Templed Out!

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August 11th 2010
Published: July 28th 2017
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3.30 am. Darkness. Silence but for the gentle hum of the ceiling fan, circulating the air around the slumbering figures in the bed. The serenity is broken with the piercing ring of Scouting for Girls, signalling that the time has come for the dormant bodies to stir and prepare themselves for their pilgrimmage.

4am, the same figures stumble into the reception to collect a breakfast box and meet their Tuk Tuk driver for the day. Mr S will be their guide to the temples of Angkor, about 12 miles North of Siem Reap. Having dodged two growling dogs to reach the reception building, the tuk tuk whirring into life and carrying them off into the darkness comes as a welcome escape!

The Temples of Angkor were built around 900 to 1200AD and they covered huge areas in the jungle of Cambodia. In the largest of the sites, Angkor Tom, over 1 million people are believed to have resided, and over the years the buildings have been used as Buddhist monasteries (although they were initially built to honor Hindu Gods). Angkor Wat, the most famous of the temples, appearing on the national flag, is still used by Buddhist monks in their daily lives and worships, and these figures, clothed in their vibrant orange dress can be seen around the site, adding a spiritual aura to the already magnificent structures.

We picked our way along the causeway linking the modern road to the ancient temples in the complete darkness. Bringing a torch was obviously too much of a challenge for us in our bleary-eyed state this morning, and so we dimly followed the torches of others in the distance. I realised, just in time, that Stacey was trying too hard to avoid the puddles and was inching nearer and nearer the edge of the causeway. Unaware that the stony path is flanked by a moat on both sides, she was in danger of tripping over the non-existent barrier and meeting a watery wake-up call!

Finding the edge of the lake tipped to be the optimum viewing site, we set up chairs and waited. As the sky gradually lightened, the imposing stone structures dimly began to show themselves. The light continued to emerge, revealing more and more of the temples, the 3 iconic stone peaks illuminated against the sky behind them. Although disappointed by the lack of colour in the dawn sky, the view was still beautiful, the temples reflecting in the still lake at their base. The most dissapointing aspect of the viewing was the 2 huge green scaffolding towers covering much of the central and right-hand towers. Just our luck (after finding the Grand Palace closed in Bangkok!) However, not to be deterred we watched the sky grow completely light and at around 6.15 am we entered the temples of Angkor Wat. Because we are so fortunate with our timing, we chose the one day that the central tower was inaccessible to the public on this one day, for cleaning. However, we were able to wander around, taking in the stone carvings adorning the walls and marvelling at the skill involved in crafting the immense buildings.

The rest of the day was spent enjoying two very different activities. One was exploring the temples in the small circuit: taking in the main sites in a 10 square mile area, including the famous Ta Promh, featured in the film Tomb Raider, and left as the Europeans would have found it in the 19th century. Here there is a battle between nature and stone structures, with the roots of giant trees forcing their way through the stones, pushing apart the great blocks and bringing the temple to its knees. The plants have become as much a part of the temples as the intricate carving themselves, although building and restoration work (of course!) did attempt to spoil the views and the atmosphere there.

The second activity ënjoyed" by us today was politely refusing to buy: bracelets, necklaces, t-shirts, water, postcards, paintings, flutes, stone rubbings, food, books and tour guides. 7 hours of, "No thank you"," eventually morphed into a simple, "No!" and then to the pretence of the unseeing eye. Rude it may have been, but after such an early start, both intrepid explorers were tired and grumpy.

I climbed the tower at Ta Keo, taking the ragged stone steps to the top to vertiginous views. Virtually flying up the stairs, despite the beating midday sun, I reached the top to be asked, "Postcards madam?" Sadly I had left my money with the official photographer and self-confessed acrophobic Stacey, both feet planted securely on the ground. The descent was a little shaky, tiny, uneven stone steps do not for a pleasant clamber make. However, I reached the base of the temple feeling more than a little proud, and much more than a little sweaty.

The final few temples were equally as stunning as Angkor Wat itself, but after 7 hours, the humidity and tiredness was taking its toll, so we ventured back to the hotel. Our bags were waiting in our lovely room, and the shower was welcomingly hot, easing the aching muscles of two tired explorers!

After the afternoon downpour (the first to halt any planned activity on the entire trip so far, not too bad for the so-called rainy season), we decided to venture into town to meet the old tour group (can't get enough of them!) and have an early dinner. Since breakfast was eaten at sunrise, and lunch was needed as sustainance at 10.30am, dinner will be an early affair. Off to the market now for said dinner, drinks and for me to experience a fish massage. Sitting knee-deep in a tank of water, cleaner fish nibble the dead skin away from your feet, apparently leaving you feeling rejuvinated and your feet feeling soft and fresh. I'll let you know!

Early start tomorrow for an epic journey to Bali, where the R&R will begin! 'Til then, see ya! xxx


11th August 2010

We tried out the fish nibbling at the Secret Garden Party - it was ace! Nearly kicked the fish out of the tank though (I'm a bit ticklish!)

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