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Published: September 16th 2014
So here I am in Siem Reap and the first order of the day was to visit Angkor Wat, the reason most people visit. Most people apparently do some research beforehand and visit in the dry season. However after I booked my tickets in what is considered the wettest month of the year I optimistically thought it wouldn't really matter because it would be low season for tourists, and the previous times I'd experienced rainy seasons it rained ferociously but only in the afternoon and only for about an hour.
Everything I thought I knew about monsoons turns out to be wrong. I had booked a "Sunrise Discovery" bike tour which was to start at Angkor Wat for the sunrise, then bike through the jungle to Angkor Thom (or Bayon), and then onwards to Ta Prohm, which embarrassingly I know as the "Tomb Raider" temple. (It was made famous after Angelina Jolie filmed that movie here and is particularly popular with tourists for that reason.) It started raining in the minibus on the way to Angkor Wat at about 5.30 am and didn't stop until nearly 10.00 am. There was certainly no sunrise to photograph, and instead of jostling for
position with a camera it was umbrellas at dawn.
Our little tour group consisted of Sambo, the tour leader, our van driver Mr Dead (I'm sure this is not his name but honestly, that's what it sounded like), one Aussie, two Singaporeans and me. We were of varying experiences on a bike - the Aussie was on his way to China to compete in a triathlon, off the back of the Iron Man competition earlier this year; while the two girls from Singapore had obviously never left tarmac before. I asked Sambo if he took bike riding tours every day and he confirmed he did, "every day I ride 30 km, sometimes more, sometimes 75 km. My bum like monkey!"
The girls were very sweet but didn't endear themselves to me immediately by turning up 20 minutes late to the 5 am pick up, and another 15 minutes late to our meeting point in Angkor Wat. Their hopeless bike riding didn't help and they would stop suddenly in front of me for no apparent reason other than there was mud on the jungle paths we were riding through. I confess to many uncharitable thoughts about overtaking them and
leaving them behind in the jungle. That said they were lovely girls and were very interesting to chat to.
However we bonded over the historical fact overload from our lovely guide, Sambo. He was incredible, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of seemingly every temple, every bas-relief, every aspect of Cambodia's history, in fact anything we could possibly want to know and quite a few more things that I had no interest in knowing at all. His English wasn't the best, so it was a concentrated effort to mentally translate "friends rolled..." to "France ruled..." For the life of me I couldn't understand what the "gap" was that he kept referring to until I finally figured out it was "gate". I admit both my attention and my feet wandered frequently as he recited to us how many metres high the temple was, which King created it, which wars were fought, how many buddhas were in it. Several times I would hear, "Retchel! Retchel! I tell you history about the......" In a nutshell what I think was going on was that temples were created by a King, they might have been Hindu they might have been Buddhist, and then there would be
a war and a new king and they would be either Hindu or Buddhist and if they were Hindu they would get rid of all the Buddhist carvings and vice versa. Sometimes the wars were with other people, like Chams from Vietnam. Maybe there were some wars against the Chinese? Whatever. I am doomed to die a Philistine as my interest in these things was low to start with and his hopeful, "any questions?" left me wishing fervently that the answer from my fellow cyclists would be no. It was only when we got to lunch that each of us admitted that we all felt much the same.
My favourite temple by far was the Tomb Raider one. Lost in the jungle for years until rediscovered by Angelina Jolie / Lara Croft (or something like that) Ta Prohm is falling down, covered in moss and plants, overtaken by tree roots and if it weren't for the hundreds of tourists crawling all over it, it would be a truly magical place in the jungle. As we were cycling towards it you could hear beating drums so we knew we were getting closer. It was only when we got there that
I discovered that the "drums" were created by the hundreds of tourists. The temple grounds include a number of towers, and inside one of these towers people would go inside and beat their chests to pray. It reverberates and echoes, and the noise transforms to a rhythmic drumlike beating. Quite incredible.
A pretty good start to my Cambodian adventures.
Tot: 1.207s; Tpl: 0.033s; cc: 52; qc: 161; dbt: 0.0411s; 1; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.8mb