Winter Break: The rest of the Angkor temples

Previous: Angkor Wat
Next: New Year’s in Cambodia and heading home

The 2 + hours we spent at Angkor Wat were pretty phenomenal. It’s the most talked about temple at Angkor for good reason. It’s the most well preserved. It’s the image of Cambodian national identity. And Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious building. However, the rest of the Angkor temples are equally impressive, each offering a unique history lesson and sightseeing experience. And the rest of our day would be spent taking them in.

After escaping harassment row in one piece, we rejoined with Mr. Viet and Frenchy and hit the road. The ride from Angkor Wat to Angkor Thom was such a relief. The morning was hot and sticky, and the tuk tuk offered an appreciated breezy cool down.

We entered Angkor Thom through the south gate. The ancient fortified city of Angkor Thom is 10 sq km in size and once believed to inhabit one million citizens. Of the 5 gates, the south gate is the most heavily traveled as it sits on the main road from Angkor Wat to Angkor Thom. Many of the statues, 54 gods and 54 demons, that line the bridge on either side as you approach the gate, have been either restored or replaced. The result is a fairly accurate glimpse in to what this scene looked like back in the day. The gate is topped by 4 huge faces of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, providing the perfect backdrop for a photo opportunity. The water in the moat on one side of the bridge was covered in a green sludge, and it was alarming to see a dude wading around catching fish with a net. Note to self, don’t eat fish while visiting Angkor Thom.

Mr. Viet suggested we walk across the bridge and pass through the gate on foot to get maximum experience. He picked us up on the other side and we rallied the tuk tuk through Angkor Thom. Elephant rides could be seen off in the distance as we pulled up to Bayon, our next stop on temple extravaganza day.

Along with Angkor Wat, and the tree swallowed Ta Prohm, Bayon rounds out my top 3 must see sights at Angkor. Bayon sits at the exact center of Angkor Thom. As a new king, Jayavarman IIV built Bayon to promote a new religion. It’s a trip to look at. 54 towers shoot up all over the grounds, each topped by 4 replica faces of a smiling Avalokiteshvara. At the time, the kingdom was made up of 54 provinces. You can’t escape these faces. As you hike steep staircases that take you up down the three levels, winding through ancient corridors, numerous creepy closed mouth smiles check you out at all times from multiple angles.

If you can handle fighting the crowds, Bayon is best taken in slow. I read that the morning sun provides the best lighting for this temple, and apparently so did everybody else. But we patiently walked around, posed for photos in strategic locations, asking fellow tourists to snap the pics of my girl and I together. I thoroughly enjoyed the strange vibe of Bayon in the morning. Those pillars of smiling faces are burned into my brain forever.

From Bayon we went north, closer to where would meet up with Mr. Viet and Frenchy later in morning at the Terrace of the Leper King. We walked on top of the Terrace of Elephants. This area is on the east side of the Royal Enclosure, which is the border wall of the land where the Royal Palace once stood. The Palace was made of wood, so it’s no longer there. Apparently stone construction was reserved for gods.

A Cambodian man approached us close to the entrance of the Royal Enclosure. These hustlers are amazing. He started laying down American and Canadian knowledge using good English. Then he switched to spitting all kinds of info on the grounds of the Royal Palace. I did my best to ignore him, assuming that his kindness would soon result in trying to coax our money from our wallets. And it did, as he was selling the temple rubbings that are found in a lot of the sightseeing spots and markets. A thick and durable rice paper, ideal for traveling with, is placed on the stone carvings at many the ancient temples and colors are rubbed over top. The end result is a beautiful piece of art.

Because we both decided earlier in the day that it would be fun to take some of these rubbings home, we followed dude to his stash. After walking through the main entrance of the palace grounds, he turned right and walked around the first corner to a shady spot, revealing stacks and stacks of these rubbings in all kinds of sizes and colors. It was shady because some trees provided a welcome break from the hot sun. But dude was acting shady as well. He was so stuck in sales mode that he wasn’t listening to anything we were saying. Instead, he was repeating himself over and over, pulling out more and more examples, making a mess of what was once nice and neat piles, and continually looking over his shoulder. Not wanting to be back there any longer than necessary, I picked the rubbing I wanted, pulled out the money I was willing to pay, and said take it or leave it. Then I ended up paying a little more. Regardless, we walked away with a few art pieces for a decent price, that will always remind us of our visit to the temples of Angkor.

It was somewhere around 11am or so, and damn sweltering hot as we met up at the Terrace of the Leper King and hit the road. On the way to Ta Keo, we stopped briefly at Chau Say Tevoda Temple. Not to take anything away from the smaller, lesser exotic temple ruins at Angkor, but after seeing places like Angkor Wat and Bayon, the average beat up temple doesn’t cut it anymore. We had become temple snobs.

