Angkor Travel Blog› entry 201 of 206 › view all entries
4am start (do I need to keep complaining?) today, pick up at 5am in time to get to the Angkor Wat complex, buy a 3 day ticket ($40) and get to the infamous Wat itself in time for sunrise. Angkor Wat is the biggest religious building in the world and the silhouette against the lightening sky looked more like sunset in purples and pinks.
No time to look around properly though as we moved on to the Bayon temple and Anghor Thom complex. I had low expectations of all this temple-exploring, and when the tuk-tuk driver said that most people spent 3 hours exploring my initial thoughts were that there was no way I would spend that much time here without getting bored.
From here we walked across to the Baphuon which is approached by means of a long, raised causeway bringing to mind processions of soldiers, heroes, monks, or royalty filing in front of crowds of thousands all cheering and waving banners. Feeling like something out of Gladiator we walked the causeway towards the looming 'temple-mountain' - so called because it was built to represent Mount Meru in the 11th century.
Both temples lie in the old city walls of Angkor Thom, so we then explored the other ruins and the city walls themselves; Phimeanakas, another temple mountain that I refused to climb on account of the prohibitively narrow steps (you can't convince me people worshiped up on top in days of yore, the architect either had a sense of humour or had no feet), though Richard toiled to the top balancing precariously on the stone ledges only to discover stairs on the other side (I joked that there would be).
One city gate we had entered the complex through by tuk-tuk, and the gates were surrounded by statues of soldiers holding back a long Naga (7-headed snake usually depicted over Buddha meditating) on either side of the approach like a stone tug-of-war. The opposite gate we would exit by on our way round the temple circuit. In the centre was a huge wall of bas-relief carvings, originally used for watching public ceremonies and parades with processional steps in the centre.
A quick stop at Thommamon & Chau Say temples, which are basically identical but for the fact that one is in a serious state of disrepair, and the other undergoing a vigorous programme of restoration.
After here we drove to Ta Prohm which is perhaps most famous for it's use in the films Tomb Raider and Two Brothers. This crumbling ruin has been grown over by trees that also are growing ON the walls, not just through the temple itself. I wanted to see this especially because I heard the 'tree temple' is on the 'last chance to see' list. The trees are growing so big that they are destroying the temple, and the choice is to save either trees or temple and the temple won. Personally, despite this being the temple I most wanted to see, I was under-whelmed by it, by contrast to the others that I had low expectations of and loved.
Amazingly we managed to squeeze another two temples (before the Big Kahuna) into our jam-packed first day; Banteay Kdei and Sras Sang. The first we swung round quickly to escape the large group of Japanese tourists who stamped and waved at us to get out of their photos (after which we made very sure we loitered enough to ruin as many as possible). The second one I liked the windows, and we spent much time trying to get cool photos of the endless door frames stretching into the distance but being repeatedly foiled by a women with a large blue umbrella.
By now we were near exhaustion, but we finally returned to Angkor Wat for a proper explore and to see the sunset. Angkor Wat looked just as beautiful under blue sky as under pink (the real spectacle is from a distance) though the lack of shade between the inner and outer areas made our movements rather sluggish and our comments and speculations nonsense as our brains melted in the heat.
We started by walking around the outer 'cloisters' which had walls of beautifully carved bas-reliefs depicting parts of the Rayamana which is a much-loved Hindu story about the hero Ramana and his wife Sita.
2 of the walls depicted scenes from this story, with Vishnu and Garuda, Hanuman and Ramana fighting the war for Sita.
We then walked to the inner mountain temple (again a representation of Mount Meru) which we walked around with increasing slowness. We could not climb the last central tower sadly, though heaven only knows how I would have got up it anyway. It may be due to the many accidents that have occurred here over the years, or may just be due to the time of day as accidents would no doubt increase as the day dwindled! By now we were talking almost no sense at all, and climbing stairs, or picking our feet up to climb over the uneven ground was proving more and more difficult. We went outside again to watch the beginnings of the sunset, when the low sun sets the temple stones a rich orange. But we didn't wait for the whole thing, and walked back out through the grounds, stopping only to take photos of monkeys that I unfortunately got too close to and hazarded a mildly terrifying attack. Lucky I had my plastic ping-pong fan to deter him. But he followed us across the grass, and it took a while for me to feel reassured that he was not following me and planning a second attack!
After motoring back we swung past my hotel first for me to grab swimming stuff and then went back to Richard's hotel at the FCC for a well-needed swim at dusk. The FCC is pretty snazzy; big white parasols and deck recliners around a smartly-designed saltwater pool. The lights from the surrounding rooms and the under-water spotlights casting a yellow glow and deep black shadows. Bats squeaking from the trees above, the musky smell of anti-insect candles, and the sound of music floating over the breeze from the distant restaurant. Not to mention how wonderful it felt to slide sticky, tired bodies into the cool, cool liquid...
After a cool swim and a hot bath I felt truly zen and we decided just to eat at the hotel. We had a Khymer sharer plate of Amok, Cambodian curry, spring rolls, fish cakes and steamed rice and then I caught a tuk tuk back to my hotel for a bit more sleep before another long day climbing round temples.