Temple Treking at Angkor

Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
Trip End Apr 22, 2005

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Its image is emblazoned on everything here in Cambodia from the currency, the national flag, beer and even cigarettes; it is the largest religious building in the world, Angkor Wat. It is justifiably a ceaseless source of national pride and it is also one of the wonders of the modern world. It was built in the mid 12th century and its grounds and pools and pathways and bas relief carvings are mind-blowingly intense and massive. While Angkor Wat is the largest and most famous is not the only temple but one of more than a dozen in an overwhelmingly sprawling park or Angkor, which means Holy City in Khmer. Talk to anyone who's ever been to Angkor and they will tell you that no matter how vast you think the temples are you're wrong. I was wrong by roughly 100%. To give you a little idea you must buy a pass from anywhere to one day to one week and arrange transport for each of those days. Some people rent bicycles, some come on buses, a few in cars, some hire motorbike taxis and others like myself hire a tuk-tuk. Today was my second day and I've barely scratched the surface. The earliest temples of which some are Hindu, some Buddhist and others a homogenous blend of both date from the 9th century and each were constructed as an homage to the Khmer Kings who ordered them built.

At the end of the first day my driver, Prom and I were planning out the itinerary for the next and deciding what time he should pick me up. I pointed to one page in my guidebook and said, "All right, so I've done all of these on this page and..." Prom stopped me and smiled and pointing to a spot no larger than a thumbprint said, "No madame you only saw this little bit today." Even with a map in front of me I still didn't believe it. It is the end of day two with another yet to go and I am just now beginning to grasp the vastness of the temples.

Angkor Wat the most famous is surprisingly not my favourite of the temples but it's damned impressive and I was nonetheless awestruck to stand in front of it and climb on it and through it. When people I've spoken with mentioned temple trekking I scoffed mainly because I am not the trekking type and anyway I thought, How does one trek a temple? There are more carved and worn and insanely steep steps to climb and I don't mean simply ascend I mean hands on the steps ahead of you and feet coming together on each step before going further up. Crawling down especially at Angkor Wat is a sport that is met by spontaneous applause by groups of friends at the bottom and loud exhaling and brow-wiping and nervous laughter once on solid ground.

It would be impossible for me to accurately describe the intimidation of their scale and the respect I feel for these works of art and devotion but suffice it to say that I was wholly overwhelmed. It would also be foolish for me to describe them visually in detail since the next best thing to being there is to see what I've photographed. I strongly encourage you to open the shots up to full screen as the detail in many of them is truly magnificent.

One of the things often said by travelers is how we all end up running in to each other over and over. I saw a couple yesterday at Angkor from Bangkok and I saw the exhausting fruit cake from the FCC in Phnom Penh who only wanted to talk about the fabulous hotel in Taiwan that he so adored and when I saw him in one of the temples here I walked right past him. Several times I saw so many of the same people that we eventually had to start verbally greeting one another. Then today just as I was almost templed out (a common maxim in these parts) for the day I was lounging back in my tuk-tuk heading to another temple when I heard my name. I looked and it was the nice lesbian couple from Phnom Penh so I had my driver spin around and head back. We decided to meet for cocktails at The Red Piano by my hotel. Upon a second helping of single-serving friends the protocol is to begin speaking of them by their names: Sandy and Jeanelle. The Red Piano is my Siem Reap hangout since the FCC here is too far from my hotel and a bit too modern to be a hangout in former Indochine. The Red Piano was also Angelina Jolie's hangout when she was filming Tomb Raider here and I understand that's she's adopted a Cambodian child and bought a house here, as well. There's a Tomb Raider cocktail on the menu that says it was initiated by her but they weren't serving that kind of thing when Duras was crossing the Mekong and I don't want it. Jeanelle, Sandy and I had a terrific dinner and ended up afterwards walking around my little neighborhood in the shops that stay open late and looking for a place to have a nightcap. Of all the places in Siem Reap we ended up at some health nut place with "No Smoking" signs (unheard of Cambodia) everywhere and they didn't even serve hooch. We'd already climbed the stairs to the veranda and the view was pleasant so we opted for shakes instead and they were damned tasty if a bit too healthly for my taste. It was great to see them and hear about what they've been up to. By the way, Jeanelle finds it repellent that I've never slept in a tent before and that amuses me to no end.

The girls had to tuck in early since they're ambitious enough to head to Angkor for the sunrise tomorrow morning. I toyed with the idea and then thought better of it -- seeing the sunrise that is. My only ambition is to see as much as I can and not fall. My tuk-tuk driver arrives bright and early tomorrow for my final day of temple trekking and I'll need all the rest I can get so it's off to bed for me as well. I'll also have to stop back and bid a final farewell to Angkor Wat at sunset.

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