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The End of the Road

But hopefully not for long...


View Around The World on manolo84's travel map.

This is it, Monday 2nd of June, the end of the road, the end of the trip, the end of all things... Well maybe not of all things but it feels a bit strange nevertheless to consider the idea of going back to France and dropping my bag in a place for the last time (or at least for a little while).

But in a way I am quite looking forward to see again family and friends, even if we have been more or less in contact throughout the year. And also looking forward to eat some good food and not to have to pack my bag every other day. To be honest I also need to rest a bit as since my return from the last trek I got quite sick in Kathmandu, probably due to the fact that I had pushed my body a lot recently. So instead of enjoying the last moments of my trip, I had to spend the last week in a no-energy state and with painkillers. Nothing serious fortunately (well I hope not!) but just the kind of thing that stops you to do anything. But at least I could make some progress on the blog!

I will also update the blog title as I did not make that round trip around the world in 365 days but rather in 370 days. And I did it in the opposite direction than the one Phileas Fogg took, so I actually also lost one day by doing so...

I also wanted to thank everybody, starting by my parents who supported me for this trip instead of telling me that I was crazy and that I should better spend my money in a mortgage and start thinking as an adult. Then all my friends back home and in England and of course all the wonderful people I have met during this year. It's hard to know how many of these friendships will survive the next months/years but I promise I will give it a try. Without all of you this whole trip would not have been the same for sure so thanks for that!

Right now I have very few ideas about how my immediate future will be, nor where I will end up but once thing is sure, once the travel bug bites you, I guess it is a recurrent disease so watch this blog space for new adventures and keep some space on your couch, you never know who could knock on your door! :)

Ciao!

Quote from Hans Christian Andersen

Quote from Hans Christian Andersen

Posted by manolo84 02:09 Archived in France Tagged english reviews Comments (6)

Trekking in the Himalayas

or how to tackle the 3 Passes and the Everest Base Camp


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A longer post this time, to relate about my recent trek in the Himalayas. Indeed, this was always my goal, to finish on a high note this amazing trip around the world, near the roof of the world: Mount Everest....

Obviously I could forget about actually climbing Mount Everest (even if that would have been quite cool!), as for that you would need a lot more money that I could have and more importantly some very good ice/rock climbing skills (and at least another two months). Just the permit to climb the Everest is around 18,000 Euros if I remember well, plus the cost of your equipment, wages of the Sherpas, food, etc... and you could find yourself having to pay easily around 50,000 Euros. Well anyway that wasn't an option for me and I was fine by just trekking to the base camp, located at 5,364 metres high, on the Khumbu glacier, a few hundred metres below the deadly icefall which killed 16 Sherpas this year, forcing them to cancel all the expeditions to the top for this season.

So before coming to Nepal and reading the news about this ice fall, I got a bit worried that trekking in this region would become difficult as a result and would force me to trek somewhere else. I mean it is not like Nepal is lacking of nice hiking trails to explore (the Annapurna circuit for example) but being able to see the Everest for real was kind of something I had been looking forward for a long time. Fortunately when I arrived in Kathmandu, in the beginning of May, everyone told me that there weren't any problems for trekking in the region and that only the climbing expeditions were cancelled. As a result the Everest Base Camp (EBC) would probably be completely empty but at least still accessible.

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The next thing to do was therefore to choose a trekking route to reach the EBC. Actually to be honest, anyone who is an average walker can do the EBC trek, no matter how young, old or unfit you are. The trails are well marked, wide and there are no difficult climbs as the path goes up following the valleys so the only difficulty lies with the altitude. Indeed from the starting point in Lukla (located 30 minutes away by plane, east of Kathmandu) at 2,800m to the Everest Base Camp at 5,364m there is quite a difference and if you rush too much, without taking a few days to acclimatise to the altitude, then you will suffer what people call AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) which is basically headaches, nausea, vomiting, etc... all the effects that the altitude can have on your body. And it doesn't even matter if you are fit and young, you could be more affected than someone older and less fit than you. In front of Altitude sickness, everyone is different and the only thing you can do is to take your time when going up.

