the symbol of Shiva the Hindu God.]

It was indeed amazing to see the innumerable lingas carved on the stones of the river bed. They are carved in grid like fashion and often vary in size. Take a look…

A board displayed by the roadside tells us the location of the lingas.

The site of the Thousand Lingas

A short walk along a trail in a jungle leads us to the Kbal Spean river and the lingas.

The Lingas carved in grid like arrangement

In addition to the lingas, there are other carvings on the riverbed too. Take a look at one of Lord Vishnu…..

The face of Lord Vishnu carved on the river bed

A 250 metres walk along the trail by the river side takes us to a pool which has different coloured water. It looks like a spring from which the water is flowing out.

The spring pool with different coloured water

Our next destination was Kulen Waterfall.

Kulen Waterfall

A long walk on an uneven road with occasional slippery boulders lead us to the first stage of the Kulen waterfall. This waterfall falls from a height of around 5 metres .

Kulen Waterfall level one

Some more walking on uneven boulders and finally a steep metal stairway led us to the second level of the waterfall. Here the water falls from a height of around 20 metres. There is a beautiful swing chair close to the falls. Many locals were enjoying a bath in the falls.

Kulen Waterfall level two

A beautiful swing chair close to the waterfall

The other important location in the National park is the Pagoda or temple of the reclining Buddha.

Preah Ang Thom

Preah Ang Thom is the most venerated and worshipped Buddha statue in the Kulen mountain from the post-Angkorian period. (12th to 16th centuries) It is 8 meter long statue of the reclining Buddha reaching nirvana. The statue is carved on to the side of a huge natural sandstone boulder. A staircase and a shelter over Buddha has been added later.

A statue outside the temple entrance.

As one reaches the temple parking area, there are plenty of stalls selling eatables ,souvenirs and flowers.

A lady selling lotuses, hats and souvenirs and a stall selling local herbs outside the temple

A flight of stairs with a Naga balustrade on either side and an arch leads one into the temple.

The stairs with Naga balustrade and the arch at the temple entrance

This is a very sacred place of worship for the Khmer people and it can be sensed as we enter through the arch. The complex has plenty of shrines of various sizes with statues of Buddha , Shiva, Ganesha and other Hindu Gods. Some pictures…

A beautifully carved shrine at the complex

A Buddha shrine

A shrine with Hindu Gods Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesha

The beautifully carved Naga statue ( well preserved unlike most others which were in ruins)

A music performance at the temple complex

Many Buddha statues at the base of a huge boulder

The temple itself is at various levels and after each level, there is a flight of stairs.

The Shrine and the steps leading to the top most level on the side of a boulder

At the top most level is the most important deity of the temple, the Reclining Buddha.

Face of Reclining Buddha

With the Reclining Buddha

Outside the shrine of the reclining Buddha is a huge gong which all the devotees strike as they leave the shrine.

After the climb up to the top of the temple and the climb down, a cool tender coconut was very welcome. The coconuts here are huge and more sweet than what we find in India.

The sweet and cool tender coconut water rejuvenated us

Boarding the bus once again with Sarath, we headed to the Floating Villages and the Tonle Sap Lake , the largest fresh water lake in South East Asia.

See you next week at the Floating Village near Tonle Sap Lake. Till then, do subscribe, like and comment on my blog. Your feedbacks are very welcome too!

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom ( Nogor Thom in Khmer meaning Great City) was the last capital of the Khmer Regime. Established in the late 12th century by King JayavarmanVII , this is one of the most visited tourist spots today. Covering an area of nine square kms, it has several temples and monuments built by King Jayavarman and his predecesors.

Angkor Thom was established as the capital of King Jayavarman’s Empire and the centre of his massive building programme.

The city lies on the banks of the Siem Reap river around seven kms north of Siem Reap city and around two kms north of Angkor Wat.

The walls of the city of Angkor Thom are flanked by a moat and made of laterite .There are gates at each of the cardinal points from which roads lead to the Bayon at the centre. The gates have towers with faces on them which are similar to the faces on the Bayon and probably represent the King himself, the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, guardians of the cardinal points or a combination of these.

