After one day in dull Pakse, Laos, I caught a flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Siem Reap is a nice little town but doesn't have many other attractions other that Ankor Wat and the bars that have popped up to quench the thirst of the Ankor Wat tourists. I checked into a very budget guesthouse ($3/night for a mattress on a bamboo floor in a bamboo room) and headed out to the Tonle Sap river to check out the floating village. It was a pretty expensive trip just to see people that live on shack-boat contraptions on the lake.
The day after I arrived I hired a moped driver and headed out to what the Cambodians believe should be one of the Wonders of the World. The Ankor archaeological park houses the temple ruins of what was the capital of the Khmer empire during the 9th through 13th centuries. There are over 50 temple ruins in the area of Siam Reap with 45 of them in a 5 square mile area. I'm sure that you will be interested to read my Ankor Wat dissertation when I return but for now here are the highlights:
Ankor Wat is the largest of all the structures. It covers an area of about a half square mile and is surrounded by a moat that is over 600 ft wide. There are many different structures inside the exterior wall and almost all of them are covered with carvings. The outside of the inner wall has 2000 ft. of carvings that tell various stories of the Hindu got Vishnu. Inside of this wall are the majority of the structure of the temple itself.
The most noticeable and photographed are the 5 prasats that represent Mt.Meru, the mythical home of the gods. I think the look more like corn-on-th-cob. Check out the photo of the mini Ankor Wat in the photo album to see what the entire complex looks like.
At the Ankor Thom complex the highlights were Bayon with sixteen towers each with four faces of the enlightened figure, Lokeshvara and the deserted and tree-invaded temple of Preah Pililay. It is a rare treat to be away from the thousands of other tourists that visit the complex every day so I spent a while at Preah Pililay resting. My driver was nervously waiting for me when I got back out the the road. He was starting to think I'd fallen off of something!
Finally, for the end of the second day I visited Ta Phrom. This temple is very famous for the lack of rehabilitation work that has been done on it. They have left the trees and roots that have grown over the walls in several places so it keeps that feel of undiscovered treasure (that is if you can get away from the bus loads of Korean tourists).
The plan for the second day was to be there for sunrise but my driver was late. I hired another moto to drive me out there where I met up with a woman I had me the day before. We watched the sunrise over Sras Saram and I joined her in her tuk-tuk for another day of temple-ing. This time we were a little farther off the beaten track so we had fewer tour groups to deal with. We went to 4 temples before we got a little burned out and decided to make it a half day and save some energy for the last day.
For the last day we decided to go to some ruins that were farther away from Siem Reap. Kbal Spean is a carved riverbed about 50k out of town. This normally isn't too far except when you are riding in a cart being pulled behind a 125cc moped on dirt roads. It took us well over 2 hours. It was nice because it was different than the other piles of rocks it sure was a haul. On the way back we went to probably the most beautiful temple, Banteay Srei. It is a small temple that is made entirely out of pink sandstone. The carvings here are so intricate and beautiful you found yourself just standing and staring. AND we were lucky enough to get there at lunch when the tour groups were all gone. After a short trip back to Ankor Wat for some afternoon photos, we headed back to the city completely full of Wats.
Today is (guess what?) errand and shopping day. I rented a bicycle and rode around town. You really don't need to get very far from the main areas before the living conditions dwindle quickly. Near the market and center the roads are paved and the buildings are all concrete. Within a 10 minute drive you see dilapidated wooden shacks hanging precariously over the Siem Reap river filled with millions of plastic bags. It is still shocking to see the large gap in living conditions only within a few meters. Especially in the big cities.
Tomorrow I am off to Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh. One of the girls from the yoga class in Chiang Mai lives and works there. Looking forward to seeing a familiar face...