Oh my, what a sight

22 July 2008 at 4:57 pm (Discovery, Thoughts) (, , , )

Bayon, Siem Reap

Bayon, Siem Reap

I’m digressing a little today because this is absolutely gush-worthy. The image above is of Bayon, a temple we visited in Siem Reap. It took my breath away, and despite the sizzling-hot sun beating down on us, I could have stayed there for hours just marveling at the magnificent structure and huge stone carvings.

The entrance to the temple itself was an astounding bridge, lined on both sides with a larger-than-life stone banister made of gods on one side and demons on the other, pulling on a giant naga or serpent. The scene is of the “Churning of the Sea of Milk,” a creation myth. Despite its state of ruin, you could imagine how majestic it must have been in the days of yore.

The temple itself — how does one describe something like that in mere words? The ground floor and upper floor couldn’t be a starker contrast from each other: below, inside the maze-like corridors of the temple, it was dark and cool. We were even invited by a caretaker to “bless” ourselves with water from a holy well. It was pitch-black in the chamber and we weren’t sure we wanted to step inside for a look, but we did, and I’m glad we did because it was rather interesting, and maybe that’s why our trip went as well as it did. 🙂

Up a flight of very steep and very high stairs, we were at the top platform of the temple, surrounded by the gigantic stone towers with equally gigantic carvings of faces. Some towers had up to 4 faces, one on each side of the square tower. They were so close we could touch them. The sun was blazing hot, roasting us slowly — respite could only be found in the cool interiors of the towers. But the baking was totally worth it. I could have stayed and stared for hours.

One can only stand, stupefied, in front of such monuments, and try to imagine the people who had built them, used them and worshipped in them.

And of course, thoughts would drift in the direction of … so, what did they wear? From engravings on temple walls, I could see that the apsaras wore intricate garments, which I gather is called a sampot. Some are simpler than others, but I’m sure they were all quite outstanding.

Here is an example of a Khmer garment, as seen on a replica stone carving of a devata (a Hindu deity) and on a wax figure of an apsara dancer.

Carved figure of a devata (Hindu deity)

Carved figure of a devata

Wax figure of an apsara

Wax figure of an apsara

It was difficult to find fabric that hadn’t already been made into a table runner or bag, but there were some gorgeous Cambodian silk material which I came across at the Night Market and promptly bought. I’m not sure what I’ll make out of it, but I’m sure some day….

Soon, I’ll show some lovely scarves I bought there, which I might use in one of my future sewing projects. Wondering how I will be able to include some elements from traditional Khmer costumes….

I must say, this trip to Siem Reap was beyond any of my expectations. I wish we could have explored more of Cambodian traditional arts, instead of being rushed through the processes at places like the Artisan School, where I’m convinced that the guides are just there to herd visitors straight into the gift shop. Still, it was an invaluable peek into a world I wouldn’t have been privy to otherwise. I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it!



  1. designdaily said,

    I’d love to see that Cambodian silk! Is it anything like Thai silk?

  2. honeyanddaisy said,

    I’m no expert on silk, but I gather there are several grades of silk?! Some Thai silks are rough in texture (they have knobbly things in the cloth), and others are smooth … I bought both varieties when I was in Bangkok. Anyway the Cambodian silkworm makes thread that’s naturally yellow in colour, and we were told Chinese silkworms makes white silk. Apparently, Cambodia only makes that one type of silk (the yellow type), and the threads are then dyed either with natural dyes, or commercial dyes. We saw the whole process at the silk farm, which I thought was really interesting. The silk that I bought probably isn’t high-grade silk, but it’s smooth (not knobbly). Came in a standard 4-metre roll, which I think is how much cloth it takes to make a traditional Cambodian outfit. It looks something like the baju kurung Kedah (shorter top) but more fitted. A bit hard to explain, neh…

  3. Selvi said,

    Just a note on the cloth we bought (although yours had the coraks and mine was plain) yeah my Mom says it’s not very good quality but for the price we paid (USD12) it’s not too bad la.

    I just got a short dress made from it and there’s still enough cloth for my Mom to make a sleeved top! 🙂

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