Cambodia: Angkor Wat

Trip Start Jan 18, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

I finally decided to do a rewrite on this place, looking back on it now I didn't do it justice and of course Ma has been onto me since I put the original entry up to tell me it was rubbish and do something about so here we go. This is the big one. We spent 3 days going around this place and still didn't even get close to seeing everything although we did see the main temples. Its bloody huge. And in our 3 days we got up for 2 sunrises and 2 sunsets. So as you can imagine we were pretty tired after all that, especially since we had a going away party for Linn and Ib in the middle of it all as well.

Angkor Wat is a temple in itself, but the name has been used to describe all the temples in the area. The area around Siem Reap (the town near Angkor Wat) is dotted by what seems like hundreds of different temples. They were built over a long period of time by successive kings whose goal was to outdo the previous king and build something bigger and better than anything else.

Our first day consisted of getting ourselves booked into a hotel going for a wander around Siem Reap and procuring ourselves a tuk-tuk driver to take us around the various site as some of the site are upto 30km away from Siem, but for the adventurous you can cycle to the nearby temples quiet easily. (we weren't that adventurous)

Next morning we got up good and early 5am and got ourselves to Angkor Wat in time for sunrise. The place was mobbed but what a view to see first thing in the morning. A huge moat, 190 m wide, was dug all the way around Angkor and the only way across, is over a massive stone walkway. As big as it looks from the outside I never imagined how big it would be once I got in there. The outer wall encloses 200acres, just to give you an idea .In its hay day it was a city in its own right about 1 million people I think none of which lived in the main temple, as it was sacred. There is nothing left of these dwellings and most of that space has been taken up by forest now.

Through the main gate and the temple is another 10minutes walk (slow pace) along another straight stone walkway. Angkor Wat is the biggest and best preserved temple in this area, hence its popularity. The only downside to Angkor Wat at dawn is that it faces West so as the sun rises from the East over the backend of Angkor Wat you are slighly blinded and don't get to fully appreciate it which is why we went back at sunset to see the front end of it fully light up.

We made our way to the main temple and was taken a back by the detail of the carvings. Everything has some sort of carving from floor to ceiling. The four walls on the perimeter of the main temple (187 by 215 m) have bas reliefs telling different stories from Hindu and Buddhist religions. These are very detailed carvings about 5 feet high that run the full length of each wall. Some of the scenes depicting epic battles between good and evil and eventually ending in goods triumph.  

Making our way into the inner we were met by a series of steep steps leading upto the center tower. To get up here your using hands and feet such was the gradient. But the view when we got there was worth it. From here you could see all around the surrounding countryside and was one of the most peaceful places I have been to on this journey so far. Getting up was hard enough coming down was ridiculous. I saw a few people who looked as though they were about to cry. they were so terrified at the thought of getting down. We spent a while just sitting there in silence and taking it all in. All in all we spent the best part of 4 hours just wandering around here, but we had to move on as there was loads more to see and besides the poor tuk tuk drivers were still sitting outside waiting for us. After that we made our way to Angkor Thom. This is another collection of temple including Bayon (the 200 odd faces) and Ta Phrom (the one with all the trees growing out of the temples). Bayon we went to the first day and then again at sunrise on the third day. Because it faces East, at sunrise it is spectacular to see as the faces begin to light up one after the other as the sun get higher in the sky. But for pure atmosphere, unreal beauty and character Ta Phrom was by and far my favourite place. It has been used as a setting to a number of films the most recent and famous being Tomb Raider 1. As you walk around the temples you are faced with huge root systems from various tree creeping along the walls, or growing down each side of a door way. To see these tree then tower into the sky is amazing. Most of the temples where reclaimed from the forest but this is an example of the forest being left alone. There is some management so that it doesn't get worse and looking at some of the walls still standing the trees roots seem to be holding it up. From certain views it just looks like a huge hand coming down from the sky and grabbing onto a wall or temple.

Our second day ended quiet early for 2 reasons. 1 it was around 40degrees and impossible to go more than 10 steps before having to take a break, but to be fair this was caused because 2 we were out the night before to say goodbye to the Swedes and hungover like hell the next day. Our third day though we again got up at sunrise and headed out to Bayon. After a bit of looking around there we headed out to Banteay Srei. It lies bout 30km away from Siem Reap so tis quiet a tuk-tuk drive away. Banteay Srei is not particulary big but is famous for its very detailed and deep carvings. The temple is made from red sandstone which gives it its brilliant colour, especially when the sun is shining (which was in plenty supply, another 40 degrees odd). The site has been restored over the last number of years and its not possible to get right up close to the inner section of the temple as it has been roped off. 

One of the best things and sometimes worst about Angkor Wat are the kids around the place. They are everywhere trying to sell you everything from postcards to bracelets. Sometimes it can get a bit much to be surrounded by kids all of whom are looking for (and probably need) money. However the other side of it is that most of these kids are absolute characters and even when they try to be sad they just can't do it and end up breaking down with laughter. Its easy to see why Angelina adopted one of the kids after she left here. These guys are as smart as hell as well.

Two of the best examples that I met were 1 guy about 5 or 6 trying to sell postcards to me one day when I was eating. Because you get so many tis easy just to say "No thanks" and after a few more times asking you the kids generally move on. But not this lad he stood there silent for a minute and again asked "You buy?", again I said no so he went silent for another few seconds before asking again "You buy?". Again I said no thanks and again he said me to buy. This went on for a minute or so before we started to race each other to see who could say their line the fastest so the conversation ended up "Buy?" "No" "Buy?" "No" "Buy?" "No" "Buy?" "No", until he started laughing. At that point I reckon he deserved it so I gave him a dollar or two for the postcards.

The second example was this kid here. Again she's maybe 5 or 6 and again was trying to sell us something. She put on the poor me for a few seconds before she started laughing away. She was selling another set of postcards and as most the kids do, while she showed em to us also counted them out from 1-10. Once she got to 10 she then started to count em out again French, then German then Italian and some other languages that I didn't recognise. Mini for the laugh started to count in Irish "haon, dó, trí.." it was at this point another kid interrupted him with "ceathair, cúig, sé, seacht, hocht, naoi, deich". Although we had heard Irish being used before by local kids it was still amazing to hear it from kids so young. Anyway they hung around talking for 20 minutes or so posing for pictures, taking our cameras and taking pictures of us etc.  It was great to see how happy and friendly these kids are. They have very little money but their not on the bread line either and seem to enjoy their lot.

So after 3 days and 400 or so photos you can imagine I ain't going to be putting all them up. I also didn't cover everything that we saw in those three days, there are loads more pictures of places that I didn't talk about. But as I said these temples and ruins are everywhere and there is so much to see tis impossible to talk about it all.

However Mrs Horan should be receiving a CD with all my pictures on em on it so if anyone is really that interested you should have a chat with her, she also has a BRILLIANT BOOK WITH LOTS OF PICTURES AND STORIES EXPLAINING ANGKOR WAT IN DETAIL which I'm sure she is currently reading and thoroughly enjoying.

Anyway I hope ye enjoy the pics!!!
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