Angkor Watt and Siem Reap
A couple of days prior to arrival in Bangkok, I got an email from the tour operator that they are discontinuing the Angkor Wat tour as they were not happy with the performance of the tour. But they offered to transfer me to another program who was supposed to be good and do it in my budget. I was very apprehensive at the news but reluctantly agreed to it. First of all I had to go the new operator in the center of the city at 0430hrs from where the tour started. When I reached the proposed place I could not find anybody. The city was fully awake with people having their breakfast on the roadside already (or was it a late dinner ?). Contacting the travel agent I found that I had the direction slightly wrong, and I should have to go some 150m to the opposite side of the main road. With the phone line open I managed to find the place. If anybody is in Bangkok and have arranged tours with a travel company I would strongly recommend to buy a local simm so that you can as well as they can
contact you if required. Added to that using tethering you can use it as your internet for your computer unlimited for 7 days as well, all for less than 10 euro.
We left Bangkok at 0500 hours reached the boarder at Poi pet before 0900 hrs. The minibus was a luxurious one and we only stopped in one place to stretch the legs and for toilets. I was the only one on the 3 day tour and with an e-visa so, was led through the customs, exit and immigration by an agent who knew what he was doing. After clearing the formalities we boarded a bus for 5 minutes and m I was transferred to a good Toyota Camry for the 160km ride to Siem Reap. When you cross the border you suddenly see that the land becomes flatter, as in the Netherlands, but drier and the luxurious greenery of Thailand is replaced by a dry almost parched land. But the farmers have started work and most fields are already being tilled anticipating the impending Monsoon. The road was very good except for a stretch of 10km where repair work was being carried out. We got to the Hotel
by 1130hrs. I could not believe my eyes, such an opulent luxurious hotel (included in the tour price). It had almost everything a massage parlor, swimming pool, gym, restaurant, free Wi-Fi etc. Checked in, had lunch and went to the floating village.
The original plan of the tour was to go to the "killing fields" with graphic descriptions of Khmer rouge who killed more than 3 million people and decimated two generations of their countrymen. I had no appetite to see this, so I politely declined. To get to the floating village we had to drive about 20 km take a boat ride in the nearly dried up Siem Reap river to the huge Tonle Sap lake. At the height of summer there was very little water and the motor boat drivers had to push out a lot to keep us going as we were repeatedly getting stuck in the mud. To add to it there were a steam of boats carrying the tourists to and fro. It is a different story with rain, the whole which is very flat floods nearly every year. You can see the adaptation in the buildings. They are built on stilts often 3
to 4 m high, just with the flood waters in mind. Finally when we got to the lake it was so huge that we could not see anything on the other side. 85% of the people in the floating village were actually Vietnamese settlers who had originally come to Cambodia to fight against the foreigners. Where we were it was only 2m deep but after the rainy season it goes up to 5m to 6m. The whole village then move to near land as the storms and waves make it dangerous to stay out so far. Apart from a supermarket I saw a new school and some cafes and shops probably aimed at the tourists. We returned to the hotel, on the way booked a buffet dinner with an "Apsara Dance show". After a shower and change of clothes I walked to the show. The buffet was excellent mainly based on Cambodian recipes but there were a lot of varieties to pick from. The show started at 1930hrs and ended just over an hour later. The theme of the dances were harvesting and fishing. Most of the expressions were by movements of hand and fingers as "mudras". The attires were
similar to Thai dancers but not as ornamental.
Finally the day had arrived when I get to go to Angkor Wat. The tour guide picked me up and five others, A Dutch couple, two Danish girls and a Canadian and I made up the tour party. First port of call was Angkor Wat itself. The main temple area is covered on both sides with entry from the front and exit at the back. The tour coach dropped us in the front and went to the other side to pick us up when we emerged at the other side. The front gate itself was a revelation with motifs from Hindu mythology engraved in detail. One was a long relief of the Devas and Asuras churning the sea of milk for the potion of immortality (gods and demons cooperating for a good?) with supporting figures there were more than 400 figures in it. As we passed through the gates we could see Angkor from a distance in all its majesty and glory with its 3 towers high up in the sky. True that the temple is a ruin but the architecture was protecting it from collapsing. It had a strong base
and roofs were constructed as arches. It was completely made of granite I cannot the amount of work gone into them. I am not even attempting to describe this as it would be futile, just look in Wikipedia. This temple was built by Suryavarman, a Hindu king. In later years with the growth of Buddhism there were shrines for Buddha as well but not as part of the building. In the glory days of Angkor Siem Reap was the capital of a flourishing kingdom which included all of Indochina and spreading outwards.
Our guide was a child soldier with Khmer, escaped, became a monk for 8 years (only refuge he could find and helped him to study). He went back to the army for a brief period after the Khmers were defeated. In his days with the monks he had he had acquired a lot of knowledge starting from theology, Hindu culture, his country's history in addition to English. He was an excellent guide and we got not only info on Angkor but also something about meaning of life etc.. There was so much to see and take in and photograph we did not know how 2 hours were
gone. We had to go to the other side to get to the tour coach. The back gate was fairly undamaged when we emerged from it there was a pathway across the huge moat to the mainland.
Anchor Thom was a different kind of temple built by Dev Varman who was after Surya Varman It was a Buddha temple. It was not of the same grand scale as Angkor Wat but was characterized by the 4 Buddha? Faces we see on all Cambodian posters. There were a lot of these smaller towers with a central tower which was round without any figures on it. Again the whole structure was granite. The beautiful carvings and reliefs were destroyed by some later kings but the structure survived.
Next we went the temple on which the "Tomb Raider" was based on. This temple was near to destruction. It appears that without care the jungle have reclaimed its territory, trees in strange shapes are growing everywhere their roots forming new art-work between the stones splitting the joints apart and tumbling them to the ground There is a lot of restoration work is going on, a huge jig-saw puzzle in this time in
That was one thing about all three temples they were built stone on stone surface matched with no mortar between them. The total structure give them the strength, if one stone is dislodged the whole structure become weak. The first two were in better shape as they had some religious functions most of the time.
It was a very hot and humid day. Inside the walls Angkor Thom it was really stifling with no breeze at all to ease the conditions. So, back in the coach we were arguing whether we should go to final destination all. This was a walk up the hill to view the whole surrounding area. The Dutch couple stayed back, the rest of us walked to the top of the hill. There were 3 routes. The first one which was too steep was declared too dangerous and was closed. So, we took the easy route to the top of the hill. At the top there was another temple. We climbed on top for a grand view of the surrounding countryside. We could see Angkor wat in some distance. We came down the hill on the elephant work way. The elephants were taking
tourists up and down this route. Poor creatures they have to do this every day a few times. On the good side they all looked quite healthy and well cared for.
All in all it was one of the best tours I had been on. For the 160km drive from the boarder at Poi pet to Siem Reap and for the return I had private car including the trip to the floating village. The two night stay hotel was at least 4 stars. After staying in dumps in Sydney it felt as a luxury treatment with a sauna, swimming pool, gym and even a massage parlor. Driving in Cambodia the new roads were good and wide. The height of the roads indicated how high the recurring flood waters would be. In places the road, as well as the houses on stilts were 3 to 4m high. Other than this one would think it is Kerala, the trees, the land everything was very similar. Even the facial features of Cambodians were similar may be a bit fairer and with a Chinese tint. When you go to Thailand people got a bit fairer with a bit more Chinese features.
In Cambodia the influence of Hinduism was more pronounced than in Thailand. Even the writing visually was cross between Malayalam and Sinhalese.
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