Exploring the Angkor temple complex

Spread out over some 40 miles around the bustling town of Siem Reap, the Angkor temple complex attracts over 2 million visitors a year.

We made an early start, picking up our 3-day passes for USD$40 at about 8.30am. Busloads of tourists arrived with us, and a steady motorcade of buses, tuk tuks, motorbikes and push bikes shuffled down dusty roads to the main gates.

Laden with mythology, every stone carving tells a story, and there are faces looking down at you everywhere throughout the complex.

The sky was really overcast and glarey, so I shot a lot of photos in sepia mode - I like the in-camera sepia settings and have kept the settings the same, envisaging a series of sepia photos when I get home.

First stop was The Bayon, a huge temple complex built by Jayavarman VII between 1181 and 1220. Known mainly for the many Buddha faces carved into the towers on the third level, we were able to walk up onto the temple for a good look around.

Like most massive structures from centuries gone by, I always wonder how the hell they moved such large volumes and chunks of stone into such incredible buildings that have withstood wars, weather, time and now, thousands of tourists walking over them every day.

Our guide mentioned that over 1,000,000 people hd been seconded to build the Angkor complex; 250,000 to cut stone, 250,000 to transport it to the site, 250,000 to construct the buildings, and the final 250,000 to decorate the interior. I would have loved to have seen all that in action!

We then drove round to a smaller temple called Banteay Srei. It is one of the oldest temples in Angkor, being finished in AD968. Otherwise known as the Rose Temple, or Lady Temple, this temple was unique because of its intricate carvings in pink sandstone.

Driving around the complex and wandering through ruins, each in various stages of restoration, was fascinating. It was nice to get away from the crowds and into some of the smaller, less frantic parts of Angkor. It was also nice to get into the shade - clambering up and down temples all day in mega humid, dusty conditions is pretty hard going, and each time we returned to the bus, we quickly downed a water, coke, or laterr in the afternoon, a beer!

There was an option to visit a butterfly park in the afternoon, and the prospect of having access to 1,500 captive butterflies needed no more than a second thought from this photographer and her boyfriend.

For about an hour, Michael and I chased and photographed exotic butterflies, perched on flowers and leaves, and the food tables in place for them.

Out in the wild, it can be hard to find one or two butterflies, but here, everywhere we looked, a gorgeous thing fluttered by. Sometimes, two or three butterflies tried to land on the same flower! Other tourists gave us weird looks as we chased butterflies and dragonflies, occasionally squealing in delight. Yes, squealing....at least being with another photographer who was doing the same thing, made me feel marginally less ridiculous!

The Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens was awesome for chasing butterflies, in lieu of having my macro lens. With high ISO and large aperture, it let me roll off shots with great bokeh and blurred backgrounds, making the colorful little guys pop!

We hooked up again with our tour buddies who had opted to see a landline museum, and all headed up to the final temple, to watch sunset.

We'd been watching the clouds all day, and while they were beautiful, proved to be a little too thick to let the sun shine through.

Hundreds of tourists had the same idea and were draped over the temple, legs dangling over ancient stones, while a local played his violin. While the sunset was average at best, the atmosphere was fantastic. Our first day in Angkor was truly amazing!

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