Archive for November, 2013

Phnom Chisor

Posted in Latest of Asienreisender, Sights with tags , , , , , , on November 28, 2013 by Thim Kwai

Between Takeo (26km) and Phnom Penh another remarkable Angkorean temple site is situated. It’s Phnom Chisor Temple. The temple was errected in the reign of king Suryavarman I (1002 – 1049 CE) and later extended. Originally called ‘Sri Suriyaparvata’ (the mountain of the Hindu sun god Surya) it was dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu.

The site consists of a central shrine, surrounded by five more shrines and two libraries. They all are inside a walled gallery with two entrance gates. As typical for the ancient Khmer buildings the construction material is laterite, bricks and sandstone for the carvings.

There is a number of lintels with carvings, inscriptions and ornaments to see. The whole site is not in a really well state, but some restorations have been done. In the times of ancient Angkor the site must have been of some significance for the empire.

The original approach to the site was on an east-west axis road. Some hundred meters east of the main site, on the plain, there is Son Reveang, the outermost gatehouse of the site, placed. Here is also a baray, an artificial lake, called Tonle Om. Following the old road, which is barely in use anymore and rather a jungle treck, one comes to a second ruined and inner gatehouse made of laterite stones. It’s name is Sen Thmol, mostly overgrown now and not restorated. Directly west of it starts a wider laterite stairway which leads up to the top of the mountain and narrows later. It’s less than 500 steps up to the main site, which is located on the easter part of the hilltop.

Keep in mind that this is not the main entrance and very few people approach from here. The main approach to the site is from the roadside, south of the site. Between the road, which leads to national road nr. 2 and the hillfoot are some food vendors. It’s also kind of a parking when one is coming with an own vehicel. No doubt there will be someone coming and try to sell a ticket for the parking. Though, they have no legitimation to do that; it’s just a self-made invention to cash from unknowing foreigners.

The stairway upwards from there is said amounts of 412 steps. At the top there is a cashpoint. A kind of a guard is demanding two dollars from foreigners.

At the northwest of the hilltop is a modern Buddhist temple placed.

The view over the surrounding Cambodian landscapes, mostly rice paddies, is praised by many visitors.

The site fell victim to an American air raid in 1973 and suffered destruction.

Know…

This is only a part of the richly illustrated article ‘Phnom Chisor’. Read here the whole article on Phnom Chisor.

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Check the list of recently published articles on a great variety of Southeast Asian themes. All of them are richly illustrated: Asienreisender

Angkor Borei and Phnom Da

Posted in Latest of Asienreisender, Sights with tags , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2013 by Thim Kwai

Nowadays a meaningless village close to the Vietnamese border, Angkor Borei was once among the first urban centers of Southeast Asia. Situated in the Mekong River delta, some suppose that Angkor Borei was the capital of Funan, Southeast Asia’s oldest civilization. Other historians rather think that Funan’s capital was situated at another ancient town, Vyadhapura, not far away down in the Mekong delta (of unknown exact location), but behind the closeby border to Vietnam. Another possible candidate for Funan’s capital was Oc Eo, also closeby in Vietnam. Might be that the capital changed over the time; might also be there was no capital of this civilization. The discussion about the site of the capital has an ideological implication; if the ancient Khmer had their center or origin in nowadays Cambodia or in nowadays south Vietnam.

Phom Da

Phnom Da is a twin hill, with two temple sites, three kilometers away from Angkor Borei. The bigger temple, a towerlike construction from the 7th century (according to other sources 6th century), is the main attraction. One has to walk up a stairway to reach the top of one of the hills, where it is placed. The building was, according to a Cambodian guide from Phnom Penh, originally built in brick. Later, in Angkorean times (10th / 11th century) it was overbuilt and extended. The used building material for the extension was laterite. The brick core is still to see from inside at the top. The roof of the building has been collapsed and is now open. The entrance door is facing to the north. As I heared it was the target for an American air raid in the Vietnam War.

