Published: August 31st 2011August 30th 2011
Sua s'dei (hello - Cambodian style), readers :D
We have been to see LOTS of temples. Lots. So many, in fact, that I can't really remember which ones we've seen, but I'll try.
We got up at the unearthly hour of 8:30 (but this was not as early as the concierge suggested; he thought we should start our temple tour at 8am - what a weirdo!), got dressed (I wore my cream topshop t-shirt and new yellow shorts, and Mike wore a bright blue t-shirt with green checked shorts - a daring combination; you can reserve judgement for when you see the photos [Mike: I didn't- I wore a yellow t-shirt!]), and we ate breakfast. I went for a fusion breakfast, my theme being "today I will mainly be eating yellow and white". My breakfast matched my clothes. It was very avant-garde. I had a fried egg and egg-fried rice and also pineapple. I was fastidious with my theme. I also had a slice of bread, which Mike got me when I asked for bread, even though I actually meant that I wanted a pastry (that was clear from the context; I did a lot of hand-waving and gesturing [Mike: If you wanted a pastry you should have said "I would like a pastry"]). Mike had an omelette. He also had rice, and some other stuff. He had chips as well, apparently, although I definitely didn't notice him eating that.
We started our sightseeing at 10am, when we were picked up from the hotel lobby. In evidently typical Khmer fashion, the tour guide totally ignored me (I don't know what it is with Cambodia, but I've been systematically ignored - the phrase, "What am I? Chopped liver?" springs to mind). The tour guide asked Mike whence he hailed (I'm embellishing his English here, obviously; his English wasn't all that hot. Not hot enough for "whence", in any case). Mike said "London". I said, "I'm from London too". That showed him! Or, it would have done, but I don't think the guide heard. Never mind. He was to acknowledge me as a person soon enough...
So we went first to a weeny temple that I THINK was Baksei Chamkrong, but might have been Phnom Bakheng. It was a bit like a Mayan pyramid, with very steep steps available, up which we were allowed to climb. I went up to the top. There was a nice view, but the interior at the top just housed a sort of rubble pit thingy. Apparently, at one point it would have held some sort of phallic statue [Mike: called a Shiva-linga], to which the Khmer would pray for fertility. How very literal of them! Mike learnt this chatting to the guide at the bottom, because he got a bit scared whilst climbing up and so only made it up a few steps.
Then we went to Angkor Thom, which is a huge temple complex surrounded by a moat, built by a 12th century Khmer king called Jayavarman VII (who built a GAZILLION temples). We went in via the south gate, and the bridge across the moat had a giant statuesque depiction of the legendary game of tug of war between the gods and the demons, which used a snake as a rope. That's a bad call, if you ask me. But they didn't, so hey-ho! In Angkor Thom, we saw a whole bunch of temples. The first, and my favourite of the city, was the Bayon temple, which was very big and had an enormous bas-relief that told the story of the Cham invasion of the city. Our guide told this story as if the Khmer (along with the help of the Chinese) totally mullered the Cham (South Vietnamese) over a 4-year period, but our guide book says that the Cham conquered the city for a time. Clearly our guide was a little biased (much like the Petra guide who pointed out Aaron's tomb from 1100 BC (or something) and told us all about when Jesus visited Jordan as if it were historical certainty). But the Bayon temple was impressive; at the top it had lots of huge faces carved from the towers. I think the next thing we saw was the Royal Enclosure, although had he said this at the time, I would have definitely thought of Ascot. It had a very big swimming pool for the king's bathing needs, and a slightly smaller swimming pool for the king's slightly smaller bathing needs :P
Then we went to lunch, which was slightly marred by the presence of a tail-lacking ginger cat, which Mike was scared of due to the threat of rabies, and which I was scared of due to the fact it is a cat (and the rabies). We also were joined by a lizard, who skittled under Mike's plate and then down the tablecloth. But the meal was fine, and we both had sweet and sour (fish for Mike, beef for me), and I had a soda water, but Mike's drink rather beat mine into submission because he had coconut water, drunk from an enormous under-ripe coconut.
After lunch we went to Ta Prohm, the jungle temple, which was having reconstruction work done, which was a little rubbish, but the most important aspects were still accessible, including a GIANT tree growing out from one of the corners. It was cool. I really liked the jungle temple, although at this point I was a little angry at Mike because he got my new bag really dirty by putting it on the insanely dusty and wet floor (although, thankfully, this was cleaned sufficiently later on) [Mike: sandals last year, a bag this year!]. Also, this is apparently a filming location for Tomb Raider.
Then we went to Angkor Wat. This wasn't as impressive as some of the other temples, though certainly bigger. It was definitely a man thing; use all one's wealth and power to build something that shows off how wealthy and powerful one is. Another man thing; I was not allowed to ascend to the summit of the temple because, and here I quote the silly little security men at the foot of the climb, my knees are disrespectful and I need to buy a $2 scarf to cover them because I am a woman. I saw many men coming from the top with bare knees, but apparently their knees are not as offensive as mine. I wouldn't have minded, but the rampant sexism was justified because the top of Angkor Wat is supposedly a holy place, but it isn't a functioning place of worship, and hasn't been for a millenium, and if the top is holy, so is the bottom, because most people would pray at the bottom anyway. Also, there was irony in that I would consider the more offensive part of my attire to be my t-shirt, which is practically see-through! This, they didn't mind. Anyway, Mike went up and said there was a nice view, and was talking to a girl from Scotland [Mike: She was from Blackpool!] who had sympathised with my plight at the foot of the stairs. Whilst he was looking at the view, I asked our guide about Khmer women and their role in society, and was told (albeit by a different guide) that men do hard work while women relax. He said that women work in offices, although I'm not sure how many offices there are in the tourist town of Siem Reap. I asked about married women, and our guide said that they help their husbands (e.g. in the rice fields) or make good housewives. I am very glad that I am not a Khmer woman, because I would be RUBBISH at this good housewive malarkey, and wouldn't want to try it anyway.
After this, we were taken back to the hotel. We had a bit of a swim in the pool because we were utterly shvitzing, since it is 30+ degrees and super humid, and we'd been walking around in the heat all day. Then I had a shower and read my Bones book, and Mike played on my DS. In the evening, we headed into the main town, and went to the Red Piano restaurant, which apparently was visited by Angelina Jolie when she was playing Lara Croft. I got a free Tomb Raider cocktail because I was the 10th person to order one, and they rang a little bell and said, "congratulations" to me. Mike looked sour at this point because his cocktail didn't come with a celebration, plus mine was LOADS nicer. The food was OK here; we had garlic bread & a cheese croquette as a shared starter, and then I had a very strange chicken and camembert salad, whilst Mike had a pizza.
Then we went to the night market, and after an initial wander around, during which we didn't even contemplate buying anything, we then searched for a brooch for me (I ended up with three because Mike challenged himself to get me a little multicoloured owl one for $2 - he didn't quite succeed because he got it for $3 in the end, but it was still impressive). I also bought a $4 pair of sunglasses (Ray-ban - because that's likely! - aviators), and Mike got a little lacquer tabletty thing of "Tintin au Cambodge". Then we went to another temple - the Temple Club, on Pub St. It was quite lively, and we got a cocktail each followed by an Angkor beer each (this cost 75 US cents but was FOUL). We wrote on the wall too, but Mike vandalised my entry :( [Mike: Actually, I vandalised her vandalism of MY entry.]
And then we went back to the hotel in a tuktuk. Mike fell asleep fully clothed.
Kh'nyohm treuv kaa th'nam samruhp rowk mual,