The Temples of Angkor
Trip Start May 03, 2006
48Trip End Ongoing
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(Diary - Tuesday)
'...Up and out - caught the 12.30 Mekong Express to Siam Reap, about a 5hr journey. Crossed the mighty Mekong river, busy road all the way, nearly crashed into a horse at one point, bus forever blowing it's horn. Finished 'Piece of Cake' - great book, started 'The Gate' by Francais Bizot - interesting enough, all about Bizot who lived in Cambodia in the 70's, was captured by the khmer rouge and was probably the only westerner ever released. The tale recounts his relationship with the main guy in charge of his camp where he was taken prisoner, it was the main guy who eventually secured Bizot's release with the top brass of the khmer rouge, the twist - is that this same bloke ended up in charge of Tuol Sleng (S21) the genocide museum I visited in PP.
Poor country, houses on stilts, cows, horses, pigs and chickens wandering around the side of the road. Saw one chicken crossing in front and in a flash it got squashed by a bus in front of ours! Arrived in dusty Siam Reap found a guesthouse and checked in. Wandered around the centre later - wow - back on the tourist trail, glitzy hotels, restaurants and bars. Strange thing is - you walk out of this main little area (only a short distance in any direction) and you're in the mess that makes up the rest of Siam Reap, the dirt roads, the squalor, the rubbish...'
OK - the main reason for visiting Siam Reap is to visit the temples of Angkor. Over a period of 300 years, between 900 and 1200 AD, the Khmer empire produced some pretty impressive buildings. Angor Wat is probably the centre piece and the best known to folk around the world - but the area is vast and there are probably 72 major temples or other buildings that dot the area.
I hired a motto and a driver and over the course of a few days went and had a look to see what all the fuss is really about. I took about twenty minutes maybe less to get into the 'park'
Angkor Wat was pretty amazing - and I had to pinch myself that I was really standing in front of it. The sun was out basically all the time I was around the temples and it was exhausting work climbing up and down. At Angkor Wat I climbed the main Wat - very steep and very narrow steps led up on all sides, in Britain I'm sure there would be serious health & safety concerns and one wouldn't be allowed up. As it was, on one staircase there was a handrail but there was steady trickle moving up and a queue so I went round the quieter side and scrambled up, the problem was the descent - but it seemed only women and children used the handrail and with a gallery of spectators at the bottom I again went round to the quiet side and after building up a bit of courage, cautiously made my way down.
I was sweating to the point of embarrassment as I made my round the temples - my t-shirt was soaked and thoughts drifted back to the red fort in India where I very nearly passed out due to the oppressive heat
OK - so that was the temples of Angkor - yes - they were worth a visit, yes they were certainly impressive, but then so are some of the great castles in Wales and so is Wells Cathedral! I think what struck me was the size of the area and the concentration of temples within it.
After seeing what I wanted to see it was time to return to Phnom Penh and I bought a bus ticket back - leaving Sat 7th Oct.