Sunday, February 17, 2013

SE Asia Day 8-Cambodia Day 2: Angkor Wat abbreviated

Our second day in Cambodia would be our big temple day. We chose to go to see sunrise at Angkor Wat, then do the "small tour" with a private guide ($25 for an 8 hour tour). This would be our Valentine's Day!
I can't possibly tell you everything we saw or learned on our 8 HOUR tour of the main temple complex. What I will post here are some of the highlights.
We rose at 4:30 a.m. to get a ride from our tuk tuk driver Koich to experience sunrise at Angkor Wat with the masses. We found our way in the dark and watched as dawn approached.
There were a lot of people there. We were about three rows back from the moat, but those behind us wanted our spot, so there was some shoving and crowding. Most were Asian tourists in big tour groups. Did I mention they were not pleasant to be around? At one point, there was yelling and fighting amongst them - we thought someone was going in the lake! As dawn broke, we were astounded at how crowded it really was.
So we took a break for an instant coffee at Angelia Jolie's stand. The hawkers name their stands after something tourists can remember.
But a few minutes later, we were rewarded with a really beautiful site-sunrise at Angkor Wat.


Then it was back to the hotel for breakfast. I finally got up the nerve to. Order the Khmer omelette, with has some fermented vegetable that has the consistency of baked apples but the taste of sour kraut. Pretty good.


Then we met our guide, Mr. Sang Soknov, and headed out for a full day of temple touring.

First stop was Ta Prohm, nicknamed the Jungle temple, because trees have grown upon the temples. This is where some scenes from the movie Tomb Raider with Angelia Jolie were filmed.
At the entrance, we saw a massive scaffold system in place to prune the tree.
Our first look at some of the restored buildings.
This is called the "jungle temple" for a reason.
Some of the carvings on the walls depicted everyday lives of the people who built them, like mashing rice to make rice alcohol.
This was not the largest temple, but still impressive.
I had to take a bathroom break, and laughed at the signs. From the looks of the toilet seats (scuffed) it appeared there were many who would rather squat.
Most of the temples were built by kings who were Buddhist, but most were also taken over by Hindu kings. The Hindus chiseled out the faces of the Buddhas on most of the smaller Buddha depictions in these temples when they took over. They wanted their deities to show instead.
The next temple we went to was Angkor Thom, a huge complex built around 1050 with an area of about 4 square miles and several big temples. There were 5 gates similar to this one, the Victory Gate, on each side was depicted one of the faces of Buddha.
Inside was the 350 m long Elephant Terrace.
And some very large temples. The largest was Bayon, a huge three story structure that we got to climb up and walk around inside of.
These are the Apsara, dancers.
Our guide told us about the various scenes depicted in the galleries carved in stone. This panel told of war with the Cham, an empire that was headquartered in Newhart is now southern Vietnam.
The huge Buddha faces were especially cool. These large Buddhas, instead of being chiseled away, had just been given a third eye on their foreheads by the Hindus.
That took us up until lunch, where the guides dropped us at a major tourist trap restaurant. The cokes were a lifesaver after the insanely hot morning.
Next was Angkor Wat, the world's largest religious structure. The gates alone where huge.


Many of the stone carvings were in great shape.

The galleries of panel after panel of pictured carved in stone were overwhelmingly. Our guide told us a little about what they meant.


Laterite was used as the primary building stone, but then covered over with sandstone for its better resistance to weathering and superior carvability. The sandstones is missing on this corner, letting us see the laterite.

All the other tourists looked at Jean Luc funny when he came out to search for elephants.

For about the last 45 minutes of our tour, we had a tag along. Finally, Drew engaged him and he turned out to be a nice kid. He was looking to find the only Apsara with teeth showing. Our guid showed us where it was.
At the exit gate, there was a giant statue in really good shape where people were actively worshipping.
But after 8 hours, we were all temples out, so we said one last good buy to our guide and Angkor Wat.

After a little bit of chill time, we found ourselves a nice restaurant called the Sugar Palm, how sweet for Valentines Day. Another new beer to try today.

And a delicious dinner of Khmer food. I ordered the frog legs, but they were out of season, so I had fish instead. Drew had the chicken.


So that is my very poor recount of our amazing tour of Angkor Wat. It was educational, inspiring, hot, sweaty, and overwhelming.


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