Ta Keo on the other hand, is worth a look. The travel book says that it was never completed and offers a few possible reasons why. One theory is because King Jayavarman V died while it was being built, which may have brought construction to a hault. Another, inscriptions reveal that it was drilled by lightning during construction. Considered bad luck, it may have been abandoned. And the last reason I found was the high quality sandstone used for building material, which is apparently extremely difficult to carve.

We were munching fresh pineapple and mango as we approached the steep, narrow steps that lead up to the second level of the Ta Keo Temple. After conquering the first uphill battle, there was no reason not to tackle another upward climb, and continue up to the top. The view 50 meters up was nice, but the hike straight down was a little sketch.

Before rounding out the tour with a few more famous ancient temples, including the incredible Ta Prohm, Mr. Viet dropped us at a good place for a solid Cambodian lunch. But on the way he stopped at the nicest bathroom in Asia. Because they come with a fee, the bathrooms of Angkor are spotless, smell nice and have real soap and paper towels. Good luck finding that anywhere else.

Lunch was delicious and provided the energy required to finish off our sight seeing extravaganza in the blaring heat. Continuing with our Cambodian trend, we ordered a lot of food: beef with pineapple, beef with veggies, fries, a salad, 2 cokes and coconut to drink. On our way out we stopped across the street to admire what Mr. Viet called the king’s swimming pool. Apparently, the king stocked this lake with Cambodian hotties and used it as his personal swimming pool back in the day.

If the sights we took in before lunch were considered fairly well preserved, the post lunch class was reserved for what could end up any minute as a pile of rubble. Our second to last stop on the tour was Banteay Kdei. Hasty construction during the end of the 12th century has left this ancient Buddhist monastery a sneeze away from permanent destruction. Wood supports hold up walls and archways and no entry signs are found throughout, saving you from walking in to dangerous areas. Some of the stone blocks have shifted enough to drastically alter many carvings from their original presentation. It makes you wonder how much longer some of these places will be around.

Along with Angkor Wat and Bayon, Ta Prohm rounds out my top 3. It’s a magical place, fondly referred to as Tomb Raider by many Cambodians because of its appearances in the movie featuring Angelina Jolie. Looking at the pictures now, it doesn’t even seem real. Giant trees have swallowed entire sections of the temple, strangling it with their roots. I don’t even understand how it’s possible. Trees are actually growing on top of of the buildings, with roots cascading over the side down to the ground. How does this even happen?

Like Banteay Kdei before it, parts of Ta Prohm have already crumbled and other dangerous areas are blocked by no entry signs. The same tree and root systems that make this about the most naturally psychedelic place I’ve been to, have also done a good job at toppling it to the ground. The day we were there, workers were in the process of restoring and rebuilding certain sections. The areas you can creep around in are dark, narrow and ancient. It feels like rounding the corner will reveal the golden idol, and after picking it up, you will have to look over your shoulder for a giant boulder that will surely dislodge and chase you from the premises.

It took a good hour and half to experience Ta Prohm, allowing us the time to wander around as many nook and crannies as could be discovered. We snapped pictures in the sun, in the shade, crouched in spooky corridors, sitting atop and in between mega tree roots, along side spider webs and with butterflies resting on our skin.

As much fun as we had throughout this endurance testing, hot and sweaty temple ruin sightseeing extravaganza…we breathed a sigh of relief as we neared the entrance of Ta Prohm on our way out. It had been a truly amazing day of viewing sights you never imagined you would see, or even thought still existed. But it was impossible to ignore the effects of sleep deprivation and dehydration, on top of the general fatigue experienced by spending a jam packed week trying to experience everything two countries have to offer. The constant pestering of, “you need water Mr.?”, and “lady, you buy my bracelet…. lady!”, didn’t even phase us as we loaded on to the tuk tuk one more time. This last breezy ride back in to Siem Reap, ending at our hostel was the best. Soon, we would be showered squeaky clean and taking a nap, in preparation for New Year’s Eve in Siem Reap Centre.

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~ by ripcitytoseoul on February 13, 2010.

3 Responses to “Winter Break: The rest of the Angkor temples”

  1. […] The rest of the Angkor Temples Angkor Wat Hello Cambodia Goodbye Vietnam Back to Hanoi Castaway Island Day and night on Halong Bay First full day in Hanoi Christmas in Hanoi […]

  2. […] Day and night on Halong Bay Castaway Island Back to Hanoi Goodbye Vietnam Hello Cambodia Angkor Wat The rest of the Angkor Temples New Year’s in Cambodia and heading […]

  3. […] Winter Break: Angkor Wat Previous: Hello Cambodia Next: The rest of the Angkor Temples […]

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