Angkor Wat at sunrise
We had decided to skip Angkor Wat yesterday in favour of seeing it for the first time as the sun rose behind it this morning. That meant an alarm at 4.45am which to two people used to waking whenever our bodies tell us to was tantamount to torture. Our tuk tuk driver Jackie Chan, was waiting for us and was about as lively as we were. The headlight on his tuk tuk was so dust covered that it lit the road maybe 25cm in front of us and there are no streetlights to light the roads here even though some have been erected just for the sake of illusion. Still he managed to get us there in one piece by following the faint lights and load sounds of other fools doing the same journey. It was a little bit chilly given the time of day as we drove along but the temperature was still in the high twenties so once we arrived we were quite comfortable.
Adam holding Angkor Wat at sunrise
Our advice is don't forget your torch if you're going to see the sunrise, sounds obvious but many people were tripping and stumbling their way into the Wat. Surprising as it is but even at 5.15 there were hundreds of people at the Wat and we were following the line of torches when we said we'd kill for a cup of coffee and suddenly this little voice said from darkness 'coffee mister' followed by the head and body of an enterprising little kid. We past a row of trees and all the stall holders who have been bugging us the last few days were suddenly the most welcome sight we've ever seen. We figure double standards are fine when it comes to coffee at 5am. We only wish we said 'I'd kill for a vente hazelnut soy latte with pain au chocolat'. The coffee came with a free plastic chair to take to a pond directly in front of Angkor Wat which at this time was still in utter darkness.
Angkor Wat at sunrise
So following the example of others we plonked our chair down and hoped we were facing the right direction. We had been concerned about being eaten alive by the mosquitos but us humans had them outnumbered so I think they got scared off.
The slow appearance of the Wat out of the blackness of the night was magical, eerie, breathtaking and beautiful beyond adequate description. The pushing, shoving and frenzy of some of the usual buffoons trying to ruin everyone's photos by standing in front, having their cutsie photo with two fingers up was fully expected but as annoying as ever. We're seriously considering suggesting the authorities instigate some form of photographic apartheid where monuments are sectioned off for the 'two finger, look where I was brigade' and those who like to take proper photos.
Sunrise at Angkor Wat
If only we could find a suggestion box!!!
After the beautiful experience of the sunrise we wandered around the Wat which was at its quitest time as most people who'd come for the sunrise had already seen the Wat yesterday and had rushed off to tick the next box their tour company had arranged. We felt totally vindicated in our decision to skip it yesterday afternoon and would recommend the same to anyone coming here. It really did make it all the more special much like the slow unwrapping of a present the anticipation the sunrise gave us only added to the joy.
Next up we went to Preah Khan a huge sprawling complex with great ruins and lots of Laterite, a sort of clay and iron mix of earth that was dug out, moulded into blocks and then hardens like stone in the air.
A part of this complex was an unusal temple with cylyndrical columns which is unique to the Angkor complexes and afforded some good photos.
We moved on to Neak Pean a circular temple surrounded by a pool of water and four square pools at the points of the compass, unfortunately it being dry season there was no water but that meant we could walk down into the pools and up onto the temple so may have been better. A much more simple monument than the others but we found its simplicity enjoyable.
The next temple was Ta Som and was one of our favourites. It had towers with faces which always impress, excellent carvings in good condition as well as heap of fallen stone blocks to clamber over. Finally at the end there were massive trees growing through the and over the walls much like Ta Prohm and the usual photo problems apply.
There were also dozens of the kids reciting the numbers one to ten in dozens of languages but we had them beat by saying we'd only buy some postcards if they counted to ten in Russian. Took the poor kid twenty minutes to figure we had no idea what Russian sounded like but it kept him occupied and gave us and the grateful others waiting a hassle free wait. On the way out we found a pair of statues that looked just like us as you will see from the photos.
Feeling the early wake up we decided to cut the day short and visited just two more complexes, first was the East Mebon which was a brick built complex on several levels with beatiful large stone elephants at each corner. We climbed up to the top where the breeze in the heat of midday was so welcome we could have sat on the shaded side all day.
Statue at Ta Som with an uncanny likeness to Adam
The views of the surrounding countryside were awesome and this temple was at one time in the middle of a sixteen or so kilometre square baray (reservoir) which has now dried up. Our final temple was built in the same style and called Pre Rup, it went even higher and after a grueling climb up the same applied, fantastic breezes, views and from one corner it was possible to see the towers of Anbgkor Wat a whole eight kilometres away. our burning thighs just about carried us down and Jackie Chan sped us back to the city and our waiting shower and pool.
Back in town we had lunch at a place called the Soup Dragon although there isn't actually much in the way of soup on the menu!! Food was good though and satisfied we challenged our legs to get us round the old market for a spot of shopping and the fun that the bargaining brings.
There are so many stalls selling the same thing that you can really screw down the prices. The harsh realities of capitalism are evident everywhere here. From the naive westerners who pay asking price to the stall holders on the other end of it, when Adam explains the economics of pure competition as opposed to monopoly and oligopoly. Knew that economics degree would come in handy!!! We've had some real classics on the bargaining front actually. Yesterday we were trying to buy a guidebook and the local minimart sells is for $4.5 so we go to the market tell them we've seen it for $4 (obviously lying is one of the cornerstones of capitalism) and get quoted opening prices ranging from $15 to $8, when we point out the mini mart price they'd usually say 'ok $5'.
Our response is that if we've seen it for four why would we pay them five at which point they are utterly bewildered and often offer $4.5. Invariably this goes on until one stall holder cracks and reveals that they pay $3 for the book themselves at which point we point out that a small profit is better than no profit and walk away with a book at $3.5. Everyones a winner. The art is patience and enjoying the whole bartering thing. At the end of the day we've grown to love bargaining, it's the best part of going shopping here but if you don't like haggling just go to the supermarkets or the markets will totally eat you alive.
Went to a book exchange in the afternoon to shed some backpack weight before the happy hour beer and backgammon ritual continued on a balcony overlooking the steet.
Inside Angkor Wat
Had dinner at a Mexican restaurant which felt slightly wrong and wasn't the best mexican food ever but then we are in Cambodia so what can we expect!! Headed for the night market to buy the biggest sunglasses we could find (just for you Mum and Dad - Wait till you see them you can hardly see Stephs face) before crashing back at the hotel enjoying seeing Man Utd get beat!!