But to come back to the choice of the route, instead of walking just the EBC trek, I decided to go for the "loop" which is also called the 3 passes trek. This one is definitely more challenging as it makes you cross 3 high passes at more than 5,300 metres high and also let you combine with 3 peaks (around 5,550 metres each) and of course the Everest Base Camp. And as a result, while the standard EBC trek would usually take around 12 to 14 days, this one is meant to take longer, from 18 to 21 days, depending on your speed. And now I can say it, YES, this was definitely the harder and most challenging trek I have ever done, by far. But the views were so fantastic that it was definitely worth the pain!

The next thing was to choose whether to go independently, with a guide or with a tour operator. And in Kathmandu it is hard to make an objective opinion as the people who know the best are also the ones trying to sell you a guide or a complete package which includes a detailed itinerary/schedule and guide + porters. They would tell you that you ABSOLUTELY need a guide and porters because it is a hard trek so you cannot possibly carry a big backpack and a guide is needed because the trails can be hard to find... Well they are wrong, the choice is entirely up to you and depends hugely on your budget, on how much you can afford to spend during this trek and if you have done some similar treks before.

My personal opinion is that if you are between 20 and 40 years old, fit and with already some trekking experience then you probably don't need a guide and even less a porter to carry your stuff. Actually the guide can be a nice bonus if you can afford it as he would be a local, you will be able to ask him all the questions you want and in case of a bad weather, he will help you find the correct path in the mountains. But a guide costs around 20-25$/day so that is quite a budget if you are not prepared for it. Besides if the weather is clear, then the trail are really easy to find so no problems about that (it is always recommended to take a good topographic map anyway and if you can, a GPS device).

If you are a bit less fit and/or have more money to spend, then you can hire some porters or sign up with a tour operator in Kathmandu but you will end up paying at least twice as much as the ones doing it independently and will have to share the trails constantly with another 10 to 20 people... So much for being alone within the nature...

So by reading the lines above you can now guess which option I chose... Indeed I decided to go on my own, with my big backpack (weighting 18kg without water at the beginning). Well not entirely on my own as I had met one Dutch guy in the hostel in Kathmandu, and we had decided to do at least a part of the trek together. It is not really recommended to trek alone in those mountains anyway as it is always possible to twist an ankle for example and to be stuck in a bad situation, without any help to call for.

The next thing one has to organise for this trek is to book some flight tickets to Lukla (or choose to go by bus to Jiri and then walk for 5 to 6 days). And for me this was a surprise... I knew I had to take the plane (I wasn't really keen on walking 6 days on bad trails and with a probably very bad weather because of the low altitude) but I didn't know how much it would cost... And in 2014, a one-way flight to Lukla costs around 165$! Make it return and you have already spent 330$ even before you started walking... whoops! But the alternative of walking takes quite some time so I emptied my wallet and bought my return ticket.

Turned out that actually because of the weather, it is really common for flights to be cancelled, even for a few days in a row so even though it sucks, you need to be prepared to that possibility... And it is exactly what happened to us, the day we were supposed to fly out to Lukla, all flights were cancelled, which left us waiting at the domestic airport for hours, until a last minute deal was offered to us in the afternoon: flying in a helicopter! (for about 35$ more obviously...)
And on the way back the same thing happened, very few flights each day because of the weather deteriorating as the day goes by, so we had to wait almost two days before being able to fly back to Kathmandu... (no helicopter option this time unfortunately).

Itinerary

  • Day 0 - Kathmandu to Lukla (2,840m)

Instead of catching an early flight and starting to walk straight away, we wasted a whole day waiting at the airport for a flight, only to take a helicopter in the afternoon. By the time we arrived in Lukla, it was too late to start walking so we decided to stay there for the night.

