Stairway to Heaven and Angkor Wat

Stairway to Heaven and Angkor Wat, Cambodia

I can’t believe it is nearly a year since our exciting trip to Cambodia and Vietnam.  We flew into Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor –  the land of  the awesome Angkor Wat temples.

When I think of Angkor Wat, I think of the centuries-old conflict between the Siamese and Khmer people, the loss of so many lives, the suffering and the lost culture.  I think of  the enormity of the many temples, their sacred stature, the reverential monks and the common people who continue to pray in them, their grand  architecture – their destruction and their saviour.

In 1901 the École Française d’Extrême Orient (EFEO) provided funding and took responsibility for clearing and restoring the Angkor and the ruins were rediscovered.  Angkor has since been declared a UNESCO world heritage site.

Irish Art - Stairway to heaven Oil Painting - Angkor Watt - the temple steps lead the way to a higher existence, to the Gods, to Buddha, a place of prayer in a sacred temple
Stairway to heaven – Angkor Watt – 40 x 50 cms Oil on block canvas ©

I tried to encapsulate these thoughts in a painting.  The predominant feature to the temples were steps – steps to a higher existence.  This painting evolved – the atmosphere was enough to portray my inner thoughts.

Angkor Wat (Wat temple) is the central feature of the Angkor UNESCO World Heritage Site containing the magnificent remains of the Khmer civilization. Angkor Wat's rising series of five towers culminates in an impressive central tower that symbolizes mythical Mount Meru. Thousands of feet of wall space are covered with intricate carving depicting scenes from Hindu mythology.
View of Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor means city or capital – it was once the ancient capital of Cambodia and the centre of the Khmer empire.   The empire built many temples all over Cambodia. These temples were in honour of the Hindu gods – Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma.

The gateway to Angkor Watt
The gateway to Angkor Watt

So many magnificent temples we visited and each had their own story to tell.   There were many levels in the temples separated by a series of steep steps and a matching social hierarchical structure.

Buddha in temple at Angkor Watt
Buddha in temple at Angkor Watt

 If you reached the top of the temple, the Buddha statue,  adorned with lotus flowers,  and incense would be there to greet you.  There you would rest from the intense heat and pray   (I prayed that I could get back down without killing myself!)

Steps at Angkor Watt - Siem Reap has colonial and Chinese-style architecture in the Old French Quarter, and around the Old Market. In the city, there are traditional Apsara dance performances, craft shops, silk farms, rice-paddy countryside, fishing villages and a bird sanctuary near the Tonle Sap Lake.
The dizzy heights of Angkor Wat and a seldom seen modern stairwell assists your descent.

The temples were crowded with tourists and one of the token attractions was that Angkor Wat was used as a background shot for Angelina Jolie as she paddled her boat across the moat that surrounds the temple in the film Tomb Raider.

The scene for Tomb Raider with a constant flow of tourists in Angkor Wat, angelina jolie
The scene for Tomb Raider with a constant flow of tourists in Angkor Wat

Note the roots on the trees that seem to strangle the temple.  This was a common sight but the reality is that the roots of the trees had ‘knit’  the temple together over time and there is now a reluctance to interfere with this natural evolution.

The view from one of the levels of Angkor Wat
The view from one of the levels of Angkor Wat
Travelling by the sacred cow in Cambodian village
Travelling by the sacred cow in Cambodian village


Buddhist monks stroll through the temple
Buddhist monks stroll through the temple





Related Post: The Fruit Seller and Cambodian Culinary Delights

The Fruit Seller and Cambodian Culinary Delights

Having just returned from a truly amazing trip to Cambodia and Vietnam, I would like to invite you to share with me some of the magic that we encountered along the way.

We arrived In Siem Reap, Cambodia which is the base for exploring the fabled temples of Angkor, the ancient capital of the Khmer empire.  We then travelled a five-hour journey by road  to Cambodia’s capital,  Phnom Penh.    Along the way, we saw countless paddy fields, water buffalo, cows and houses built on stilts to protect the homes in the rainy season.

Phnom Penh is said to be undergoing a modern renaissance and it was a  stark contrast to the quiet country life we encountered along the road.   Steeped in charm, beauty and a rich culture of ancient Khmer history,  its  people smile with a gentleness that appears unbowed  by the  wars,  genocide and  poverty that has besieged their country.

Irish Art -The Cambodian Fruit Seller
The Cambodian Fruit Seller – Oil on board 18 x 24″

This is my first painting reflecting my travels.

It is so commonplace to see the street traders selling their wares, hoping to catch your eye, hoping to engage   –   a sale, a dollar!

Fruit and Vegetable vendors on the streets of Cambodia
Going to Market

In Phnom Penh, we came upon many food markets.  These were a feast for my eyes with a humming energy ever-present. The colours, the textures, the smells of fish, fruit and fowl all mingled together to create a pungent aroma. Chickens squawked, frogs leapt and fish squirmed while underfed cats came to see what  offerings could be had.

Cooked Snakes on Skewers to eat
Crispy Snake for Sale

All kinds of food was on offer with fruits I’d never seen nor heard of before.  My imagination was rather more stretched when I saw such things as spiders being served as a delicacy.  Tourists gathered round and dared each other to taste the culinary delights.  I played my role through “observation” only!

Spiders to eat in a Cambodian Market
Spiders – Roasted n Toasted!
Crickets for sale in a Cambodian food market
Crickets ‘n all !
Suckling Pig
Suckling Pig

Crystallsing the palm sugar

The palm tree is very interesting because of how useful it is.  Every part of the tree  has a purpose,  even the roots of the tree play their part.  In this photograph, the girl is cooking the sap from the palm tree and stirring it until it crystallizes.  It is then wrapped in palm leaves and sold for cooking purposes.  This is a high quality 100% natural food product.

We also tasted some palm sugar wine and needless to say, it was delicious.

Check back soon to see my next posting on Asian charm and my next painting.

Market Day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Market Day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia