Umbrellas at Dawn, and Monkey Bum


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Asia » Cambodia » North » Siem Reap
September 15th 2014
Published: September 16th 2014
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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.


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16th September 2014

They were either Hindu or Buddhist. True story. :)
Hehe you made me laugh Rachael! And I think Sambo may have been the very guide I had the first time I visited Angkor Wat - your experience sounds very familiar, except he yelled out Rein! Rein! in my case. Looking forward to your next adventure :D
16th September 2014

Hindu or Buddhist
I know, it's terrible. I should be ashamed of myself....but honestly, it was so boring!
16th September 2014

Great!
One thing that really excites life is the opportunity to travel. Thanks for sharing. Also you can visit http://www.myiloilo.net/ for other travel news.
16th September 2014

Hi Larah thanks for reading.
16th September 2014

Retchel, Retchel...
Nice photos! I've always wanted to go to Angkor Wat. Hope you're having a great time. L
16th September 2014

Angkor wat
Thank you I am having a lovely time. I've been thinking of you as this trip has reminded me a little of our travels in Tikal and in Mexico. You would love it here! And we could have both enjoyed a giggle about information overload!!
16th September 2014

The Challenge
Seriously now Racheal. I thought I went in the wet season but you definitely did. Your photos show the everpresent moss and algae that degrade and attack the stones that the jungle and tree roots have been ripping apart for centuries. The challenge of rebuilding and conserving these magic sights is staggering. How wonderful that there is such determination to do so albeit from tourist dollars. How wonderful you have the opportunity to see them...and to absorb the fascinating history that brought them about.
17th September 2014

Rainy season
I have had a spot of bad luck as it hasn't been raining the entire time I've been here, only the exact occasions I have chosen to visit the temples! Yesterday it was lovely all day until about 3 pm which was the precise moment I stepped out of the car....so I've selected one sunrise and one sunset and it's rained for both, but been perfect every other time. No matter, I am loving it so far and enjoying what I'm discovering. I love the lost temples in the jungle!
16th September 2014
Crowds at Ta Prohm

Low season?
These low season crowds are truly frightening--what must the high and dry season be like? Great temples and beautiful carvings, but I'm with you, I don't need to know every detail. I prefer to research on my own and then experience and sense the place, rather than listen to a boring litany. Must admit, I'm guide phobic; still, what amazing temples and jungles!
17th September 2014
Crowds at Ta Prohm

Low season
I would really hate to be here in high season...although yesterday I went to some more out of the way temples and there were fewer crowds there. I can't even imagine what it would be like in the height of the season with everyone trying to get the perfect shot of the sunrise!
17th September 2014
Carvings, Angkor Wat

Love the carvings
So amazing
18th September 2014
Carvings, Angkor Wat

Yes, they're incredible, I loved them.
21st September 2014

Weather smeather.
Thanks for having us along on your Cambodia travels! I still haven't been, but will be using your blogs as a fabulous reference in the future. Did you happen to go into a cafe called Bloom? A friend of mine owns that, and the one in PP called Blossom. Great blog and great pics!
21st September 2014

Weather smeather
The weather hasn't been so bad....all part of the experience. No I didn't get to either of those cafes unfortunately and I left PP this morning. It will have to be next time...

Tot: 1.207s; Tpl: 0.033s; cc: 52; qc: 161; dbt: 0.0411s; 1; m:saturn w:www (104.131.125.221); sld: 1; ; mem: 1.8mb