Inside the building there is only one big room with the remains of a shrine in the middle of it. The floor is just a clay ground, the walls naked stone…

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This is only a part of the richly illustrated article ‘Angkor Borei and Phnom DA’. Read here the whole article on Angkor Borei and Phnom Da.

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Check the list of recently published articles on a great variety of Southeast Asian themes. All of them are richly illustrated: Asienreisender

Takeo / Cambodia

Posted in Latest of Asienreisender, Places with tags , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2013 by Thim Kwai

Takeo (also: Ta Kaeo) is a capital town as well as a province in southeast Cambodia. Takeo town, a small place, is not extending 50.000 inhabitants.

When visiting Takeo town one will see that there is not much to do except a town stroll. It’s a small place without any significant attractions. Though, it can be a pretty nice place to spend a time just because it represents Cambodian town life without much tourism, it’s relatively quiet for there is not too much traffic and the climate is fine in the rainy season, because there is almost always a refreshing breeze coming from the neighbouring lake. There is plenty of accomodation of good quality in all price categories in town.
An old, colonial-style house in Takeo by Asienreisender

Takeo is remarkable for at least two things. First it’s bordering the lower Mekong River system; it’s in fact part of the Mekong delta. In the rainy season the lower Mekong River can not drain the amount of water what is coming down from the middle and upper Mekong and it’s tributaries. The water overfloods wide areas of plains who are passable in the dry season. It’s even ‘pushing’ the water streamupwards into the Tonle Sap River and filling Southeast Asia’s great lake, the Tonle Sap Lake, with a great amount of water. Takeo is bordering a seasonal lake which extends the Bassac River and has therefore a lakeside with a small pier. After the rainy season the lake shrinks and is changing into a cultural landscape coined by rice paddies and hundreds of canals. The canal net has a tradition which dates back up to almost 2.000 years.

Takeo town itself is a quiet place without much activities. As I heared, there are many by the authorities so called ‘illegal people’, factually migrants, from Vietnam living here. Not all of them are Vietnamese people; until the 18th century nowadays south Vietnam was part of Cambodia. Saigon had the Khmer name ‘Prei Nokor’ in former times. Still many Khmer people are living in the Mekong delta area of south Vietnam, and ‘border hopping’ without papers is common. Due to the proximity to Vietnam, what is bordering Takeo, the old tensions between the Khmer and the Vietnamese are more intense here than elsewhere.

Know…

This is only a part of the richly illustrated article ‘Taeko’. Read here the whole article on Takeo.

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Check the list of recently published articles on a great variety of Southeast Asian themes. All of them are richly illustrated: Asienreisender

The Empire of Angkor

Posted in Countries, Latest of Asienreisender with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2013 by Thim Kwai

The medieval empire of Angkor was the most significant state and civilization in Southeast Asia until today. It was remarkable above all for it’s architecture, represented in numerous monuments, and it’s cultural long-term influence in Southeast Asia until today.

But it was not only extraordinary for Southeast Asia. Angkor stands the comparison with the other great empires of world’s history. Angkor city was a huge, sophisticated urban center and is seen by historians as the greatest pre-modern city in history. It was home for up to a million people in it’s best times. A huge transport and irrigation infrastructure was part of it. The construction of Angkor Wat, the state temple, was a gigantic performance. The whole organization of the building site was a major challenge. It included the gain of the huge amount of stone materials from the Kulen quarries, the transport of all the many tons of stone over a distance of 40km to the building site, the workmanship into all the absolute precisely fitting single pieces, the procession of the materials surface into all the brilliant carvings. The building time of gigantic Angkor Wat lasted below 40 years. It is the largest religious building in the world. Compared with the European cathedrals it was built in a fraction of the time. Only the cathedral in Salisbury in England had such a short building time, but is a much smaller building. The construction of other cathedrals took normally between 200 and 300 years. The grand dome in Cologne in Germany was built in a timespan exceeding 650 years. In fact it’s still not completed. Well, in fact Angkor Wat isn’t fully completed either…

Know…

This is only a part of the richly illustrated article ‘The Empire of Angkor’. Read here the whole article on The Empire of Angkor.

