At about 5am, we left for Angkor
Wat. Whenever I see major sights, what usually comes to mind is, "that's it?" So I try to keep my expectations low. But I could not contain my excitement for the temples of Angkor. Our guide for the day met us at our hotel and he asked us to call him Chai. He was a tour guide by day and University student by night and obviously very proud of his country. When arrived at the ticket office it was still dark. They took our pictures and we purchased our day passes (your picture is on the pass). There was an option to view the sunrise from a hot air balloon which the majority of the group chose to do.
It sounded appealing, but I wasn't convinced so I ended up going with the smaller group. I had always loved the pictures I saw of Angkor Wat and its reflection at ground level.
As we crossed a bridge over a moat to enter Angkor Wat, the sky was getting lighter. Dawn is already an amazing time of the day, but when you are experiencing it at Angkor Wat, it is even more magical. I have never before in the moment been as awed by a famous sight as I was by Angkor Wat. One of the things that surprised me was what I heard. Even though there were quite a few people waiting for the sun to rise, everyone was fairly quiet and tranquil. But it was still very loud because of a chorus of noisy cicadas. The sounds, sights and sense of history intertwine to make for a wonderful experience.
I split off from the group with one of the Canadians and we made our way down to the pool where you can see the reflection of the temple.
"Ekua was here"
Many of the people had clear mugs of coffee and I was jealous of them. I brought a granola bar with me, but I was dying for some coffee. As we approached the pool, a man came up to us and asked us if we wanted coffee. Yes! This was one of the few times a vendor in Southeast Asia sold me exactly what I needed at exactly the right time. We went with him to get our coffee and I asked for milk. When I tilted the can, out came something gooey and yellowy white. The Canadian had been to Laos with a different group before our trip started and explained that people in Southeast Asia usually add sweetened condensed milk to their coffee. I don't put sugar in my coffee so I diluted it with unsweetened milk and it turned out to be very good. We went back down to the pool where more people had gathered. I was drinking coffee and watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat- all was well with the world.
My favorite shot
As the sun peaked out from behind the temple, the cloud-free sky turned a beautiful shade of pink. After snapping tons of pictures, we explored the grounds and headed into the temple for a little bit.
We met up with the rest of the group and headed to a place across the street for a proper breakfast. I wasn't too hungry so I just ordered a fruit plate and another coffee. We discussed our different sunrise experiences and I was happy that I went with my gut decision to stay on the ground. The hot air balloon is stationed in one spot and it's pretty far from the temple. The distance combined with the haziness doesn't make for the best view of Angkor Wat. There is also a limited amount of time to be up there because there are so many people waiting for a turn.
Even though I only ordered fruit, of course I was once again the last to recieve my food.
Closeup of the sun
When I got it, it was a beautifully arranged plate of fruit, some recognizable and some mysterious. There was the white fruit with seeds and bright pink skin I had seen on the plane. I asked the guides Chai and Cat about it and they told me it was called dragonfruit. There was also something brown, I think it's called Alano and it's a variation of the Sapodilla fruit? I thought it was 50% delicious and 50% foul tasting. It has a very nice sweet taste that's ruined by undertones of taste that's similar to the smell of durian. The new fruit I liked most is called longan and it was kind of like a cross between a lychee and a grape. It looked like an eyeball and had a big seed in the middle.
After breakfast we headed back into Angkor Wat. We entered on a different side which I guess is the proper entrance of Angkor Wat.
Women followed us the whole way there trying to sell us scarves. Chai shared a lot of facts about the history of Angkor Wat, most of which I promptly forgot. Not that I wasn't interested, but I just was really enjoying the visual details of the bas-reliefs and architecture more than listening to all the details. We roamed around the temple and headed out through the side where we watched the sunrise. When we got back to the bus we were swarmed with vendors. "Excuse meee. Miiiiiss? Ten postcaahd. One dollaah. You buuuy?" They all spoke in a drawl that seemed of unique to the Angkor Wat/ Siem Reap
area, extending the vowels with a soft and whiney tone. I bought some ice cream and some postcards from a little kid.