  • Day 1 - Lukla to Monju (2,835m)

Nice walk without a lot of elevation
(walking time: 4.5 hours)

  • Day 2 - Monju to Namche Bazaar (3,440m)

Short hike up to Namche but with a 600m elevation. I started to find myself out of breath quicker than usual due to the altitude.
(walking time: 2.25 hours)

  • Day 3 - Acclimatisation day around Namche Bazaar

As the altitude starts to be felt, we took the day to do a nice hike around, up to the Everest View Hotel (3,880m), to get the first views of the Everest of this trek! Then went back down to Namche via Khumjung and Kumde.
(walking time: 4 hours)

  • Day 4 - Namche Bazaar to Thame (3,820m)

Hike up to Thame.
(walking time: 3.25 hours)

  • Day 5 - Thame to Lungden (4,368m)

Not a difficult hike but we missed the last section of the trail and found ourselves having to climb the last 200 metres on a very steep section. The headaches started to appear...
(walking time: 3.75 hours)

  • Day 6 - Acclimatisation day around Lungden

Acclimatisation day a bit failed as we didn't go high enough that day. Usually for a good acclimatisation day, it is recommended to go quite high and come back down at the altitude where you were the night before so that the body can get used to the altitude changes. Headaches were still there...
(walking time: 4.5 hours)

  • Day 7 - Lungden to Gokyo (4,790m) via Renjo La pass (5,360m)

Probably the hardest day of the trek and also the longest... It took us 5 hours to go up to that pass (1,000m elevation) with the last section made of steps but still being really challenging. The headaches came back stronger and by the time we arrived in Gokyo, François was almost crawling on the floor due to his headaches and I wasn't a lot more better...
(walking time: 8 hours)

  • Day 8 - Rest day in Gokyo

A well deserved rest day after the previous one.

  • Day 9 - Gokyo to Dragnag (4,700m) via Gokyo Ri peak (5,360m)

Waking up at 4am, I started to climb (alone, François still suffering headaches) a peak nearby and after about 1h30min of efforts, I arrived just in time to see the sun rising behind the Everest. Magic... (see video below).
Later that day, after a nap, we resumed the walk by crossing the glacier and finally reached Dragnag, ready for our second pass the next day.
(walking time: 2 hours)

  • Day 10 - Dragnag to Dzongla (4,830m) via Cho La pass (5,420m)

Another very challenging day, especially the last 200 metres which was a climb among lose rocks and also with some falling from the top of the mountain. A few scary moments. On the way down, we crossed a glacier which was kind of cool.
(walking time: 7 hours)

  • Day 11 - Dzongla to Gorak Shep (5,140m)

Gentle hike to Gorak Shep with a lunch break in Lobuche. We were joining back the official EBC trek trail and it was definitely getting busier.
(walking time: 4.5 hours)

  • Day 12 - Everest Base Camp (5,364m)

Day trip from Gorak Shep to the Everest Base Camp. Apart for a few tents, the camp was mostly empty like people had told us but it was nice to see the place where so many legendary climbing adventures had begun. The only thing is that from the base camp, seeing the Everest is not possible as the mountains around, Nuptse and Lotse, block the view.
(walking time: 3.5 hours)

  • Day 13 - Gorak Shep to Lobuche, via Kala Patthar peak (5,643m)

Another early wake up (still alone) and another sunrise view from the top of the Kala Patthar peak, with amazing view of Mount Everest.
Later that day, we made our way back to Lobuche, to prepare the crossing of the last pass of the trek.
(walking time to the top of the peak: 1.25 hour - walking time to Lobuche: 1.30 hour)

  • Day 14 - Lobuche to Chukkung (4,730m), via Kongma La pass (5,535m)

François still not feeling well, we decided to split, him starting going down and me going up to the pass. It was a scary start for me as I took an old path through the moraine/glacier, only to see that path stopping after 15min. I then tried to make my own path through the falling rocks and thought more than once that I was going to find myself in a crevasse or under some big rocks... Luckily after more than an hour I finally managed to get through that section and the steep climb started. I took me a total of 3 hours to get to the top of the pass, a good time considering the time lost in the moraine. The views at the top were fantastic. Going down took actually a bit longer even if it was more pleasant.
(walking time: 7 hours)

  • Day 15 - Chukkung to Deboche (3,820m), via Chukkung Ri peak (5,550m)

My last early bird start to climb the peak called Chukkung Ri. It's always quite fun to start hiking with only your flashlight to light the path but it can also lead you to take the wrong path (and wrong mountain) in the dark. Fortunately thanks to the map and the sun rising I could catch up with the right trail and it took me 3 hours to get to the top. And there was a nice reward because even though you cannot see the Everest (hidden), you get a splendid view on several valleys around you. Definitely worth the climb! Later that day I decided to cover as much ground as I could to go down until Deboche.
(walking time: 8 hours)

