Where people worship

I’ve always loved visiting churches, temples, shrines and other places where people worship. When you’re traveling, it can give you a glimpse into the place’s history or culture.  You see what people hold dear, what they believe in, what customs and traditions they have upheld through the centuries.

In the Philippines, Catholicism is the predominant religion. Three centuries of being a Spanish colony can do that to a country. Based on historical accounts, the province of Cebu is where one of the rulers of the country first converted to Christianity together with his subjects. It’s also where the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño is located, believed to have been the oldest church in the country (until the original structure was destroyed in a fire in the 16th century) and its site is where the oldest Catholic image of the Santo Niño (Holy Child Jesus) was found from the 1521 Magellan expedition. That’s a lot of Catholic history. So when we went to Cebu, P and I visited the Basilica.

The atmosphere outside the church is just like any other large Catholic church in the country, bustling with activity outside and quiet and somber inside the church. A devotee praying on her knees was moving towards the altar. People were lighting candles. There was a room filled with statues of different saints and a few stood in front of them, whispering their prayers, dropping donations in boxes. All familiar rituals.

Basílica Minore del Santo Niño in Cebu

In Japan, visits to its Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples revealed rituals I was curious to understand. With majority of Japanese subscribing to Buddhism and Shinto, temples and shrines are their places of worship.

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Day 2 of Angkor temples: Banteay Srei, Pre Rup and Phnom Bakheng

Or also known as the day I was supposed to run in the Angkor Wat Half-Marathon.

For all the planning in the world, sometimes the world has a plan of its own. I had to have a medical procedure done a little more than a week before we left for Vietnam and Cambodia and my doctor was not exactly too keen on me even running a 10k until we knew the result. It was something I wanted more than running in the race so even with our race kit ready to be picked up in Siem Reap and my running gear in my backpack, the day before the race, I finally decided not to run.

The day of the race though was not wanting of physical exertion (but not of a half marathon variety). Aside from having to walk around more temples, the day involved climbing up a hill and some of the steepest stairs known to man. I didn’t get a chance to cross a finish line that day, but did manage to find a speck of fulfillment in the day for not rolling down some steep temple steps.

Banteay Srei

Our first temple for the day was almost an hour away from town via tuk-tuk. Banteay Srei is around 38 kilometers from Siem Reap but many tourists still go out of their way to see it; it has been dubbed one of the most beautiful temples in Angkor for its very elaborate carvings and red sandstone walls.

Travel guides will tell you that it is best seen before 10 a.m. and after 2 p.m. We wanted to start our temple hopping a bit late: left town by 11 a.m. after going around the Old Market area and got there in the Banteay Srei right smack at noon. But even with the harsh high noon sun, you can’t miss the temple’s predominantly striking shade–different from most of the other temples’ walls.


Banteay Srei is only a small temple and it was built in the late 10th century when the Khmer empire was only starting to gain significant power

slouching somewhere

slouching somewhere

The inner enclosure of Banteay Srei was not accessible to tourists, but one can already appreciate the intricate carvings from outside…

slouching somewhere

…or take a look inside the inner enclosure for some more fascinating carvings and statues

One of the minor perks of going around a temple at noon–you don’t have fellow tourists getting in all your shots. (Just most of them)

slouching somewhere

Red sandstone can be carved like wood so it’s no wonder that the walls of Banteay Srei are so densely covered with beautiful and elaborate carvings

Pre Rup

We stopped at Pre Rup on the way back from Banteay Srei. The moment I saw it–its lofty towers, high stairways and people making their way to the summit–I knew I wanted to see it up close.

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Beyond Angkor Wat: exploring Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei, Ta Keo, the Bayon and the other ruins of Angkor

(The post below is another writeup on the temples of Angkor, but before we get into that, I just want to share about the terrible disaster that happened recently to some of the cities in the southern part of the Philippines: a tropical storm left more than a thousand dead (and still hundreds are missing), as flash floods swept through many shanty homes last Friday late in the evening. The local news now are filled with images of fathers and mothers wailing over their lost children, children left orphaned, entire towns wiped out. Those left behind need help. My friend Pinay Traveller, wrote a post on how to help the victims of typhoon Sendong, kindly take a look if you want to help. Let’s “go out into the world and do good until there is too much good in the world.”)

