Angkor - not the ship kind. Temple Tour Day 1
Trip Start Jan 08, 2005
135Trip End Ongoing
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After brekky we met up with Josh and went down to our allotted rickshaw driver who immediately threw all his toys out of his pram about having to drive three people round and not two, so we told him where to put his map of Angkor and went off in search of another driver, whom we found very quickly but on the way out to the ticket booth he stopped and asked for petrol money so we told him to drive us back to our starting point and we'd get someone else. There are millions of rickshaw drivers round town so it wasn't too hard to find another, with petrol, to get us around. With David as our tour guide we finally set off to the ticket booth. We had three days to fill with temples.
Firstly, a snippet of information for those that don't know what Angkor is, or was. When most people think of Angkor they think of the huge temple of Angkor Wat, and that's it. However, further investigation will reveal that Angkor not only spans a vast area of over 200 square kilometres but extends over a period of 600 years from around 804 to 1842. It includes various temple sites all in different stages of decay or restoration. Each site is a mere memory of it's god-king, of whom there were many. With each king trying to out-do the other in scale and grandure. The right to reside in stone or brick structures was reserved for gods. The houses, shops, other public buildings and even the palaces were built of wood so of course nothing remains of them today. A French guy called Henry Mouhot has been the most famously linked person to the 'discovery' in the 1870's. Some of the temples were still in use as monasterys at that stage. In fact, the Portuguese had stumbled across it in the 16th century and the Japanese in the 17th century. It's just that the French made a big hoo- haa about it. And there you go. Mass tourism.
On our way round to Angkor Thom we passed the big one - Angkor Wat. It's an amazing site! Even though I've seen it loads of times on t.v., the obligatory 'wow' reserved for impressive things slipped out. I made the driver stop so that I could get out and make some more noises. It's being saved until tomorrow's sunrise though so back in the vehicle and on to the Southern Gate of Angkor Thom. This is the first gate people see generally, so of course it's packed to the max with happy snappers snapping away and getting in everyone elses' photos. It's an awesome site. A huge arched gateway with 4 faces at the top each looking in different directions. Each side of the road going through the gate is lined with a huge naga (snake). Gods hold the naga on one side of the road and the other side is held by demons. At the beginning of the causeway the nagas spread their nine heads in very stoney snake-like evilness.
Angkor Thom, which means 'Great City', was the last grand city and was built by Angkor's greatest king, Jayavarman VII who reigned between 1181 and 1220. There are various ruins to see within the city walls and our first stop was Bayon. They still don't know the true function of this building but what the books do say is that it is at the geographical centre of Angkor Thom and is built on the site of another building. There are 54 towers with over 200 faces carved into the tops of them. Unfortunately, again as this is one of the first buildings people arrive at, it was teeming with tourists. Such a disappointment, but David did make me feel better by saying that it was the same when he was there. We all broke up and wandered round ourselves getting lost amongst the narrow walkways of different galleries and levels. As it was our first of the Angkor ruins we spent ages here. The jungle setting is wonderful against the perfect blue sky and magnificent huge grey stones. We saw all the buildings within Angkor Thom. It's really hard to imagine what they would have looked like new. I wanted to specially go to the Terrace of the Leper King. I wanted to see if there were any lepery-type things there. But there's nothing much left anymore. Just like the Terrace of the Elephants. They are terraces with stairways that lead to nowhere but I climbed them anyway, as you do. There is only mystery surrounding the naming of the Terrace of the Leper King. Some suggest that Jayavarman VII himself was a leper and that's why he built so many hospitals throughout the empire but there is nothing concrete to support this. There are stories that other gods were lepers and that's why but no-one really knows. There are no lepers there today. Baphuon is under restoration and not accessible so we went over and climbed Phimeanakas instead. Then we wandered over to what remains of the Royal Palace, which isn't much! There are rows of stall-like restaurants all over the place and all vying for your custom. David and Josh wanted some lunch so we went over to where our rickshaw driver was resting and ate there. As soon as we sat down we were besieged by a bunch of children selling tat and all trying to out-do the other with interesting ways in which to make you buy their piece of junk. The most popular being if they can guess correctly the capital city of any country in the world you choose, you have to buy their rubbish. We stumped them completely with Macedonia, Albania and Nepal. They did have an impressive knowledge of most other capitals, even getting Iceland correct!! There was one absolute cutie little girl next to me who heard me say the capital of Nepal and when we had all the other older kids were tongue tied, she cried out - Kathmandu!! They're very quick to learn!
We then went onto another group of ruins. Preah Khan, Neak Pean and Ta Som. Preah Khan has trees holding it together and is lovely, then Neak Pean totally different. It's a stupa in the middle of what used to be a large man-made pond with four smaller pools surrounding it. It's unfortunately dried up now but the jungle looks like it wants to creep in and take over the whole place! Apparently pilgrims could come along here to anoint themselves in the main pond then absolve themselves of sins in one of the four small vaulted chambers on the edges of the smaller pools. Beats sitting in a very small dark box whispering to some strange old guy in black dress!! Not that I've ever confessed, that is, or sinned in fact, or, come to think of it, been baptised. That could explain the lack of going to confession. Actually, my family isn't even catholic.
Moving right along. Have I mentioned how bloody hot it was? We had to keep purchasing water at elevated prices from the conveniently placed stalls at every site. In a way it's a shame that there are so many tacky places littering the sites, but then again, if it wasn't for them we'd have shriveled up and died of dehydration. The next places were Preah Rup and East Mebon then on to Ta Prohm, made famous by the filming of Tomb Raider. It's actually a great place. It's a pity that so many kids there think all you want to see is the particular part of the temple that was in the film. We managed to get away from them and down a small track to find one of the entrances overgrown with trees and other jungle life. We were the only ones there. This is one of the only temples that has been left much like it was discovered, with the jungle kept only slightly at bay so that tourists can access it. There are massive trees with extensive root systems twisting and winding themselves round the stonework keeping it all together. It would have been fantastic to have been there alone to walk among all lichen encrusted walls with their bass reliefs telling the stories of former glorious times. But this nigh on impossible these days. Is there ever an 'off peak' day? It's actually a huge place too and we took a long time looking around. We had a quick wander round Ta Keo then it was over to climb up to Phnom Bakeng with every other man and his dog to watch the sunset. The climb is not an easy one!! I was boiling by the time I reached the top! The views are quite nice from the top but there are a million others there and the sunset was a huge disappointment so we left before the hoards and headed back to base camp.
It had been a massive first day filled to the brim with about 15 sites. Tomorrow Tour-guide David has suggested a sunrise visit to Angkor Wat first off. Eeeeekkkkkkk!!! That means a pre crack-of-dawn start!!