A true wonder of this world…

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Asia » Cambodia » North » Angkor
September 4th 2013
Published: February 26th 2014
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Angkor Wat complex at last… I had the image of sun rising over the Angkor towers stuck in my head for a long time now… Place I always wanted to go to, yet quite unreachable somehow… Just like this whole journey seemed like a dream once… I wanted it to come true so badly… and now the Angkor towers were within my reach… It wasn’t a dream anymore as I really was here… Just a few kilometres away… Sitting in Siem Reap sipping beer, digging my teeth into a tasty chimichanga (eeeh… well… not really Cambodian, I know… but just couldn’t resist… and what a feast that was!), enjoying a lovely evening breeze, sharing a laugh with Grant and planning the route through the Angkor temples for the next three days… Three days at Angkor… Would it be too much? Or maybe not enough? We weren’t sure whether to take a tuk-tuk there or to cycle? And how about a guide? Decisions, decisions… Biking for three days sounded a bit too challenging to be honest, so a tuk-tuk it would have to be then… And walking around with a book didn’t really seem too appealing so we decided to hire a guide in the end… Maybe not for three days though, but two for a start? We always could ask the guide to tag along on the third day if we still felt like we haven’t learned enough right? All sorted then! The excitement was almost reaching the ceiling… Would I be able to sleep? I’d better as there was a long day ahead of us… And so our adventure with Angkor temples began…

Pick up from our guesthouse at 4.30am on day one… I was a bit sceptical whether our driver would show up at all, as he already got a ‘deposit’ from us the day before to pay the guide… And I have to say I felt pretty bad for even thinking that when I saw him waiting for us with a big smile on his face at the front door… What can I say? I have trusting issues… wonder why… well… not really… Let’s just say that I am gaining trust in people again… We introduced ourselves to our guide, jumped in the tuk-tuk and set off… It was still very dark, but so nice and fresh at the same time that I was loving it already… I was surprised to see Siem Reap so busy at this hour, but then I shouldn’t have been really as everybody was heading the same direction anyway… Heading for Angkor Wat to get a glimpse of sun rising over its towers… After a short drive we arrived at the entrance, got our tickets (with a very scary photograph – what can I say? It was still early… 😉) and soon after continued on to Angkor Wat… The sky started changing colours already and I thought we might have been a bit too late for the sunrise as after all we still needed to find a place to park and all that… Well… As usual I didn’t need to worry as we were dropped off just by the entrance, sneaked in through one of the side gates and headed closer to the towers… It was so peaceful around… A bit of a murky water on the lake, still you could get a nice reflection of the towers there… so quite a few nice shots for sure! Still… it felt just way too peaceful here… Definitely not what I have read about… only a few people around? Where were all the people we saw just a moment ago? We gazed upon the towers, took a few more photos and our guide told us: ‘Ok, let’s go to get a better view now…’ Hmmm… Well… Soon after it was clear where everyone was ‘hiding’… From peace and tranquillity to big crowds and slight madness… Everybody was cramped around the lake, trying to get that perfect shot with the reflection of the towers on the water surface… And whoever got closer to the lake wasn’t taking a few shots to get that perfect one… it was more like hundreds… I was trying to squeeze in a bit to get THAT shot also, only to get elbowed a couple of times and make pictures of other people’s cameras or hands… This was really frustrating and I have to say I was really losing it for a moment… But then thankfully Grant put me in my place again… I’ve been dreaming of coming to this place for so long… so what was I doing now? What was the point for all this frustration? Getting angry certainly wasn’t making me feel any better… temper, temper… Just relax and enjoy the moment… And so I did… or I should say – we did actually… As it probably wouldn’t have been the same without Grant by my side… It was simply an incredible feeling to be able to share this moment with him. Crowds didn’t really matter anymore, it was just me and him… and the sun rising over the Angkor towers…