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Check the list of recently published articles on a great variety of Southeast Asian themes. All of them are richly illustrated: Asienreisender

Bokor National Park

Posted in Landscapes, Latest of Asienreisender with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2013 by Thim Kwai

The vast forested area of Bokor National Park in the Elephant Mountains is a last refuge for a great, but decreasing number of animals. Among them are many species who are unique here.

The highest point of the 140,000 hectares big National Park is Bokor Mountain at the Hill Station (1,079m above sea level), which is close to the open sea at the Gulf of Thailand. A steep edge separates the forest from the more urbanised coastal stripe in the southwest.

In the north it’s neighbouring the Cardamon Mountains (Kravanh Mountains), a much bigger mountain complex. Together these mountains form the last big area of remaining tropical rain forest in Cambodia.

Among the wide variety of animals in the park are Asian elephants, maybe some of the last Indochinese tigers, leopards, Asiatic black bears as Malayan sun bears, gibbon monkeys as well as the notorious macaques, rare slow lorises, different kind of deer, pangolins and many, many more. Among the almost 300 bird species are also several types of hornbills. I think not few of the animals in Kampot zoo are poor fellows who were rescued by the park rangers in the past and brought there because they were injured and ned care…

Hiking in Bokor National Park

Bokor National Park is of a big size. Hiking there in the forest is dangerous for some reasons. One can get easily lost in the unknown terrain, one can have an accident and needs help. Meeting dangerous animals like snakes or big wild cats is possible, but a rather smaller risk compared with an encounter with poachers or illegal loggers. These guys can play quite rough, are armed and might use their weapons, because they don’t like witnesses.

From the wartime there might be still Khmer Rouge land mines in the remoter parts of the forest. Besides, when planning to penetrate the National Park somewhat deeper it requires the organization of a tent and supplies.

In the past it was easy to organize hiking tours up to Bokor Hill Station and a bit around. Mostly they just followed the old road and it was a comparably easy walk. Now it’s difficult to organize guided tours into the forest. Walking up the road is no big fun; it’s asphalt and there is traffic. There is another way following partially the Popokvil stream through the jungle. It’s possible to get a guide for that.

Threats for the Park

In global comparison Cambodia has one of the world’s worst deforestation rates. While in 1970 Cambodia was covered by some 80% with jungle, it decreased to estimated 3% in the recent years. A forest cover survey in 2005 revealed that Cambodia lost 29% of it’s primary rainforest within five years only.

The forest destroying industries find the easiest access to the jungle in the lowlands, where they accomplish their work first with the lowest investment costs and the roughest methods as violent land grabbing. Now the last remaining refuges in mountainous areas are under severe attack.

Just nine years ago Bokor was one of Cambodia’s best protected national parks. It was listed as an ASEAN Heritage Park, and a number of independent conservation groups spent their resources into it’s protection. A certain cooperation with the Cambodian government was given.

The Bokor National Park is part of the Elephant Mountains (Damrei Mountains) and bordering the Kirirom National Park further north. Now both parks are separated from each other by a main road connecting Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. The road cuts the territories of species and gives easier access to natural areas who were formerly hard to reach. Poachers and illegal loggers take advantage from that.

Illegal Logging

Since Bokor is home to a number of rare or even unique plants and wildlife such as blackwood, rosewood and aloewood, it’s an attractive target for poachers. It’s possible to reach high prices for seldom species on the black markets. Poachers and illegal loggers make much more money with that than they could ever earn by doing a conventional job in the local economy.

To protect Bokor a conservation programme called ‘Surviving Together’ was implemented in the year 2000. Surviving Together provided training and support for 55 park rangers. The rangers guarded Bokor’s forests and confiscated chainsaws, destroyed poachers camp’s and charcoal kilns and they removed thousands of snares from the forest every year. A dangerous job, because poachers are armed and not just willing to retreat when a ranger tells them to.

