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Published: November 4th 2011
Chasing monks has become a worrying obsession of mine. I have spent much of time scrambling over the temple ruins in order to capture that photo of a monk. I love the stark contrast of their saffron clad bodies to the greying backdrops of Bayon or Ta Prohm. I am fascinated by faith, religion, acts of worship and temples piled high made out of back breaking love and their mysterious ways only feeds by habit.
Aside from the monks there is much to see in Siem Reap. Having been in Phnom Penh for the last three months and living by Russian Market I have acclimatized to a lack of western civilization and grown to love the cultural ways of PP life. The rush of the hectic traffic, the smiles, the quiet, and the lack of western stores. Siem Reap comes a bit of a shock to say the least. Pub street, Night market, the roads intersecting in that tiny little community town are a thriving, hustling, bustling mass of madness. The neon thrashed in to the sky, the numerous fish foot massages "with no piranha", the cries of "Tuk-tuk", "Massage" and "buy something?" chorus out amongst the madness of the
the western packed streets. To escape became a priority, I found myself wanting a little bit of quiet. So Carl and I marched around the markets, the food stalls, the restaurants and bars in search of that little something special. Hours we spent circling the miniscule town and eventually stumbled across a quiet little restaurant owned by a khmer woman who sold photos and postcards out front. The food was splendid, the streets were quiet, we were not hassled by streets kids, sellers or watched by tuk-tuk drivers, eagerly waiting for the last mouthful to be washed down with the last drop of beer. So satisfied with our little find we came back the next day for breakfast.
The only thing Siem Reap has to offer are the temples, and of course it was our mission to see them all. Lonely Planet told us to start with anything but Angkor Wat reasoning that we would be disappointed with all others. The biggest load of cods-wallop I have ever read. Harpoon the writer who had the ordacity to overlook the incredible Bayon with the four-faced Buddhas or Ta Prohm which fights nature for space. Angkor Wat has nothing on these.
So, the first temple we visited was Angkor Wat. The big one, the king of all Wats, the big cheese. True to the word, it was splendid and in wonderful condition, although I doubt this will last much longer as tourists were allowed to clamber over the rocks, walls, and ruins which we all know will eventually grind down the already worn smooth surfaces. But this added to its immensity. At the far end of the temple I came across a troupe of Khmer girls dressing in traditional dress. I photographed them as they put their head dresses on, applied their makeup and helped each other into awkward outfits which clung to their tiny bodies. They looked beautiful.
In the evening our tuk tuk driver, Mr Vang (wang) took us to another temple so that we could climb the steep hill and even steeper steps up to the highest point in the area so that we could watch the sun set. We watched the sun drift gently lower in to the sky. Streaks of red, pink and yellow crossed the heavens marred by the clouds which were to eventually prevent a full sunset. In the hours we spent
watching the sun we saw more monks. Oh yes! I do have a problem, I know I do and I think I scare them when I chase them. I pretend that I am walking their way but they hear the camera, they see me coming. Some of them get their own back though, and take photos of me. It’s the blonde hair – which has turned a sickly shade of green due to the algae in the fresh water pool we've been swimming in - perfect timing for Halloween.
The next two days were filled with more Wats, temples, stupors and MONKS!!!!! Poor Carl, he puts up with a lot and takes it well. He lets me get on with my monk stalking although he did cunningly ask to “borrow” my camera which prevented me from pestering more of the saffron clad holy men. The ruins at these two temples are formidable. As you approach them you want to be in there already and explore the walkways, the Buddha’s and the passages. To be amongst the ruins you almost feel you can touch the past and imagine how it once was. Bayon is a huge temple littered with gigantic
faces of Buddha, some weathered beyond recognition others in a condition which resembles what might have been.
Ta Prohm, better known as the one in Tomb Raider or the Jungle temple was just as incredible, if not more so. The temple has fought nature for years and it is clear nature won. Colossal trees tower over the grey stoned ruins, their long winding roots scramble over the rocks, walls, stupors, and temples. They curl around the foundations and gradually the weak stoned structures give way and collapse on top of the last victim. The vines hang from the trees and tangle themselves amongst each other. I could have gone back to this temple time and time again and easily found something new to look at. It is not a huge complex, not compared to Angkor or Bayon but the intimacy of the temples and the sky scrapping trees at Ta Prohm are easy to fall in love with. I was almost sad to say goodbye to Siem Reap partly because I wanted to go back to Ta Prohm and Bayon but also because it meant the time Carl and I had left together was running out.
Phnom Penh, Carl and I stayed the last few nights together at the Billabong hotel. A central hotel with a wonderful swimming pool advertised as open 24 hours, so of course we tested that out and it is indeed open 24 hours. In the 9 days which Carl has been here for, I have had the most amazing time. I have not laughed so much, seen so much and been loved so much in what feels like a very, very long time. I just wish he could stay a bit longer, but unfortunately life dictates that he must go back to work, and I must continue. I don’t have to of course, but I feel confident again, happy once more and ready to start my adventure anew with fresh eyes, renewed vigour and energy.
I want to continue travelling: Bring on Vietnam!
In my last few days here I have been staying in a hostel along riverside. In the first five minutes I found myself sitting at a table with two others having a good old chin wag about the ways of the world, travel, places we have been, places to go and what is next on our agenda.
Five hours later we are still chatting like old friends. Hopefully, I will meet one of the girls, Sarah, in Saigon in a day or two. Those bad memories are fading fast and I am quickly replacing them with new wonderful ones.
So my friends, until Vietnam – Lear heouy!!! (goodbye)
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