  • Day 16 - Deboche to Namche Bazaar (3,440m)

Not a big day but not that easy though as the path is going up and down with some steep sections.
(walking time: 3 hours)

  • Day 17 - Namche to Lukla (2,840m)

Finally, after having caught up with my friend, we made that last walking day through a path that we knew already, back to our starting point. Not that easy as we had a good pace and didn't want to arrive too late in Lukla, so that we could change the date of our return flight ticket.
(walking time: 5 hours)

  • Day 18 & 19 - Waiting for a flight back to Kathmandu...

About the money, one should count around 2000-2500 rupees (20-25$) per day on average throughout the trek, covering meals, accommodation, snacks and the occasional shower, battery charge and internet access.

Elevation Profile

And here is the elevation profile of the trek, with its highest point being the summit of Kala Patthar (5,643m).

About this peak, it is to note that even though all maps record Kala Patthar with an altitude of 5,545m - 5,550m, I met a guy who had a Garmin GPS and who told me that on its highest point, his device recorded 5,622 metres. That's quite a big difference but after a few researches online, I found out that other people had found the same discrepancy, leading me now to consider that Kala Patthar is actually the highest point I have ever climbed in my life (though not the hardest).

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Conclusion

Definitely one of the best treks I have ever did and without any doubts the most challenging. Unless you are blessed by the gods and belong to the 10% of the population which adapts well to the altitude, you WILL experience at least once the headaches and exhaustion that comes with trekking at high altitude. But given time, your body will adapt and will start to produce more red blood cells to carry more oxygen. And once this side of the things taken care of, this trek offers some of the best mountain views in the world. After all this is not the "roof of the world" for nothing...

Photos & Videos

Short video taken on top of Gokyo Ri. It's in French but I have added the English subtitles... ;)

The airline check-in desk in Kathmandu where we waited, waited, waited...

The airline check-in desk in Kathmandu where we waited, waited, waited...


Our nice Russian helicopter (with a real Russian pilot!)

Our nice Russian helicopter (with a real Russian pilot!)


The streets of Lukla

The streets of Lukla


Let the trek begin!

Let the trek begin!


Swing bridges can sometimes become really crowded

Swing bridges can sometimes become really crowded


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Namche Bazaar

Namche Bazaar


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One of the several Stupas I came across during the trek

One of the several Stupas I came across during the trek


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Stunning

Stunning


Yak yak yak! <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Yak yak yak! :)


On the way to the first pass, Renjo la

On the way to the first pass, Renjo la


The lakes are getting colder as we go higher...

The lakes are getting colder as we go higher...


The view from the top of Renjo La

The view from the top of Renjo La


François and myself, happy to have made it so far!

François and myself, happy to have made it so far!


Mount Everest, finally...

Mount Everest, finally...


Buddhist prayer flags on top of Gokyo Ri

Buddhist prayer flags on top of Gokyo Ri


We can see the Everest behind me, in the background on my right

We can see the Everest behind me, in the background on my right


Glacier crossing after Cho La pass

Glacier crossing after Cho La pass


A yak

A yak


More yaks! (old style photo filter)

More yaks! (old style photo filter)


On the way to the Everest Base Camp

On the way to the Everest Base Camp


The famous Khumbu glacier

The famous Khumbu glacier


Better be careful where we step in the moraine/glacier

Better be careful where we step in the moraine/glacier


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Sometimes the balance of things is very fragile...

Sometimes the balance of things is very fragile...


Everest Base Camp

Everest Base Camp


Behind us, the famous Khumbu Icefall where 16 Sherpas lost their life less than two months ago... Unfortunately from the Nepali side, this is the only way to reach the Everest...

Behind us, the famous Khumbu Icefall where 16 Sherpas lost their life less than two months ago... Unfortunately from the Nepali side, this is the only way to reach the Everest...