Since we only had four days in Cambodia, and days one and four were going to be spent on the road, we decided to take a tour of the Angkor temples on both days. Friends had told us that three days of temple hopping would be enough, beyond it and you might find yourself all ‘templed’ out. (Unless of course you’re an Angkor or archaeology enthusiast, then you can be there for weeks.) Two days for us regular tourists meant exploring Angkor Wat and the other temples in its vicinity for Day 1 and going to the farther temples on Day 2.

After spending the early morning in Angkor Wat, we told our tuk-tuk driver Savin (from Angkor Discover Inn)  that we wanted to see Ta Prohm and Angkor Thom for the rest of the day. We appreciated it that he also suggested additional temples along the way.

The ruins of Banteay Kdei and Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm was on top my must-see list in Angkor. It’s most known for those eerie images of massive centuries-old trees staking their claim on temple ruins with their massive roots draped over the walls and corridors. It was probably all those Indiana Jones movies growing up that had me fantasizing about walking through a jumble of ancient ruins and jungle.  (Ta Prohm was also one of the locations of the little known movie called Tomb Raider)

On the way, we passed by Banteay Kdei and Savin suggested we also take a look inside. It’s supposedly built in much the same style as Ta Prohm. A look at the free Siem Reap Angkor Visitors Guide will tell you that it was also “built using an inferior grade of sandstone and using poor construction techniques,” which has lead to much of its deterioration. That and the jungle.

slouching somewhere

Love this particular small detail of an apsara carving

The biggest tree we saw in Banteay Kdei was thrice this size

Banteay Kdei had some areas closed from tourists and a look at the scaffolding or the sorry state of some of the towers and corridors should have anyone in their right mind steering clear of them. (You don’t want centuries-old sandstone falling on top of you–even if they are of inferior grade. But signs such as “Do Not Touch” on certain bas reliefs or walls apparently do not have the same effect to most as other fellow tourists still kept touching them.)

But if I thought Banteay Kdei was in a bad state, it seemed a much larger area of Ta Prohm was in worse condition. It was undergoing major renovation so more areas were inaccessible to tourists. After a few minutes walking within the temple, I started wondering in which part you could see those huge trees. Though they’re probably the reason why much rebuilding or restoration was happening. Those ancient temple walls and doorways and corridors do not stand a chance against massive trees. Unless of course there’s a chain saw involved.

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Angkor Wat in the morning

After being on the road for almost 14 hours the day before, traveling to Siem Reap in Cambodia from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, flying from Manila two nights ago, we finally found ourselves standing in front of the main temple of Angkor by sunrise. I was happy and grateful just being there, looking at the silhouette of those five towers while the sky came alive in gorgeous shades of red, orange and pink.

slouching somewhere

slouching somewhere

With hundreds of other sunrise-over-Angkor ‘devotees’

For years, I’ve wanted to see Angkor Wat. Sure, it’s become one of the most touristy places on earth and watching the sunrise is one of the most touristy things you can do when you visit Angkor (another is the sunset at Phnom Bakheng, more on that in another post), and you’ll be among hundreds of others who made the trip, most of whom will likely be blocking your “perfect sunrise over Angkor shot”, but that doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t take away the fact that you’re right in front of something beautiful that has withstood centuries, including the decline of an ancient empire and genocide. I could only imagine how many sunrises this 12th-century temple has seen.

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From the Chao Phraya River to Wat Pho

Even if we got stuck in horrible Bangkok traffic on our first morning in the city, the fact was we still got to do what we had planned for the day. This included taking a boat along Chao Phraya River, considered Thailand’s lifeblood, to Wat Pho, Bangkok’s largest and oldest temple dating back from the 16th century.

Initially, we planned to check out the two on separate occasions: make our way to Wat Pho then ride a river cruise down Chao Phraya. But my resourceful sister, who pored over the Bangkok map, found that we could simply take the BTS SkyTrain (take Sukhumvit Line from On Nut, where we were coming from, to Siam station; then at Siam, change to the Silom Line) to Saphan Taksin station, where the Central Pier (Sathorn Pier) is located nearby. This is where the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat docks and for 25 Baht, the boat stops in several piers including the Tha Tien Pier, where Wat Pho is a short walk away.

Waiting for the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat at the Central Pier

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