Then there was a quick breakfast and our real tour began… It sure was going to be a long day… First incredible, slightly taken over by the jungle Ta Prohm, then Ta Keo, Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda (where we got a blessing from a Buddhist monk, for a small donation of course – our guide said that it was pretty sad to see the monks taking ‘donations’ for the blessings, he said that they simply weren’t true monks to him anymore… True monks would give blessings for free… Well… I have to say that I can’t say I blame the monks on trying to ‘earn’ a little bit of money these days… Being raised Catholic I am well used to throwing a coin here and there for whatever priests’ doings – they sure are not too timid to be taking ‘donations’ at all… everything has its price…). Then walking through some smaller temples we headed to the Terrace of the Leper King, Terrace of the Elephants and Baphuon. Baphuon was restored only a few years ago – looking at the temple now and some of the pictures on how it looked like when Khmer Rouge left it… well… Very impressive work done there for sure! It’s really fascinating how each and every stone was numbered and put in the exact spot in the end… It made me think about a school at my home town which due to the town upgrades had to be either demolished or moved somewhere else – thankfully it was the latter, brick by brick it was moved from one side of town to the other… Here the moving of ‘bricks’ was happening on a much bigger scale of course. What an impressive project though! We continued our tour with Bayon next. With its tall towers and enormous faces it sure is an incredible structure! We took our time wandering around the corridors and then it was time for lunch. It was really hot and humid that day and because of that I wasn’t feeling hungry at all, still it was best to reenergize a bit, to sit down for a moment and let our legs rest for a moment. Hungry or not, once the food showed up on the table, it looked so tasty that I just couldn’t resist. Just love the food in Cambodia! It looked like we came for lunch just in time also as it started lashing the moment we got to the restaurant. We were supposed to go to Angkor Wat that day and later on watch the sun setting over it from a nearby hill, but the towers were closed for tourists that day – there was some kind of monk celebration going on in there, unfortunately we didn’t get more info about it. It was raining for a good while and it didn’t look like there was going to be any sunset that day at all, so we just decided to head back to Siem Reap and continue on early the next day. In the end it was a good idea to get a guide as he certainly knew where to go and what time as we managed to avoid crowds at all the sites – well almost all the sites, avoiding crowds at sunrise at Angkor Wat seems simply impossible! He provided a lot of information as well, even though I found it difficult to concentrate on what he was talking about all the time… Oops! Sorry but I just lost track in the end of which king ruled when… It sure was a good start though and I knew I was going to read more about it later on if only to get it all organised in my head…

Just after breakfast on the following day we were picked up by our tuk-tuk driver and headed to the temples once again. This time were going to visit the temples on the Grand Circuit. We thought first of squeezing in Banteay Srei in our itinerary on that day as well but gave up on that idea in the end – we still haven’t even seen Angkor Wat and we didn’t really want to rush from one temple to the other to see as many as possible in one day, we just wanted to slowly wander around the temples, taking the whole experience in... We started with one of the oldest temples Prasat Kravan and then headed to Pre Rup and Eastern Mebon, both with their towers resembling Angkor Wat. And then we were back in the forest in another temple slowly being taken over by it, Ta Som. We have been approached quite a few times these two days by young kids as well as adults offering to sell us all sort of souvenirs – from postcards and flutes to books, so once we entered Ta Som and were surrounded by a bunch of very young girls selling postcards, we only smiled to them and tried to walk away. These girls weren’t letting us off that easily though and they definitely were prepared much more than the previous kids we passed by the last two days… Especially one of them was trying to impress us with her… language skills! ‘Look Miss, you want to buy postcards? 10 for one dollar! Look! Ten! One, two, three…’ And so on… And then ‘uno, dos, tres,… un, deux, trois, …, ein, zwei, drei…’ And so on… Counting to ten in a few languages… I thought I would try to outsmart her and said ‘Well, I didn’t hear my language?’. She asked me where I was from then and soon after started counting once again: ‘jeden, dwa, trzy…’ Haha! I couldn’t believe it! She sure did her homework! Our guide said we shouldn’t be buying anything from the kids as they were coming here instead of going to school. I certainly did agree that school was the right place for them so I even asked that girl why she wasn’t at school and she just looked at me as if I just fell off the moon and said: ‘No school, it’s holidays now!’ As if saying: ‘Like hello? How could you not know that???’ Haha! Well, it looked like she had an answer for everything, so I did buy a set of postcards off her in the end… Not too proud of that but just needed to appreciate her efforts somehow... Next we headed to Preah Neak Poan. I think that everyone who visited that site that day paid more attention to the three boys that were playing around there rather than temple itself as they sure provided a lot of entertainment, blocking the path and showing off their skills in front of the tourists. Cute little troublemakers… There sure were quite a lot of kids that day everywhere! On the way to Preah Khan we passed by a bunch of little girls trying to sell us flutes and bracelets. We didn’t buy anything of them this time. Instead Grant taught them a few tricks and in exchange they showed us how to play the flute and we listened to their short performance. So adorable! 😊 You would think that after seeing so many temples every other one would seem the same at this stage… Well, there are similarities for sure, still Preah Khan definitely stood out from the bunch – one of the largest temples around with beautiful statues and carvings, trees growing into its walls, little shrines and lingas here and there. With Ta Prohm, Ta Som and Bayon, definitely one of the favourites!

