November 23rd, 2009 – by: fromtheblock
The bus honked at just about every motorbike it passed along National Highway 6. Siem Reap is a bumpy 6 hour ride north of Phnom Penh. The name actually means "siamese defeated," not exactly the proudest name for a town in a country which could barely declair their own independence. It's a far more relaxing glimpse of Cambodia than PP was. The tuk-tuk ride from the bus station (a dirt parking lot) to the guesthouse requires a surgical mask...you know, the SARS masks that all those Asians wear whenever there's an epidemic going around. But in Cambodia you wear them to keep the dust out of you mouth! Siem Reap has really capitalized on its proximity to Angkor
Wat and cater to tourists a la Thailand. The tourist market crawls with westerners buying scarves and pirated DVDs.
"Pub Street"serves basically western grub for $5 for those who travelled thousands of miles for a burger and fries. Cambodia makes me miss food from home (or maybe it's the Thanksgiving dinner I missed). Khmer food isn't very interesting, not compared to Thailand. There's not a lot of different flavors and spices used and street food is beyond greasy. It's hard to beat Thailand's always good $1 padthai noodles.
Because of the crazy expensive prices of tickets to Angkor I only got the one day pass for $20. It's a little like walking through Times Square. There's people everywhere, taking pictures of everything. The moment you step out of the tuk-tuk people are trying to sell you drinks, scarves, and books.
The Temples of Angkor are the remnants of Cambodia's ancient Khmer empire. There are hundreds of temples that comprise the 8th wonder of the world and enough history to keep even the most avid scholar amused for days.
playing outside Angkor
The most popular is Angkor Wat
, the worlds largest religious building. It was built to honor Vishnu in the 12th century. The central temple is three levels, and just after sunrise, eerily quiet and cool. Inside is a lowered courtyard, a perfect depiction of Mortal Combat scenes. The stone walls have carved depictions of what I'm assuming are gods. Everything is just immense on a grand scale. Outside the main temple are grass courtyards surrounded by fortressed walls. It doesn't take much of a stretch of the imagination ot picture a horse drawn chariot or gladiators roaming the now empty halls.
Further up the road is the fortified city of Angkor Thom
. There are five entrances to the city via gated, each topped by the four faces of Avalokiteshvara; the Buddha of compassion.
sunrise over Angkor Wat
The walls around the city stretch for 12km and are 8m thick. Angkor Thom was built in the late 12th century, early 13th. One of the main temples inside, Bayon
, contains pillars of 216 faces of Avalokiteshvara. From afar it just looks like pilesof rock, but as you get closer the smiling faces appear on the angled pilar tops.
Used as a set to shoot the Tomb Raider movies, Ta Prohm
, is left much the same as it was found over a century ago by the French. Trees eat away at the stone walls. The temple is a mazw of small corridors and roots crawling on the ground. A poetic cycle of humans first conquering nature to create and nature once again conquering humans to destroy has been attributed to the jungle mess squeezing in on the temple.
sunset at one of the smaller temples around Angkor
The Temples of Angkor are the most impressive I've seen, especially considering the time of their construction. It is hard to imagine, if you look at Cambodia today, that this country once could produce such imense structures. The history and contradicitons of this country blow your mind. Reading The Tragedy of Cambodian History
, it's hard to picture that the Khmers were ever a strong enough group to work together. During Pol Pot's Regime the educated were killed and today's country is suffering because of that. It seems impossible that Cambodia will ever be a world presence. They have a big game of catchup to play.