Incredible Temples

Trip Start Mar 04, 2004
Trip End Jul 02, 2005

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Monday, August 9, 2004

ANGKOR WAT - Go there, you will not be disappointed.
It isn't really possible to hype the Angkor Wat complex too much as it truly is one of the wonders of the world. Scott and I had a bitch of a time getting to Siem Reap to see this wonder but once there we were very happy. Caution: To anyone crossing the border at Poipet do NOT change your money at the border. The exchange is criminally bad. They will give you a speech about how it's the best place in Cambodia to do it and its all lies. They give you 3400 Riel to the US Dollar. Everywhere else gives you 4000. They give you 70 Riel to the Baht, the standard is 100. This was the only time on the trip Scott and I got swindled and we were seething.
In Siem Reap we split a tour guide with an Irish couple, paying $5 each for the day. Scott and I also got a tuk-tuk for $8 for the whole day. I think a guide is really worthwhile in particular if you want to understand the bas-relief scenes and the significance of the various deities. There is simply so much there, even with a book you would miss half of it on your own. This is the best way to get around in my opinion. Comfortable, protection from the guaranteed afternoon rain, but not the stuffiness of a car. The second day we paid $15 for our tuk-tuk but that included a trip out and back to Banteah Srei, a 64km roundtrip plus the rest of the days touring.
Our first day was Angkor Wat, the temple city of Angkor Thom, and sunset mountain. Angkor Wat is the star attraction and rightly so. It's the biggest stone religious building in the world. It took 385,000 slaves, 40,000 elephants, and 700 enormous bamboo rafts to build over 37 years. To obtain even the most cursory overview of this temple takes 3 hours minimum. What makes Angkor Wat, so incredible is not only the monumental size, but the fact that this is coupled with unsurpassed attention to detail and an intricacy in sandstone carving matched nowhere else. This is also the perfect time to see Angkor Wat. The wars are over, the mines have been cleared, restoration work is proceeding apace. Yet for all the tourists nothing has been red-velvet roped yet. You can still clamour all over these temples, performing feats of balance that would surely result in law suits in the West. One can also sense that this place will see a massive increase in tourists in the next few years. For now, it is still possible to get shots of the temples with no one in them if you time it right. You can often find yourself alone in a giant stone corridor, except for the battling figures of Rama and Rahwana and their armies of monkeys and demons.
We thought we wouldn't have a sunset to see the first day as it started to pour rain. However, we preserved to the top of the mountain and witnessed the most incredible sight. The sun broke through and a rainbow appeared over the main tower of Angkor Wat. This was a rare and beautiful blessing. We then turned around to watch the a most evocative sunset play out its drama of colour before us. We took some of the best sunset photographs either of us have ever produced. When the sun finally went down, the 300 people on the mountain all applauded.
Of all the temples we saw, I think Scott's favourite was Banteah Srie, which is made of pink sandstone and has the most delicate filigree and sculpture work of any in Cambodia. I fully recommend a trip out there. My favourite was Ta Prohm, the jungle temple. We saw it during a rainstorm, which pinned everyone into a couple spots inside. Ignoring the wet, Scott and I ran through the ruins, reveling in the mystical atmosphere and finding the most incredible scenes, where banyon roots were locked in age-old battle with stone walls, ancient libraries and crumbling towers. This is the temple that was used during the filming of Tomb Raider and certainly deserves all the attention it got. Another favourite was Preah Khan. Its very large and some remarkable finds can be made within its walls. Possibly the best was a soaring banyon tree that stood on a 3-metre stone room, completely apart from everything else, as though it were planted there by one of the Hindu gods.
That night was Scott's second last and of course we had to see the nightlife of Siem Reap. We found the oddest club. Upon entering this circular nightclub everyone was seated, watching a few couple slow dance on the central dance floor. The entire club was lit only with blacklights and I could barely see Scott's face, let alone other people or a place to sit. Once we sat, about 10 beer labels were frantically thrust in our faces by Cambodian girls all trying to convince us that their brew was the best. We settled on the slightly over-sweet Angkor Beer and settled in to watch how Cambodians party. Suddenly hip-hop came on and all the chairs cleared. It was as if the entire bar had been ordered onto the dance floor. 15 minutes pulsing minutes later Cambodian traditional music came on and about half the people stayed on the floor to walk around the dance floor in a circle in lines three abreast. Then came more sappy music and a few slow dancing couple. This cycle repeated itself throughout the night and Scott and I were most amused by it. The only time we were brave enough to dance was when some House music came on in place of the hip-hop. Then we were in our element and had a ball.
Next day we fought off the hangovers and took a hellish boat trip to Phnom Penh.
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