Angkor

Trip Start Sep 26, 2010
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Trip End Jun 10, 2011


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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

We didn't spend much time in Cambodia, but the three days that we did have there were well spent exploring the ancient city of Angkor, which was built during the 12th century.  The most famous temple in Angkor is Angkor Wat, but the area contains dozens of structures that are equally amazing.  

Our first day was filled by a visit to Beng Mealea, a temple complex roughly 70 kilometers from Siem Reap. Beng Mealea ended up being one of our favorite spots.  It is a large temple complex that has not been restored (think large trees growing over the ruins and lots of collapsed archways).  As recently as 2003, this area was still littered with land mines, so the place is relatively untouched by tourism. The best part is that they allow you - in fact, they encourage you - to climb over, around, and through the ruins.  Few people make the long trip out there, so we got to feel like tomb raiders, climbing through the ruins and discovering the place by ourselves.  Of course, people in developing countries miss few opportunities to make money, and before long we had a little boy named Vishna, acting as our unofficial tour guide.  He gave us a good scare by climbing 30'+ into a huge tree in order to retrieve some local fruit for us, but otherwise he was sort of entertaining to have around.

Following our trip to Beng Mealea, we did "The Grand Tour," which highlighted the best temples outside of the main Angkor route.  These included Preah Kahn and Neak Pean and ended with sunset at Phnom Bakheng. Given the incredible heat and humidity, we were pretty worn out at the end of the day.  We were traveling by tuk-tuk, a two-person wooden contraption strapped to a motorbike, so we were exposed to the elements all day long.  We treated ourselves to a good dinner and a break from Asian food.  We had dinner at a wonderful Mexican place (everything was freshly made because they can't buy things like tortillas at the store) and enjoyed local ice cream afterwards.  

The next day we did "The Mini Tour" which is basically the greatest hits of Angkor.  We elected to start the day at sunrise, since that is the best time to see Angkor Wat.  The front of the complex was under construction, although you couldn't see this in the early morning light.  After the sunrise, we walked the perimeter examining the intricately detailed stone carvings.  These bas-reliefs depict mythic battles, mostly between gods and demons.  Afterwards, we climbed through the expansive temple to the top, although the top-most tier was closed for renovation.

Angkor Wat was followed by Victory Gate and The Bayon.  The Bayon consists of approximately 200 massive stone heads, each with a different face.  It was here that we first ran into a large group of Buddhist monks dressed in beautiful orange robes.  These monks were infinitely patient, posing with people for photographs as they walked though the temple.  Later, we talked to the teacher of these young monks, and he told us how he had become a monk and how he had fallen in love with Buddhism after he joined the monastery.  He was a very calm and inspirational figure and it was a pleasure to talk with him.

Among the other temples that we visited that day was Ta Prohm, the unrestored temple that is part of the main tourist circuit.  This temple was beautiful, but after having climbed around the much larger and virtually deserted Beng Mealea the day before, it was much less impressive. However, we did find an interesting statue caught among some tree roots by discreetly attaching ourselves to a nearby tour group.  

Our time in Cambodia was cut short by the necessity of returning to Bangkok to catch a flight to Indonesia.  Early the next morning we left on a bus for the border and said goodbye to this interesting country.  
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