Sunday, 22 April 2012

High wattage

Exotic South East Asia: when I think about it my mind conjures up a languid, gilded image, smudged by the humidity, blurred by traffic, twinkling beneath a blanket of fairy lights and steaming from the spice of chilli.

It is a region comprised of disparate countries, distinct cultures and diverse people and customs.  Yet all are inextricably linked through a shared history which has defined their modern selves.  Evidence of these linkages is dotted through each of the countries, a geographical game of connect the dots: a Khmer temple in Thailand, a Buddhist temple in Indonesia.

These are incongruous images when held up against these now uber-modern metropolises.  But they also provide a door way to the past, providing a brief glimpse to ancient disputes, the spread of customs, the expansion of religions, changing borders and the dispersion of people.  The consequences of some of these events are still evident today, the tensions along the Thai/Cambodia border is one example.

It is nearly impossible to go to South East Asia and not been drawn the through the gateway of at least one temple or shrines.  It’s easy to finish a day of sight seeing in Thailand weary eyed, sore footed, lethargic and literally watted (temple-d) out.  But that ice cold Chang (or Bintang) beer is totally well deserved.

This is a collection of some of the amazing temples that M and I visited on our last trip to Thailand and Indonesia:

Located in north eastern Thailand, started in the 10th Century and finished in the 11th this is a beautiful, unassuming example of Khmer temple architecture.  It has been lovingly restored and extremely well maintained.

Another Khmer temple in north eastern temple, Phanom Rung is set in the crater of an extinct volcano.  Its position gives you an amazing vantage point, from the peak you can look out towards Cambodia and the patchwork quilt of rice paddies below.  If you are lucky, or organised, you might time your visit when the solar alignment is just right and you’ll see the sun shining through each of the 15 sanctuary doorways.  We weren’t so lucky, or organised.


Also known as the Temple of Dawn, Wat Arun sits on the banks of the Chao Praya River in Bangkok.  Regal, understated and striking, for me Wat Arun is one of the most beautiful temples in Thailand.  What makes it particularly memorable is the use of Chinese porcelain in the mosaics, much of the porcelain recovered from ships that stopped in Bangkok.  If you have the time, make sure to catch sunset from across the river – Wat Arun is at its most beautiful when the sunsets.

I remember not being too taken with Borobodur when I first saw it's low lying hulking mass heaving at the top of the hill. At the time I commented that it lacked the grandeur or beauty of the Angkorian or Sukhothai Temples.  But I ate my words.  What it lacks in stature, it makes up in grace and beauty with some of the most breathtaking carvings of the life of Buddha.  Watching sunrise from the summit is a must!

A Hindu temple located just out of Yogyakarta, Prambanan was discovered in the 1880s but no real attempts were made to restore the temple until 1937.  

Like many temples there's a fairytale / legend attached to its construction.  In this case, a man was challenged to build 1000 temples before a beautiful woman would marry him.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the temples we visited in Thailand and Indonesia, or the only highlights.  Get out there and explore, experience and enjoy!

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