Despite their efforts the problems in the park increased. Larger numbers of illegal chainsaws were found every year. In 2007 alone 153 chainsaws were confiscated.

A single chainsaw costs between 200 and 800 dollars. That’s a considerable investment for a villager, but a cubic metre of blackwood or rosewood sold on the black market therefore brings already an equivalent of the money back. A single chainsaw user can fell and cut four or five trees a day. In whole Bokor National Park are estimated 150 chainsaws in use for illegal logging. Since the villagers who perform the logging themselves don’t have access to the black market for timber, they cooperate with middlemen from outside. Probably most of them are also equipped by these outsiders. And these ‘outsiders’ are not seldom networks in the army, police, politics, cooperating with normal businessmen who do the laundry work.

In the rural parts around the Bokor Mountain massive are estimated 50,000 people living. Since ever they lived from the forest resources, collecting wood and plants, hunting, also logging in a moderate scale. This model was sustainable for thousands of years. Just since the second half of the 20th century the equilibrium is out of balance. More and more is taken out and can’t recover in time.

Population growth and particularly poverty are the reasons for the overcrop, so far it concerns the simple people in the villages and hamlets. They even lack basics as clean water, food and healthy housing. When it comes to the networks and companies behind them, it’s all about profit and money making for those who are rich anyway. The trouble for the villagers is that the process destroys their ecological and economic basics, while big money just moves to another place after one is wrecked down.

Back in time, before the invention of chainsaws it took several men a week of work to cut down and prepare a single big, old tree. Now, equipped with a chainsaw, a single logger does that work within an hour.

By the way, when moving around up on Bokor Hill Station and the wider surrounding one does not see a single old, giant jungle tree anymore. The remaining forest there is all young, most of it of the same age and height, secondary forest it seems or remaining primary forest, while the ‘best pieces’ have been cut out. The remaining old trees grow in steep slope positions, unaccessable for the loggers. Some are to see when coming the new road up to Bokor Mountain.

The Park Rangers…

The Wildlife Alliance has payed salaries and training for the park rangers for many years. The support also covered trucks, radios, more equipment and the ranger station on Bokor Hill.

In 2008, when the Sokimex Group took over the National Park in a 99 years lease contract from the government, the rangers were displaced from the Hill Station down to the entrance point to Bokor at the foot of the mountain.

There was not even a consultation with the Wildlife Alliance when doing that. Superfluous to add, that the rangers can not do their job properly anymore. As a reaction to that, the Wildlife Alliance suspended all their payments and support for the rangers.

Compared to the building activities on Bokor now, the illegal logging caused comparably limited damage to the nature. Now some ten percent of the National Park is getting logged legally and a new city, designed for a 100,000 people, is getting built within the National Park. This cancer might grow in the future, when big money develops more investment opportunities.

Know…

This is only a part of the richly illustrated article ‘Bokor’. Read here the whole article on Bokor National Park.

Keep yourself up-to-date

Check the list of recently published articles on a great variety of Southeast Asian themes. All of them are richly illustrated: Asienreisender

Funan, First Civilization of Southeast Asia

Posted in Countries, Latest of Asienreisender with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2013 by Thim Kwai

The oldest civilization which became of overregional influence and left a somewhat greater amount of traces was Funan. Funan is seen as the first civilization in Southeast Asia. It can barely be seen as an empire, for it was probably rather an alliance of towns along the lower Mekong River delta than a centralized state. It later spread out it’s influence, stretching over greater parts of nowadays Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand until the borders of Burma/Myanmar and to the Isthmus of Kra. The parts of Funan far away from the Mekong delta were merely tributaries. Again, Funan was far away from being an integrated state, as the term ‘state’ in it’s modern version implies.

Know…

This is only a part of the richly illustrated article ‘Funan’. Read here the whole article on Angkor Wat.

Keep yourself up-to-date

Check the list of recently published articles on a great variety of Southeast Asian themes. All of them are richly illustrated: Asienreisender