On the road again

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July 2nd 2009
Published: July 9th 2009
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I am one of those who never knows the direction of
my journey until I have almost arrived.

- Anna Louise Strong

I was met at the airport by our tuk-tuk driver ad a grinning Paul, it was brilliant to see him again and we blethered all the rest of the day with a some local food and a few drinks in the night time.

Our first day together we went to see Angkor Wat. I sat there in the hostel café, humid morning breeze, that old glorious feeling of travelling again, probably my most favourite of feelings in the world. Sitting there for a chewy toast and tepid coffee breakfast, not even caring that I’m in my sleeping attire, hair a mess, brain-dead yet so very alive.

That forgotten, yet all too regrettably familiar, small tight swelling of the assailant mosquito attack from the night, thigh, ear, arm. The rickety fan overhead whirring, our Tuk-tuk driver waiting, waving, grinning persistently, like that fly round garbage, ready for its chance to land, lingering and smiling every time my eyes looked out to the road. Groggy, sleep filled eyes, weary limbs and a sense of freedom that I hadn’t felt since South America. Looking at the world again with open eyes and an open
Temple treesTemple treesTemple trees

refectin through to the temple
mind. I had missed this.

Returning to our room I found Paul up and ready for the day too. We got ready and our tuk-tuk driver pounced up to great us the second we appeared downstairs together, nearly getting himself run over in the process. The drive to Angkor Wat was an eye opener. Not the poverty like I had already seen in South America, nothing that held any shock value for me, but it was the bikes. Whole families on their tiny mopeds. Dad driving, two kids behind him, one on the others knee and mother cradling her tiniest baby on the back. Heavy trucks trundling past with inches to spare yet it not startling one of them on their every day trip to where ever.

History, as it was taught at school, was my most hated subject. World wars one and two, I just couldn't stand it. Had we been taught about the ancient civilisations, how we came to be as a race, evolution and so forth, it might very well have been my favourite. Since visiting first hand now, so many of the remnants of the great civilisations of this planet, I find myself wanting
temple within a templetemple within a templetemple within a temple

stunning buiding just sitting out in the spacious courtyard
to know more and more about them. How they built their incredible architectures, how long it took them, what they knew thousands of years ago and, most importantly, what happened to them all?

Angkor Wat was amazing. I’m almost speechless just now at where to begin. The scales, size, enormity, collosality and any other word I can make up with a meaning of an asterosizemalogical meaning was just incredible! Returned emotions of seeing the sights through Mexico. A uniting fact being that like the Mayans, Incas, Aztecs and Teohauticauns… this civilisation too disappeared without a trace and a clue as to why or what happened, our knowledge of these great people, so advanced in their time, is non existent. There was only one major problem for me though, to this whole final trip in fact, it was just too short. Therefore we could only assign a half day to go through the temple sights. You may think that plenty but if your not too familiar with the temples in this region, let me try to explain a little about it. Angkor Wat is bloody HUGE!

But we were there and that was the key thing. It has
Angkor mapAngkor mapAngkor map

an idea to loaction and size of Angkor
been on my never ending list of things to do before I die since I first heard about it. It is a little misunderstood that Angkor Wat is one massive temple in the middle of the jungle. It is in fact, only ONE of a plethora of buildings from a civilisation that lived long ago. It was only in the middle of the last century that they were really discovered and restoration began (The Portuguese originally stumbling across it in the 16th century). It is thought that around 750,000 people inhabited Angkor. Angkor being the name of the whole area, Angkor Wat being the main temple. Now the sprawled out area of Angkor is currently known to be about the same size as New York City’s five boroughs, making it the largest (and most elaborate) extensive urban complex of the preindustrial world. An area of about 400 square miles.

