Apsara and the Temple Club Revisited

When I returned to Siem Reap last month, I had my High Def Digicam with me. So I went back to the Temple Club and recorded their Apsara Dance show with it. Much clearer. The only problem I had this time was two drunk Russians behind me who were talking loudly and oft times over the music. The recording didn’t turn out as badly as I thought it would. You can’t hear them nearly as much as I had to during the show. I even got frustrated once or twice and started mocking them and turned around and glared at them. But they never got the hint. I don’t think Becca or the Temple Club were in the mood for a knife fight between two drunk Russkies and me, so I refrained from telling them to shut the hell up. I don’t think they spoke English anyway. They did seem to enjoy the show, though. And I got a good laugh out of it later as you will see in the video below.

I always love the Apsara. The girl in the middle here. The lead dancer. She’s been doing this for quite a while. And she’s picture perfect at it. I could see her dancing for Jayavarman VII at Bayon or Indravarman II at Bakong. I’d love to get one of these girls to pose at the actual temples one day and snap some photos. The girls who pose for pictures at the actual Temples these days look a bit cartoon-ish. I don’t know if that’s by design or if their managers just don’t know any better. The other girls in the video are new. If you watch closely, you can see them smile or snicker a bit when they screw up. It was cute and made the show a little more “fun” than usual. Near the end, Becca and I sat there and laughed with them which I think made them laugh a little more. I think this dance is called Robam Phuong Neari– a dance concerning the beauty of flowers and maidens. The short dances which are actually excerpts from longer story lines are called “robam.” The longer story lines from which these robam are drawn are called Lkhaon.

T he video below is right after the show. I’m a little peevish about the loud Russians during the show. But decide to laugh it off. It’s got a bit of profanity in it (that terrible “F” word of which I’m so find. lol). So be careful if you are offended by that. It also shows the Temple Club under the restaurant. Pool tables. Bar Girls. Tourists. Loud music. Flashing lights. You’ll notice that the club is open air. No doors. Just a great foyer through which you step to get out of the rain should the weather turn on you. Most of the bars and restaurants on Pub Street in Siem Reap follow this design.

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The pictures above were taken at Bayon. Except for the last which is the statue at the entrance to the hotel in which I stayed while at Siem Reap this visit. The Hotel De La Plaix. It is an excellent place to stay while in Siem Reap. The rooms are like mini-spas. The bathtubs are huge and are filled with a water fall. Seperate showers with showerheads that rain water down on you. The water gradually heats. Huge, comfortable beds that they turn down for you each night. The whole place smelled of jasmine as they burn jasmine oil in the hallways day and night. Plus they provide an Ipod and speaker system for each room so you can listen to music as if you were back home. The staff were all friendly and helpful. Courteous and professional. And the girls at the front desk were all cute. lol Beautiful place to stay.

The Temple Club and Apsara

The first time I visited Cambodia, I went with a small tour group. I flew alone from Bangkok to Phnom Penh and met up with my guide at the Airport. In Phnom Penh (P-nom Pen), it was me and the guide. He drove me around Phnom Penh. We stopped took photos of the various sites there. The National Museum. The Silver Pagoda and National Palace. Wat Phnom. After my tour of Phnom Penh, I was driven for 4 hours to Sihanoukville where I overnighted. I spent that night with an Irish guy and 5 Cambodian gals drinking beer with ice in a Karaoke Bar that doubles as a Brothel. The next day–early, my guide picks me up at the Inn and takes me back to Phnom Penh for the flight to Siem Reap and my first visit to Angkor Wat and it’s 1,000 Apsara.

I arrive in Siem Reap and am taken to the Angkor Sokha Hotel. It’s an incredible hotel with 4 bars and a swimming pool with a 20 foot waterfall. I get about 4 hours to hang out and do as I please so I get the hotel Tuk Tuk to take me to the local market. I like to buy a Buddha statue from each country that I visit in Asia. (I must have over 50 Buddhas by now.) Later that night, I’m picked up by the tour guide. We are joined by two German gals. We are taken to a Dinner Theatre and I see my first Apsara dance show. I like to think that I’m an artsy type. I can enjoy a bit of culture with the best of them. The Apsara. I loved it. Absolutely. Beautiful Costumes and gorgeous, spritely Cambodian women dancing and moving about gracefully on stage.

Since then, I’ve seen several iterations and interpretations of the dances. The video shows the Temple Club Apsara show. It last about 90 minutes. I find it fascinating. I can watch it all night. There are many dances showing various aspects of Khmer mythology and life. My favorite, though, is the mermaid dance. It is also called Khmer Classical Dance. Khmer Dance of the Ancient Style is the official Cambodian title.

The Apsara, in mythology, are minor deities who entertained the Gods. They were also caretakers of mythological heroes. Their province was gaming and gambling. So if you wanted to win and win big, you’d better have these gals on your side. They were sky dancers, river dancers. Like the Greek sirens, they lured men to their deaths. They cared for Khmer heroes at the behest of the Gods. They were lovers. They brought with them favor and intrigue. You can read of them in the Hindu texts of the Rigveda and the Mahabharata. An interesting note on costume. The original Apsara of the court danced topless. Unfortunately, they do not use this practice in Siem Reap today.

I’ll be going back to Cambodia in either February or June/July. I have a Sony HD digicam now. So when I go back I’m going to record the Apsara in High Definition. I’ll post it here. You can see here well enough. There are better shows. Better productions of the Apsara. We saw the Cambodian National Opera dancers in an open air theatre on one visit to Siem Reap. There was a Korea/Cambodian friendship Expo in town. My batteries died on me that day so I couldn’t get them on video.

Needless to say, I think this is one of the most beautiful dances that I’ve seen anywhere. I find it utterly fascinating. On my second trip to Phnom Penh, I met a former Apsara dancer. Srey Neang. She had broken her arm and could no longer make the hand and arm movements. She loved seeing the shows and it was nice to have someone to interpret the dance for us.

Apsara dance as seen in Cambodia today is said to have originated during the Khmer civilizations in the 800s to the latter part of the 13oos. At that time, the Khmer were conquered by the peoples of what is today Thailand. Thailand was known as the Kingdom of Siam. Khmer and Southeast Asian cultural experts

Khmer people, in general, love this dance and the stories and mythology behind it. Pol Pot, monstrosity that he was, attempted to end the tradition by murdering all Apsara dancers and teachers. I can’t imagine why someone would want to erase from human memory such a beautiful tradition. The monstrous ideals of communism. Thankfully, it survived. Khmer girls start studying the dance as early as age 4. There are dance troups that girls can join at very young age. Of the shows that I have seen, I would say that the girls on stage range in age from 14 to 26.

Enjoy the video. I have always enjoyed seeing the shows live. I hope this gives you at least a glimmer of the joy that visiting Siem Reap and seeing the Apsara has given me. If you ever get the chance…