Siem Reap - Day 2

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October 24th 2022
Published: October 26th 2022
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Today it was all about Angkor Wat, Siem Reap’s premier temple. Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world on a site measuring 162.6 hectares. It was originally built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12thcentury as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu. Towards the end of the 12thcentury it was gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple. It combines the two basic plans of Khmer Temple architecture: a temple mountain (representing Mount Meru) surrounded by a galleried temple.

We had an alarm set for 4.30am so that we could be out the front ready to meet Cholna at 5.00am to drive to Angkor Wat in time for the sunrise. We last did this in 2010 and have always wanted to return because we were there at the end of dry season (February) and there was little to no water in the reflecting ponds and therefore no reflection of the temple on our earlier visit. Unfortunately, with the combination of my head cold AND the early start I left the hotel without my camera. D’Oh!!!! I’ve only been waiting 12 years to take more/better photos of Angkor Wat at sunrise AND I FORGET MY CAMERA! Luckily I did have my trusty iPhone on me.

Wow, the temple surrounds have been developed significantly since our last visit. In 2010 we were dropped of quite near the causeway that crosses the moat to the temple and we walked straight in … along with 1,000s of other tourists. Not so now. This morning we were dropped off in a parking area and had to walk through a paved area surrounded by shops, restaurants and rest rooms then take a left and a right before we reached the road that is actually at the front of the temple. We were accompanied by more tourists than we had hoped for, but still many fewer than on our last visit.

At the moment it is not possible to traverse the original sandstone causeway that crosses the moat as it is being restored. While the original access is not available visitors have to cross a squishy, pontoon-style bridge that floats a hundred metres or so to the right of the stone bridge. It was quite hard work walking across a slightly bouncy bridge with so much give in it. But … we made it to the other side with dry feet which is all that really matters.

On the other side of the moat we entered the temple grounds and continued along the central avenue. When we drew level with the Northern Library, Bernie took us overland to stake out a good spot in front of the Northern Reflection Pond which is where we believed we would be able to take the best photos from, despite the fact that everyone seemed to be heading towards the Southern Reflection Pond this morning. In the dark Cathy stepped in a ditch and sank up to her knee AND we were confronted with a really ugly bamboo pole and shade cloth fence surrounding the Northern Reflection Pond. What?!

OK, I guess the fact that everyone else is heading to the Southern Reflection Pond means that the view from that side remains unobstructed by ugly fences? There is also PLENTY of water in the reflection ponds at this time of the year. Bernie set up his tripod while I wandered about snapping pictures with my iPhone. On the plus side I was shooting freehand and wasn’t tied down to a tripod!! And, let’s face it, an iPhone takes pretty good photos!
Angkor Wat sunriseAngkor Wat sunriseAngkor Wat sunrise

The iPhone version!

We snapped away for nearly an hour. It wasn’t a truly spectacular sunrise, but it was certainly better than OK. Being on the right hand side, rather than the left hand side of the temple, certainly meant that we were not at the best angle for the sun rising slightly south of due east and there were also some trade offs with positioning for a five tower silhouette versus the best colours/reflections. But, altogether, not to shabby.

With our sunrise shots captured we headed back out to meet Cholna so that we could return to the hotel for some breakfast. There are eating options at Angkor Wat but we decided to be cautious and return to the Baby Elephant for our breakfast. When Cholna dropped us out the front we made arrangements for him return at 10.00am so that we could return to Angkor Wat, engage a guide and tour the galleries inside the temple.

After a delicious breakfast – Pineapple juice, fresh fruit, French toast with syrup and bacon and green tea (Bernie ate boring muesli) – we ventured out into the heat and humidity again arriving at Angkor Wat at about 10.30am. Cholna rang his friend, Sana, who is a guide and he came to meet us at the tuk tuk. We re-traced our steps of earlier but, before we re-crossed the pontoon bridge, Sana talked to us about the temple before taking us in.

As we were standing there we saw a monkey approach a woman and hump her leg. She didn’t dissuade it so it ran up her body where it perched on her shoulder and proceeded to hump the side of her head. EEEUUUuuuuwwww! The monkey then settled quite happily on her shoulder and started nit-combing her hair. We were all cringing. Eventually one of the temple attendants ran over to get rid of the monkey. We could not believe how calmly this woman took the whole encounter. CRAZY!

We bounced over the pontoon bridge again, walked past the libraries and the reflection pools again, but this time entered the temple proper via the Terrace of Honor before admiring the amazing bas relief sculptures in The Army of Suryavarman II Gallery and the Churning of the Sea of Milk Gallery. The sculptures really are so very well preserved, except in areas that fell victim to ill-guided cleaning attempts in the past. Oh let’s clean them with acid water thought someone and, rather than test the technique on a small area to see how it went, destroyed metres of carvings with acid water!!!!

We asked Sana about the ugly fence around the Northern Reflection Pond. He told us it is because they have discovered that there are Buddha statues in/under it. The fence is to protect the area until such time as the statues are recovered from the pond. Very frustrating for people after the money shot in the meantime! At least it was good to know there is a legitimate reason for the barricade.

After just over two and a half hours with our guide Sana, it was time to bid farewell to Angkor Wat. It is so hot and humid that we all felt that we had enjoyed quite enough culture for one day. Cholna whisked us back to the Baby Elephant Hotel well, I might be overstating things a bit, it’s quite a job for his 125cl scooter to haul his tuk tuk along loaded to the gills with the four of us! But, he’s getting the job done. He has delivered us everywhere we have wanted to go, has made a few suggestions of his own for temples with not many tourists and he waits around for hours while we clamber all over the ruins absorbing the amazing atmosphere and trying to take photos that might do the experience justice. He only laughs at us a little bit when we arrive back dripping with sweat and gasping for the bottles of cold bottles of water that he is handing out.

We lazed the afternoon away by the pool which was very pleasant indeed. It’s almost impossible to imagine visiting temples all day everyday when it is so hot and humid. We deliberately booked a week in Siem Reap so that we could pace ourselves and that approach is working very nicely for us.

In an attempt to eat a little more authentically tonight we went to the Khmer Kitchen for dinner. Cathy and I enjoyed Khmer Fried Rice and Steve tucked into a Khmer Curry. Bernie went the Khmer BBQ option. The BBQ was set up adjacent to our table so we were able to watch Bernie’s pork while it was being cooked and then as it was transferred from grill, to plate, to table within a few steps.

Steps for the day: 14, 115 (9.04km)

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