Sunrise seen from the top of Kala Patthar

Sunrise seen from the top of Kala Patthar


A bit more artistic this time, with Mount Everest

A bit more artistic this time, with Mount Everest


View from the top of Kongma La pass

View from the top of Kongma La pass


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Mount Ama Dablam, also quite nice during sunrise

Mount Ama Dablam, also quite nice during sunrise


On top of Chukkung Ri

On top of Chukkung Ri


A golden eagle

A golden eagle


Finally we could catch our plane back to Kathmandu...

Finally we could catch our plane back to Kathmandu...


Lukla airport

Lukla airport

Posted by manolo84 06:54 Archived in Nepal Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises mountains english treks Comments (0)

Diving in Thailand


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Before leaving Bangkok, I could borrow the underwater camera of my friend (Go Pro) and here is a selection of the shots I took during the 10 dives or so that I did in Thailand. For those who want to know a bit more, I have also listed the dive spots which I visited:

  • Ko Ha (Andaman sea, near Ko Lanta)
  • Hin Daeng and Hin Muang (Andaman see, off Ko Lanta)
  • HTMS Sattakut wreck (Ko Tao, Gulf of Thailand)
  • White Rock (Ko Tao, Gulf of Thailand)
  • Shark island (Ko Tao, Gulf of Thailand)
  • Chumphon Pinnacle (Ko Tao, Gulf of Thailand)
  • South West Rock (Ko Tao, Gulf of Thailand)

Before jumping into the water

Before jumping into the water


Boxfish

Boxfish


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Cave in the Ko Ha islands

Cave in the Ko Ha islands


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Some of the dive sites can actually be really crowded...

Some of the dive sites can actually be really crowded...


Encounter with a Manta Ray... impressive!

Encounter with a Manta Ray... impressive!


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Diving near a military ship wreck

Diving near a military ship wreck


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Be careful not to step on the sea urchins!

Be careful not to step on the sea urchins!

Posted by manolo84 04:39 Archived in Thailand Tagged diving english seas Comments (0)

Warming up in Bangkok

sunny 38 °C
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After Cambodia, I made my way directly to the Thai capital, Bangkok. In view of the recent political events in Thailand, I am telling myself that I was lucky to visit this country a month ago and not presently. Though I am being told that except for the curfew (10pm - 5am), almost nothing has an impact for the tourists in Thailand at the moment.

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When I was in Peru in Arequipa, 8 months ago, I had met with a Thai guy briefly who was thinking at the time to maybe open a café, restaurant or hostel somewhere in the world. We had kept in touch and I was pleased to learn that he had finally decided on opening an hostel in Bangkok. And the timing was more than perfect as he had only opened the day before I arrived and therefore I got the privilege of being his first guest! And I am not saying that because the owners are now my friend but the hostel and welcome were fantastic so I highly recommend the Three of a Kind hostel if you are looking for a place to stay in Bangkok, you won't be disappointed!

My main goal in visiting Thailand this time was to explore the South islands and do some scuba diving but I took the opportunity of staying in Bangkok to visit a little bit the main Buddhist temples and royal places, but also to relax as the previous weeks in Cambodia had been quite hectic. Beside the thermometer was reaching almost the 40 degrees so that makes you even more lazy...

My friend Angkrit, the owner of Three of a Kind, and myself exploring the flower marker in Bangkok

My friend Angkrit, the owner of Three of a Kind, and myself exploring the flower marker in Bangkok


Lots of traffic in Bangkok and drivers start here very early!

Lots of traffic in Bangkok and drivers start here very early!


The ex-mansion of the Thai kings

The ex-mansion of the Thai kings


The royal hall used for welcoming foreign officials and other ceremonies. Unfortunately it was not permitted to take pictures inside...

The royal hall used for welcoming foreign officials and other ceremonies. Unfortunately it was not permitted to take pictures inside...


Wat Arun

Wat Arun


China town

China town


The Emerald Buddha, from the Grand Palace. One of the symbols dear to Thailand

The Emerald Buddha, from the Grand Palace. One of the symbols dear to Thailand


Grand Palace

Grand Palace


The huge reclining Buddha in Wat Pho

The huge reclining Buddha in Wat Pho


Another prayer room in Wat Pho

Another prayer room in Wat Pho

Posted by manolo84 09:24 Archived in Thailand Tagged temples hostels towns palaces english Comments (0)

The Magnificent Angkor Temples


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This is probably one of the moments I was expecting the most in South-East Asia, the visit of the temples of Angkor, in Cambodia...