A causeway spans the moat in front of each tower. This causeway has a row of faces of Devas on the left and Asuras on the right holding a Naga. The gates were probably closed with wooden gates. The South gate is by far the most visited as it is now the main entrance to Angkor Thom.

The supporting wooden poles at the gate gives us the feeling that some major repair work is on. Yes, that is true; renovation and restoration of the temple is going on in full swing.

South gate of Angkor Thom , the road , moat, causeway, Naga and the Devas and Asuras.

The tower at the South gate with the face on the tower (note the supporting wooden poles for renovation)

The Deva statues on the left side of the causeway

The Asura statues on the right side of the causeway

The Bayon

This richly decorated temple at the centre of Angkor Thom was the state temple of King Jayavarman VII.

The original name of Bayon was Jaya Giri or Mountain of Brahma ( Jaya is another name of Brahma and Giri means mountain). The most distinctive feature of this temple is the smiling faces of Brahma on each of the four sides of the towers.

The Banyan tree is very sacred to the Buddhist ideology as Buddha got enlightenment under the banyan tree. This temple is called Bayon from the word Banyan.

As one reaches the temple, one is greeted by a flight of stairs with the guardian lions on either side. Climbing up the stairs, one reaches a platform from where one enters the main temple.

View of Bayon temple from the road.

The stairs with guardian lions on either side.

The main entrance.

As one enters the temple, one reaches a narrow corridor with pillars on either side. As one walks along the corridor, there are blocked doorways, stairs and small yards and the labyrinth of the temple becomes obvious.

The first enclosure opens up into two inner galleried enclosures. All these are crowded together and unlike Angkor Wat which gives one a feeling of space , Bayon gives the feeling of being cramped together.

The walls of the outer enclosure features bas reliefs depicting historical events and the daily life of the people. The outer enclosure encloses a courtyard with two libraries. Beyond this level, entry was restricted due to restoration work . But they are believed to contain bas reliefs of the Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and Ravana.

The Upper Terrace appears to a later addition to the plan as there is hardly any space between the inner gallery and the terrace. This level features the famous Face Towers of Bayon. There are 49 towers and more than 200 faces on these towers. In various stages of ruin, it is not possible to give the exact numbers of these.

There is some disagreement on the identity of the faces. The similarity of the faces led historians to believe that they represent King Jayavarman VII himself. Some scholars believe that the faces represent Bodhisattva of campassion called Avalokiteshvara. Locals still believe that the faces represent Brahma and not Buddha as they have three eyes and Buddha does not have three eyes. The predecessors of Jayavarman VII were Hindus but Jayavarman VII was a Buddhist.

The Face Towers of Bayon

The central tower and sanctuary is believed to have contained a Buddha statue in a meditative pose shielded by a serpent hood. This was removed by the next King, Jayavarman VIII who followed Hinduism and was recovered in a damaged condition from a well.

A closeup showing the obvious reconstruction attempt

After the visit to Bayon temple, we started for another popular temple near Angkor Thom….The Ta Prohm.

Enroute, Sarath pointed out the famous Elephant terrace to us.

Elephant Terrace

The terrace is named after the sculptures seen on it. Several elephant heads protrude out from the wall and their long trunks almost extending to the ground. It was used as an audience hall and for public ceremonies. The King often listened to the complaints of the people from here. Many parts of the terrace are in a state of collapse.

Elephant Terrace

Ta Prohm (Ancient Brahma)

Our next halt was at Ta Prohm, a unique temple in Angkor Thom which many of you would have seen in English movies. This temple is a very popular film shooting destination and one of the most popular movies shot here is Tomb Raider.

History of Ta Prohm

Built by Jayavarman VII between the 12th and 13th centuries, this temple was originally called “Rajavihara” meaning Royal monastery. He built this temple in honour of his family. The main image here was modelled on the King’s mother. The site was home to more than twelve thousand people including high priests and dancers. In addition, the surrounding villages has lot of inhabitants.

