Today is ‘temple day’. Siem Reap is the city you must come through to visit the many temples of Cambodia. An archeologist’s dream. After a bit of a disorganised breakfast, we get into smaller buses to make our way to ticketing counter for our photos to be taken and then printed on our 3 day $US40 pass for the duration of our stay here in this very busy city. I would have to say it is the only ticket I have purchased that has my photo on it. They say this saves people transferring the tickets to someone else for ‘recycled’ use. Good on them.
Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 km2, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations. UNESCO has set up a wide-ranging programme to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings.
The day looks a little damp. During the early morning, there was a large tropical thunderstorm which brought on the humidity big time. Out came the umbrellas and raincoats when we arrived at the first and most important temple, Angkor Wat. The rain stopped soon after but by the time we completed our 2 hour visit, we were bathed in sweat from the humidity. This temple is amazing in that it becomes part of you, especially if you return for another visit. Even though no-one lives there, the knowledge you gain from a good guide stays with you forever. In many ways, in my view, the structure is much more involved and detailed than the Great Pyramids of Egypt. Building a a structure out of large heavy stone and then sculpturing the shapes and windows with fancy frames by hand must have been a long tedious job. However, all was complete within 37 years. Angkor Wat is undoubtedly the masterpiece of Khmer architecture.
Close by Angkor Wat is Bayon Temple. This temple is one of its own kind with many faces of Buddha carved into the large stone blocks.
The distinction between architecture and sculpture disappears. Despite its ruined condition and the undoubted architectural problems caused when a third level was superimposed on the second, cramping the courtyards and galleries, it retains an extraordinarily enigmatic and exotic power. The level of artistic creativity in evidence here is awesome, with richly carved bas-reliefs and a forest of 54 towers showing the heads of Buddha that significantly resemble Jayaverman VII himself.
Many of the temples in the area require steady feet as you jump from stone block to stone block. We were fortunate this visit in that there was no thunderous storm with torrential downpours every 5 minutes. If you enjoy counting, there are 216 faces of Buddha in Bayon Temple.
We came back into Siem Reap for a 4 course lunch at a comfortable restaurant. Our tour director put some chilli slices into his soup. I ventured into this procedure just to ‘try it’. The slice was not in the soup for too long at all, but oh boy. What a difference 30 seconds of chilli in a soup makes. It became HOT!
After a early afternoon nap, we departed on another excursion for the late afternoon. This was to Ta Prohm. The trees are slowly asserting their rights over the crumbling monuments of rubble. It is fascinating how, from just a tiny seed, great trees develop ‘tentacles’ that spread across the stone building-like structures. It’s a great place to take photos.
Our evening was free, and a group of us walked to the nearby night market and ‘pub street’. Lots of lights and loud music filled the streets, not forgetting the ever present tuk tuk driver harassing you to board his ‘machine of invention’, some with silk padded seating. I suggested to the group to ‘come this way’. Not far and we found a gemstone shop with a convincing seller who convinced the ladies to each by precious gemstones mined in Cambodia. He had the machine to test the stones for authenticity, so his wares were definitely worth buying. I asked him he should pay me spotters fee but that didn’t happen.
Tomorrow very early at 4:30am, we will be woken to board the coach to see the sunrise back at Angkor Wat.