These were seriously some of the most memorable vendors I've come across. They surrounded our bus as everyone got back on, holding up things to the window, staring at us and repeating their sales lines.Smiling Faces
Our next stop was Angkor Thom. The gaurds lining the bridge to the entrance stared at us with menacing faces, I loved it. When we got inside, my roommate noticed her cell phone was missing from her purse. It probably happened when we were all buying ice cream and she took her wallet out to pay. At that time we were surrounded by a ton of kids. It put a slight damper on the day but we still enjoyed the awesomeness of the site. To get to the top of the Bayon temple with all of the smiling faces, you can climb the steep steps that are part of temple or use a ladder that they've placed next to the steps.
I opted for the steps. Most were using the ladder and someone said I was adventurous for using the steps, but I've never liked wobbly wooden ladders. At the top it was amazing. You can see the details of the faces up close and their serene smiles are contagious.Lunch in Siem Reap and More Theft
After leaving Angkor Tom, we went back to Siem Reap for lunch. We decided it made sense to spend the hottest part of the day indoors. In Siem Reap we split up but a bunch of us decided to go to The Blue Pumpkin
. The moderness of the restaurant cafe felt odd in comparison to the experience of exploring ancient temples. But it was relaxing and air conditioned and not a bad place to be in the middle of the day in Siem Reap.
Four of us stayed in town to check out a cute shop next to the restaurant and everyone else headed back to the hotel.
When we got back, my roommate was in the middle of a heated discussion with the hotel staff about her stuff being looked through. We all went to check our stuff and found that it had obviously been looked through. Thankfully, I had nothing stolen. But others were not so lucky- people were missing cash, jewelery, and travelers checks. There was a lot of chaos, but the head staff at the hotel was really cooperative and understanding. I could tell our local guide Chai was very embarassed. With all of his pride and hope for the future of Cambodia, I think he was afraid it would give us a negative impression of his country. Maybe I would've felt differently if I had something stolen and I can't speak for anyone else in the group, but I still liked Siem Reap and the people there despite all of the mess.
My roommate left to go to the tourist police to report her stolen phone. Our guide Cat stayed behind to sort out the theft matters at the hotel and then we went to pick up my roommate before heading to Ta Prohm
. She told us about a girl she met at the police station who was from Vietnam. Her bag was sliced open and she had her passport and memory card with hundreds of pictures on it stolen. Be careful with your stuff in Siem Reap!Treehugging
The last temple we visited was Ta Prohm where trees have encroached upon the ruins of the temple. A lot of people talk about how it was a location for the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Angelina Jolie was there, etc.
Whatever. I've never seen that movie. Ta Prohm is amazing regardless of what was filmed there and it's fantastic in the light of dusk. I love the way the trees have taken over what was manmade, the roots spilling over the tops of the buildings, scattering bricks and reclaiming the site for Mother Nature. What can be more spiritual than unadulterated nature? It seems that they are trying to preserve it (and many trees were cleared before they opened it up to the public?)... not to completely restore it, but at least to keep it in its present state. We had a lot of fun at Ta Prohm. Because everyone kept talking about Lara Croft, my roommate tried (unsuccesfully) to jump around like an action hero. Delirium from two long days had set in by the time we go to Ta Prohm and I'm sure other people at the temple thought we were a bunch of nutcases!Discussing Cambodia's Past, Present and Future
The drive back was great with the hazy sky making a lovely sunset.
Our local guide Chai talked about Cambodia's past and present and the lasting effects of Pol Pot's regime. We discussed how members of the Khmer Rouge are still everywhere today, in the government and living side by side with the people whose lives they destroyed. He felt lucky that he had parents who were literate, I guess that had helped him get ahead in life. We were talking about typical jobs Cambodians do when clothing factories and sweatshop labor came to my mind. I asked him what he thought about the subject. He said that working in a factory is not a specatacular job, but it is a decent job given the fact that there are not many options. He didn't like the idea of Westerners boycotting clothing made in Cambodia because he feels the factory jobs are giving people an opportunity to build a better life for themselves.
Of course that is just one person's opinion. The US signed an agreement with Cambodia in 1999 to to improve labor standards there. I guess the garment industry conditions have greatly improved, but there is still work to be done. It is clear that a lot is changing in Cambodia, it will be interesting to what it will be like in five or ten years.