After lunch we headed to the last temple on our itinerary that day, the main one though – Angkor Wat itself! We seemed to be very lucky with the weather as during lunch time it was raining again but as soon as we headed to Angkor Wat, it stopped… First we climbed the steep steps and wandered around the towers! Once again we could admire beautiful (and much larger than in other temples) images of celestial females all around… Later on we descended to lower levels to gaze upon the incredible bas-reliefs carved into the walls… Scenes of battles between gods and demons, judgment days… Incredible! So we walked around and listened to our guide telling us about the stories depicted there… What a great finish to a two-day tour around the temples it was!

Our last day at Angkor we just spent biking around Angkor Thom, visiting once again the sites we like the most – Ta Prohm and Bayon… It turned out to be the hottest day out of the three spent there… Well… Not that it really changed much when it came to sweating – walking around or biking around, no difference as it was way more humid and hotter than what I was used to… Still what a great day it was! As much as we enjoyed having the guide around, it was even nicer just walking around the temples our own way and in our own pace… And we sure saw a few more things we missed on the first day… like the beautiful bas-reliefs in Bayon depicting Khmer rural life or some
beautiful carvings at Ta Prohmbeautiful carvings at Ta Prohmbeautiful carvings at Ta Prohm

...including the 'famous dinosaur' carving... hmmm... something's not right here...
neglected, yet very interesting parts of Ta Prohm… We saw quite a few people that day walking around Ta Prohm with some kind of equipment, I was wondering whether they were a part of a renovating crew or whether they were simply doing some studies there… Later on everyone visiting the temple was asked to stay aside from one of the long corridors for a moment as they were trying to capture the empty walls – it went through our heads to photobomb them then, but we gave up on that idea in the end… Haha! 😉 It looked like they might have been making some documentary then… Not the first one and definitely not the last one, I’d say!

We absolutely loved our adventure with Angkor! One temple that we missed this time was Banteay Srei… It sure was included on our itinerary at the beginning, but in the end, we just ran out of time to make it all the way there … and energy to be honest as well … One more reason to come back here someday… As I would definitely like to come back here in a few years’ time to see what have been done around to keep the temples in shape and what else has been restored. Right now we needed a couple of days to take it all in and simply relax… Siem Reap seemed like a good place to do that…

Additional photos below
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1st March 2014
lovin' Ta Prohm! :)

Massive itinerary you completed at Angkor...great pics for great memories...sealed with a hug of delight. And then there was the punctuation...the message catching on!!!
11th March 2014
lovin' Ta Prohm! :)

Great memories indeed...
Thanks Dave. Our itinerary was quite intense, still we loved every part of it and really enjoyed our overall Angkor experience. Looking forward to coming back there one day...

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