Enter Angkor Wat
Trip Start Oct 20, 2008
93Trip End Jan 31, 2009
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I agreed to pay a tuc tuc driver $15 for the whole day. With my new buddy, started touring the nearby temples. The jungle setting was stunning. No matter what you put in here the effect that it would have on the spectator couldn't be anything less than awesome. In addition, the archaeological site had been very well conserved and organized. Although there were some newly added sections on the temples, they looked as authentic as the original parts. Much of the work had been done by Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient (EFEO) since early 20th Century. The staff was very well-trained as well.
Our first stop was Angkor Thom, a fortified Khmer city from the 12th Century. As in the rest of the archaeological park, the buildings here consisted of palaces and temples. Since Khmers believed that only gods were worthy of stone buildings, they built the residential areas from wood. Therefore, none of those parts survived. The royal and religious structures however, were almost completely intact. I had never seen such stunning ancient architecture. OK, Machu Pichu is stunning as well, but not as much as these. Plus, these buildings precede the last capital of the Incan Empire by a few centuries.
Bayon was an Aztec-pyramid-like structure, which had a total of 216 Avalokitashvara faces on its towers. The face of this Bodhisattva was modeled after the king's.
Ta Prohm was another 12th Century Buddhist temple devoted to the king's mother. It has been swallowed by nature. There were thick trees gracefully yet forcefully cutting through some of the stone walls. As a side note, Ta Prohm was featured in the first Tomb Raider movie.
Even though the Khmers had had no exposure to the Western world in the 12th Century, some of the columns supporting the temples had an Classical Greek flair. I guess, great minds think alike...
Each temple in the archaeological park is being restored in partnership with a different country. For instance, India supports Ta Prohm.
Had fish cooked in a coconut sauce, rice and sprite for lunch. $6. I paid for my tuc tuc driver's meal too. This was a great opportunity to get to know him.
The Tuc Tuc Driver: 25; brown complexion; thin and tall. His father died when he was 3. His mother was crippled by a traffic accident when he was 7. As if this wasn't enough, he nearly died of malaria at the age of 10. Because his family couldn't afford the medical bill, Buddhist monks took care of his expenses. After getting out of the hospital, he became a monk himself. This was a relatively comfortable life, mainly because a bowl of soup was guaranteed for every night. He left the monastery when he was 22 and married the daughter of a family that had supported him while he was an apprentice monk. The Tuc Tuc Driver has worked hard to make up for the time that he had lost during his pious years. Now, he owns his own tuc tuc and makes enough money to feed his 2 babies. Whenever I returned from a temple tour, he would be reading English, Korean and computers-related text books. The Tuc Tuc Driver told me that he really wanted to go to university and to become a tour guide. Since the number of Korean tourists who visit Angkor Wat increases by the day, he sees a place for himself in the job market. I tried to praise him as much as I could, but that's all that I could do, really. I wish him all the best.
The cadence for the day took place at Angkor Wat, the mother of all temples. It is the largest religious building in the world, believed to have functioned both as a temple and as a mausoleum. King Suryavarman II devoted this Hindu temple to Vishnu, in the 12th Century.
The moat surrounding Angkor Wat was wider than any Medieval European moat that I have ever seen. Once I entered the complex through the main entrance I was greeted by a pool and a library on each side. The pink lotus flowers inside the pools dramatically contrasted with the sandstone facade of the main building right behind them. Inside the outer wall of the main building were bas-reliefs depicting epic scenes from Hindu theology. The famous lotus-bud towers were hovering above the area enclosed by the bas-reliefs. I sat at the steps of one of the libraries and could not stand up until sunset. Angkor Wat was the most impressive piece of history that I have ever seen. Hands down. It was old, massive, unique and in great shape. Now, I understand why there is an Angkor Wat sketch on the Cambodian flag. Khmers must be very proud...
I walked out of the hostel to grab dinner at a noodle stall. Now that it was dark, it was time for both mosquitoes and pimps to buzz around. As usual, I was offered women and drugs many times during my short stroll. This is what happens when you have too many white men in a poor Southwest Asian country. However, the Cambodian pimps were more affable than their Vietnamese counterparts. They weren't nearly as insistent and were polite enough to offer their "products" by asking, "Do you want ice-cream?" accompanied by a sliding hand motion. I was utterly disgusted by the sight. Trashy tourists were having Tiger-brand beer at cheap, Western-imitation bars; Cambodian tuc tuc drivers had suddenly become drug dealers, and local children were running around barefoot.
I was so exhausted that I didn't have the energy to think about mosquitoes. Slept like a log...