Siem Reap & Angkor Wat
We stayed in Siem Reap from February 17th-21st, arguably the quintessential backpacker/flashpacker/retiree trip-of-a-lifetime destination in Southeast Asia, for one reason: Angkor Wat.
In the Khmer (Cambodian) language, Angkor means ‘city,’ and Wat means temple. This ‘City Temple’, designed to be literally a city in heaven on earth, was built in an astonishing 35 years for King Suryvarman II in the early-mid 1100s in honor of the Hindu God Vishnu. It was abandoned in 1432 after an attack by the Thais the year prior, and for hundreds of years Angkor What became one if those mythological ‘lost’ cities of ancient lore, until being ‘discovered’ in the mid 1800s.
Suryvarman describes the importance of building temples as, “full of deep sympathy for the good of the world, so as to bestow upon men the ambosia remedies to win them immortality … By virtue of these good works would that I might rescue all those who are struggling in the ocean of existence.”
Since all humans are innately selfish, imho, predictably, in ordering the construction of Angkor Wat, King Suryvarman had an ulterior motive. The King figured that if he built heaven on earth and got buried there once he died, he’d ALREADY be in heaven! Clever shortcut.
Here’s what the sunrise over Angkor Wat CAN look like when the photo is taken by a real photographer (photo courtesy of Google images).
Here are the best pictures we managed considering we were using a point-and-shoot and a cellphone.
Other photography-limiting factors include the fact that Kiran and I know nothing about photography, the hazy sky that morning, and the mad crazy crowd gathered in complete darkness waiting for the sunrise, everyone jostling and elbowing their way in for the best position possible. At one point I was sure two women were going to fight when one woman tried to squeeze into the space that the other woman was guarding for her 3yr-old son.
We grew tired of the crowd and headed in early. At times/places, we had the whole place to ourselves.
Hmm, something is missing. Ah, yes, here it is
Here’s a panorama looking out towards the front when we came back later in the afternoon
In our opinion, this was the best photo we took that day.
By 7:00 am, we were on to the next temple, Ta Prohm, built in the second half of the 12th century by King Jayavarma VII as, in part, an ode to his mother. Contrary to most of the other temples in the area, preservationists/archaeologists have done minimal restoration to the temple’s grounds, creating an otherworldly man-versus-nature mash-up straight out of a movie. In fact, if you have really poor taste in movies, you may recognize Ta Prohm from the Angelina Jolie movie Tomb Raider, we’re told.
I found it interesting that the trees were as impressive or even more than the temple itself. A simple tree – so much more fascinating than anything man has ever built
Others? Same same?
Kiran taught me that Japanese folks can’t simply take a photo, they must pose; I find the cultural quirk rather annoying. Honestly, I have no idea if these women are Japanese, but let’s pretend.
I actually asked Kiran for this one, a hybrid jungle explorer pose combined with Angelina Jolie’s pouty lips.
As you can see from the pictures below, the posing eventually becomes infectious.
Obviously (this one is from Thailand actually).
Anyway, after Ta Prohm, we visited Angkor Thom (Thom means big, so Big City), a 3km x3km walled city containing various temples, palaces, and the like.
Here is one of the five entrances to Angkor Thom, this is the ‘civilian entrance.’
Here’s the Baphuon temple of Angkor Thom, can you make out the silhouette of Reclining Buddha?
A closeup of Buddha’s face from the left side of the photo above.
We were so tired from waking up at 4:30 in the morning (and from the heat) getting our janky tourist photo of the Angkor Wat Sunrise that by 3:30 in the afternoon after Angkor Thom, we were all ‘Templed Out’ for the day. I think I took about a three hour nap that evening.
The following day, we visited Preah Khan, Kbal Spien, and Banteay Srei, among others. Preah Khan, built over 800 years ago also by Jayavarman VII, is the companion temple to Ta Prohm, with Preah Khan honoring the king’s father (I’m happy if I call my parents on their birthdays, this guy builds temples to honor his parents).
Note the similarities to Ta Prohm, archaeologists/preservationists have elected to keep Preah Khan rather unrestored as well.
In our collective defense, here is the king’s swimming pool. Note it’s not a lake, there are terraced walls encircling the entire pool, it’s actually a real swimming pool, so obviously the king had greater resources to honor his parents than all of us combined.
Still, don’t forget to call your mom (and your dad) once in a while! Or everyday as my wife’s parents would prefer.
Moving along … after we saw Preah Khan, our tuk-tuk guide took us through some tiny villages along twisty dusty dirt clay roads, the kind of roads that have bridges where you have to get out of the vehicle to cross, since the ‘bridge’ is really just a few planks of wood stretching over a shallow river gorge (I’m kicking myself for not taking pictures).
Eventually, we made it back to the main road, and headed out 60 kilometers to Kbal Spien. Kbal Spien is an 1100-yr-old series of river bed carvings to which you have to hike a mile or so up a jungle mountain to view. Our hike looked much like this:
After Kbal Spien, we visited the rose colored sandstone temple of Banteay Srei, known as an example of among the finest artistic stonework carvings of the period.
Aside from temples, we managed to meet up with Kiran’s former STA colleague and friend Kerissa and her fiance Chadwick – they just ‘happened’ to be in the area … boy, those STA folks really live the (former) motto “Travel Like You Mean It.”
Kerissa and Chadwick forced us to see Dr. Fish, a big aquarium full of fish. You place your feet in the aquarium and these fish attack you and eat all your dead skin away. It cost $1 for 15 minutes PLUS a free beer – Chad convinced ultimately by mentioning free beer about 10 times.
Lastly, Cambodia in general is known for terrible abuses against women and children given the rampant sex trafficking that occurs there. And, while we didn’t do any trafficking of any kind, most of our masseuses (at $6/hr) were about 16 years old (they promised they were going to school the next day), so we do feel a little guilty about that.