Angkor What???

Trip Start Sep 11, 2010
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Trip End Aug 19, 2011


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Friday, June 17, 2011

I had only 3 days left in Cambodia and I didn't particularly want to spend their entirety tramping around temples. I opted for a single day ticket at a hefty $20; imagine that’s 20 nights accommodation.  The ticket allowed you to enter at 5 the previous evening to catch a sunset and I wanted to take a tuk tuk to make the most of the short time.  I got chatting to the tuk tuk drivers hanging around the guesthouse and asked a guy I liked, who had good English, if he would take me there.  Little did I know about the tuk tuk cartel… basically all my business 'belonged’ to the guy who had picked me up from the bus.  So the guy I asked called the pick-up guy and I ended up having to go with him.  I was pretty sure that I didn’t want to start my visit with Angkor Wat itself, but rather check out some minor temples before hitting the big one.  I started small, having a quick look around one which barley made a mention in the guidebook.  Then I went on to another bigger temple which was earmarked as the perfect place to watch a sunset.  Unfortunately it was an overcast evening so there was nothing much of a sunset to behold.  While there, a guy comes up to me and whips out a police badge.  Of course my initial reaction is one of ‘oh shit, what have I done’.  He said he was a cop but he was more interested in selling me his badge than anything else.  I declined and he proceeded to whip out a military badge and try to sell me that too.  As night fell I headed back to the guest house for some food.  There I met up with a group of lads, all solo backpackers.  We had a few beers and played a bit of pool before I hit the sack to rest for my insane early morning the following day.

My alarm had been set for 4:30 but I overslept until just after 5.  I rented a bike from the guesthouse and pedaled off the 8km towards Angkor Wat itself to catch the sunrise.  Again the day was dull so the sunrise was nothing much to write home about.  Still it was a bonus to arrive at Angkor Wat at 6am in the morning when there were very few other tourists around.  I figured that Angkor Wat itself had been built up far too much so I wasn’t too shocked when it turned out to be a slight disappointment.  After seeing the Taj Mahal it is pretty difficult for any of this kind of thing to live up.  That said, it was still quite an impressive sight to behold and I was happy to finally be acquainted with the country’s icon.  I spent a good two hours exploring the largest religious building in the world and took another hour to sit and add its sketch to my notepad.  The Indian influence was strongly apparent inside the temple with stone motifs of Vishnu, Shiva and other Hindu deities I recognized from my time in the sub continent. 

After the Wat I pedaled on another 5km towards Angkor Thom, the ruins of the ancient city.  On the way I took a little detour looking for an obscure temple.  I didn’t find the temple but I did get to wander around some of the villages in the area.  I drove onward to this 800 year old city which supported a population of almost 1 million back when London was a small town of 30,000.  The city was surrounded by a huge moat and wall and I entered through one of four cardinal point gates.  Coming from Angkor Wat the entrance was the main route for tourists so the gate and surrounding sculptures were fully restored.  The first temple I saw in Angkor Thom was Bayon.  This is the one which is famous for having 64 towers each with four faces huge of the then king carved into them, the idea being that the king was omnipresent in the 64 provinces of the Angkorian empire, and could see in every direction.  It was quite an impressive temple, although not in as good a condition as Angkor Wat itself.  I spent a couple of hours exploring other parts of the city including small temple, central square and the huge terraces build to house royalty and spectators for military displays and other events.  I stood on the king’s podium and tried to imagine a victorious Khmer army marching below me.  All of a sudden the sky darkened, the heavens opened and rain as heavy as I have ever see came pouring down.  Lucky for me I was starving at that point and there were a few small, roofed restaurants nearby.  The rain lightened a bit after lunch but showed no sign of stopping.  I had a poncho with me so I stuck it on a pedaled off into the rain.  I checked out a number of temples on the way, some of which were fairly interesting.  I purposefully turned off the beaten track and found one unfrequented temple.  I sheltered there from the rain for a bit and had a cool feeling that this was my temple. 

The highlight of the temple marathon was without a doubt Ta Prom.  This impressive complex was actually used in the shooting of one of the Tomb Raider movies.  The temple is being swallowed by the jungle with trees growing from its towers whose roots invade the walls causing them to crumble.  The dense jungle around caused a green tinge to the stone work.  This combined with the heavy rain and resulting floodwaters created a most wonderful atmosphere.  Due to the rain I almost had the whole place to myself which was awesome.  After wasting copious time in my adolescent years playing the Tomb Raider game exploring this temple was like living out a childhood fantasy.  I decided to make a game of exploring the temple by setting myself the aim of exploring it fully without ever following the ‘direction of visit’ signs.  This had me wading through water (just like Laura Croft) and climbing over piles of rubble.  I waded around outside a little bit too and must have spent a good two hours there.  A bus full of Chinese tourists unloaded into the temple ruining the atmosphere and giving my cue to get out of there.  It was around 5 at that stage and I was a good 20km from Siem Reap.  I pedaled hard to try and get to one elevated pyramid temple which was supposed to be the place to be for sunset.  It was almost 6 by the time I arrived there and since the sun had disappeared behind a thick cloud the security were hunting people claiming there would be no sunset.  I had not given up on a sunset, but I’d no choice but to turn around and go with the flow.  As I pedaled my way back to the city it turned out there was a very beautiful sunset which I could hardly see through the trees.  I was kicking myself for not insisting my way into the sunset temple.  It was about 7 by the time I got back to the guesthouse after 14hours and about 50km of cycling.  Was it worth it…. Without a doubt!
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Comments

Mam on

Im trying to get my head around the fact that my son would call a temple "his temple" this coming from a fellow who stopped going to church at 12 and only returned when his mother said that he didn't HAVE to make his confirmation.

cdnski12
cdnski12 on

Angkor Wat was built in 1115-35. It is literally floating in a swamp. Amazing that it is still together. I noted there was no mention that the French Colonial Govt expented many Milllions of Francs completely salvaging and re-building this site, when I was there in 2010. The Taj Mahul was built 1632-53. Professional Turk, Italian and Persian Architects had a lot more engineering know how by the mid 1600's. Here also, the British Colonial Govt expended Millions of Pounds to restore the Taj completely in 1908. I don't recall being told that when I was there in 1972 & 73. The local natives would have left these sites deteriorate, as per the Ciditels in Vietnam. Now the Viets realize how enormously important these sites are for local posterity and the Mega Tourist Monies.

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