As I said before, like the past great civilisations, we know very little about their disappearance. Some scholars will suggest they died they way they lived (In Angkor), by the sword (The Incas were a relatively peaceful civilisation, by comparison). There has come to light in the recent years however
kids kids kids

diving in for a few buks
a slightly stronger front runner as to why they left. It may very well be that their technological greatness and their inability to sustain it, was their undoing. If you look at the pic of the layout of Angkor you will see its lakes. They required a massive feat of engineering, one of the reservoirs being 5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. Their creation, over several centuries, used teams of labourers that constructed hundreds of miles of canals and dikes that relied on very subtle differences in the lands natural inclination to divert water from the 3 surrounding rivers to them. It seems that it was the failing of this water system that was the reason for the downfall of this civilisation. There are many scientific clues that lead to this, but I’m not going to go laboriously into the details of what and why here, cycles of droughts and floods are thought to have ruined the water system, which was the blood life to Angkor.

When we arrived at the first temple, the citadel of Angkor Wat, we were both very excited at the very site of this amazing construction. Surrounded by a dam, with

Same monks, different angle.
kids jumping into the water for a few dollars from the tourists to take their photo, we were dropped off at the main walkway in and gleefully trotted towards the gateway. Both already snap happy, looking like every other tourist around. One of the things I have enjoyed being able to do these last 2 years is blend in whenever possible, not possible when your visiting a place like this. What I hadn’t realised was just quite how big an area Angkor covered. Its not just a temple here and there, its an entire city in the jungle. This first site, the most well known, took us in straight away. We must have spent about an hour or two walking and marvelling at it before rejoining our tuk driver to move us onto the next.

We saw the three main temples in a half day tour. They are Angkor Wat, Angkor Tom and Ta Prohm. (Ta Prohm was used as the setting for the filming of Tomb Raider) There is offered a 3 day tour of the whole area, and that is what you would need to see it. I think I would even come back and do the 3 day tour at some point in the future, to really see the whole thing. Each site as interesting and different from the previous, each looking like some game of Jenga played by the Gods and forgotten about, left to tumble in time. Ta Prohm was by far our favourite. It sticks out miles from the others. Set back in denser habitat, the stone and the trees entwined together. Creeper vines and strangler figs have grown over centuries and stand in and on the very ruins, making them so stunning. Nature reclaiming its territory. You just cant put your camera down. And thank God my batteries lasted, dieing only when we left the site. Trees have been a surprising feature of my trip, I have seen some incredible ones that just made me stop and even laugh with delight at their marvel. Here, was by far the greatest of them all. And just like every other temple I have seen in these last years, I hated turning my back, and walking away.

We both found it a shame that this place doesn’t have a better care system in place. It seems though that all the countries where they have

growng over the temples
the ruins of once great civilisations, are now themselves, very poor. So funding to maintain them is a huge problem and very understandable. But you would have imagined that other countries, all round the world would be keen to send people to study, to restore and assist with finances in order to help the conservation of these places. Our very presences, walking through and on the sites, helping to destroy them. This lack of interest and funding was all too apparent too when we visited the killing fields a couple of days later.

Our time in Siem reap was ended by a wee trip to their night market. Paul went to watch a 40 min film about Pol Pot and his regime as I wandered the stalls. Keen to get some souvenirs but managing to not spend money. A great start to our journey in Cambodia.

Additional photos below
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Our driver for the day was fine, but didn't show for our night market tripthat we pre paid for.

Angkor wat was littered with tuk-tuk drivers
street sellerstreet seller
street seller

fruits for sale
boy beggingboy begging
boy begging

so many kids looking for hand outs from the tourists
moat viewmoat view
moat view

the moat around angkor wat
moped maniamoped mania
moped mania

the start of what has become a fascination of mine. how many can u fit on one of these?!

two boys on the road

a group of orange robed monks outside Anggkor Wat
The British LionThe British Lion
The British Lion

Paul stands proud beside the sculpture
The path to the templeThe path to the temple
The path to the temple

the start of our visit around Angkor Wat

9th July 2009

Just loved reading this - what an amazing experience - thank you for sharing it with us all - travel safely! Mum xxxx

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