After the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 15th century, this temple was abandoned and neglected. Restoration and reconstruction work started here in the 21st century. But the location and the way the temple had merged with the jungle and the trees had grown all over the structures, it was decided to not alter the overall picture as it was unique in many ways.


Ta Prohm is slightly different from Angkor Wat and Bayon in that it is built very flat and at one level. There are entrance gopuras at the four cardinal directions but many of them are in various stages of collapse. There are libraries , bas reliefs depicting Buddhist mythology and images of devatas. The temple was highly ornate and decorated in art styles of different periods in time.

But the most captivating feature of this temple are the trees. The trees growing out of the ruins is a distinctive feature of this temple. The silk cotton tree and fig tree are the main species of trees growing out of the ruins. When one visits the temple, one forgets about the gopuras and sanctum sanctorum and gets spell bound by the tall trunks of the trees growing from in between the stones of the temple wall and ending in a green canopy against the sky on one end and the huge roots encircling the monument walls and spreading on to the ground. The trees have so encircled the complex that one looses orientation of the place as one manoeuvres in between the giant roots.

The main gate used as the entrance by visitors today is the western gate. Outside the gate were plenty of shops selling curios, souvenirs and other articles. Lot of vendors, particularly women tried to woo us with their wares. Needless to say, they were successful to some extent!!

The western gate has a gopura with the faces as seen at Bayon. The gate itself was supported by scaffolding poles probably as a support to prevent collapse. We also entered through the western gate.

At the west gate of Ta Prohm ( note the supporting metal poles as part of reinforcement and restoration)

Soon we were inside the complex. Surprisingly, we entered a vast expanse of farmland and jungle with a trail in the centre . This area was probably the place where the inhabitants in service of the temple lived in dwellings which no longer exist. A long walk of around two kms took us to the main sanctuary. There are signages all along but most people find their own way, some even exploring the jungle on either side.

Walking along the trail, I was attracted by some melodious music and I approached a small shelter where I found around six men playing different musical instruments in harmony. A closer look , and I noticed that many of them were handicapped and then I noticed a board saying these people were the unfortunate victims of landmine blasts during the various conflicts that the country had seen.

What wars and conflicts do to humanity!!!

Melody from pain….

A moat with a bridge, a few terraces and a couple of gopuras and we finally reached the location of the most iconic pictures of Ta Prohm.

No amount of description by me is going to give you a perspective of the trees and their massiveness. So, I leave you with these pictures which speak a thousand words. Take a look…

Note the huge trees at the back, they are actually growing on the back wall

This is perhaps the most iconic picture of Ta Prohm, the entrance with the roots encircling it!!

Sarath obliged us with this picture at this iconic location….once in a lifetime!

The sheer massiveness of the roots and branches require support from scaffoldings to prevent it from falling

From the pictures above, it must be obvious to you that what we see at Ta Prohm is perhaps an ongoing battle between the trees and monument. It seems like the trees have taken a vice like grip on the monument and the monument is struggling to free itself. At places, the trees seem to have not been able to undo the artistic monument but at places, they have won the battle with the monument in ruins!!

A spot which nature has still left for us to admire the artistic work (partly reconstructed)

A spot where the trees have won the battle !!!

It left all of us in complete awe and disbelief….

Restoration of Ta Prohm

India is very much involved in the restoration work at this temple that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Archaeological Survey Of India has restored parts of the complex. Wooden walkways, platforms and roped railings have been put in place to protect the monument from further damage. The Hall of Dancers has been totally renovated.

A board at Ta Prohm that made us proud…

Leaving Ta Prohm with mixed feelings we headed back to the hotel for a relaxed evening after taking in a lot of history, architecture, art and nature.

Ta Prohm’s ruins left me with delight and awe at what one man did and despair and regret at what has befallen it over the years. The overpowering forces of nature are in full display here. NATURE HAS FULL CONTROL OVER ANYTHING MORTAL…..

Hope you enjoyed your visit to Bayon and Ta Prohm with me. Do give me your comments and feedback to keep me motivated!

See you next week at another destination in Siem Reap that speaks of the grandeur of the Kings…Phnom Kulen