My first surprise was to realise that there was actually more than the famous Angkor Wat, as indeed in those times, every king of the Khmer empire (9th to 15th centuries) wanted to build (well not him personally I presume but his slaves) his own temple to "his" glory. So instead of building a big temple and increasing its size year after year, Cambodia is now left with about a thousand temples close to each other, some now not bigger than a pile of stones but others being able to contain up to a million of people back in those times, the most famous being indeed Angkor Wat as it is one of the only one which has never been abandoned to the nature (but which is also not the biggest of all temples, by far).

When deciding what and when to visit, the most interesting entry pass is the 3 days one for about 40$. And I can guaranty you, by the end of the third day, you will definitely have enough of seeing stones everywhere, no matter if those are nice stones belonging to nice temples, by the end of the third day, a stone is a stone! And the other inconvenient is when trying to take pictures, it is very very hard not to have another tourist on it. If one wants to take amazing pictures of Angkor, one must learn patience... :-)

And I could write a lot about the temples of Angkor but the best is probably to show you this selection of pictures I took, with a bit of explanation underneath. If you want to have more information about Angkor, I could refer you to the wikipedia article (in English) or this one (in French).

Map of the main Angkor temples

Map of the main Angkor temples


The first thing that each tourist does is to witness the sun rising behind Angkor Wat, which was first a Hindu, then subsequently a Buddhist, temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world

The first thing that each tourist does is to witness the sun rising behind Angkor Wat, which was first a Hindu, then subsequently a Buddhist, temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world


Unfortunately it can become quite crowded.... <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_sad.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':(' title='' />

Unfortunately it can become quite crowded.... :(


Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat


A little prayer to Buddha inside Angkor Wat

A little prayer to Buddha inside Angkor Wat


Angkor Wat is also decorated with thousands of "Devatas" which have now been nicely restored

Angkor Wat is also decorated with thousands of "Devatas" which have now been nicely restored


Angkor Wat surrounded by the dense forest

Angkor Wat surrounded by the dense forest


the pathway leading to Angkor Wat

the pathway leading to Angkor Wat


Angkor Wat with the sunset light

Angkor Wat with the sunset light


Monks visiting Angkor Wat

Monks visiting Angkor Wat


No idea who is this woman but the picture looks nice, inside the corridors of Angkor Wat

No idea who is this woman but the picture looks nice, inside the corridors of Angkor Wat


A lion and myself... <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

A lion and myself... :)


The Bayon is a well-known and richly decorated Khmer temple at Angkor in Cambodia. Built in the late 12th or early 13th century as the official state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII, the Bayon stands at the centre of Jayavarman's capital, Angkor Thom.

The Bayon is a well-known and richly decorated Khmer temple at Angkor in Cambodia. Built in the late 12th or early 13th century as the official state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII, the Bayon stands at the centre of Jayavarman's capital, Angkor Thom.


That temple has also been decorated with at least 216 faces of the former king himself...

That temple has also been decorated with at least 216 faces of the former king himself...


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East Mebon temple

East Mebon temple


The Ta Prohm temple, among the trees, like most of the other temples were found before being restored

The Ta Prohm temple, among the trees, like most of the other temples were found before being restored


Still Ta Prohm and you can actually see how the trees are so tightly integrated to the structures now

Still Ta Prohm and you can actually see how the trees are so tightly integrated to the structures now


Ta Prohm was also used in the movie Tomb Raider and unlike some scenes taken from other temples, the scenes of Ta Prohm were quite faithful to the temple's actual appearance

Ta Prohm was also used in the movie Tomb Raider and unlike some scenes taken from other temples, the scenes of Ta Prohm were quite faithful to the temple's actual appearance


large_Ta_Prohm__41_.jpgThe Ta Som temple

The Ta Som temple


The third eastern gopura, with strangler fig, still in Ta Som

The third eastern gopura, with strangler fig, still in Ta Som

Posted by manolo84 10:42 Archived in Cambodia Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises temples english Comments (0)

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