Not another blog titled: Angkor what a temple!
Trip Start Sep 30, 2006
149Trip End Dec 24, 2008
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We entered Cambodia from Thailand and the border crossing was long, complicated and expensive, but we do manage to arrive in the beautiful town of Siam Reap before nightfall, which is handy in the land on no street lights or sometimes pavements. Siam Reap is the local town closest to the temples of Angkor. It is here that we're meeting up with Tom and Emma, our English friends who we met and walked with in Nepal. We meet them for breakfast the next day and shared some traveling tales and funny stories, one involving them both being shot at early one morning in a Singapore NCP carpark! Thankfully neither of them were hurt, the shooter was actually firing at a pigeon in the tall tree right above them and the dead bird fell at their feet.
We make plans to visit the huge temples of Angkor over the next 3 days and head out to negotiate a price with a tuk-tuk driver. Cambodian tuk-tuks are the main transport in Siam Reap, the driver sits on a motorbike whilst pulling an open sided carriage. The drivers are annoyingly relentless in touting for business. Walking past a row of them parked, the first will ask you for business, and then the second, just in case you changed your mind one second later.
Their constant touting is understandable in Siam Reap, we haggled for a driver and payed him $15 for a day of driving us around. We then booked him for the next two days. He earns about $50 from us in return for three days work, I read in the local paper that's the same amount a school teacher is paid in Cambodia for a whole month! Imagine you could earn a UK teachers monthly salary for just three day driving work. I'd be straight out in Bristol city centre - Hey friend, tuk-tuk!
Covering over four hundred square miles of temples, the ancient Angkor empire once had a population estimated to be over one million and covered an area the size of New York city. The stone temples were constructed by powerful Khmer kings as self-glorification monuments and as a dwelling for their Gods. I doubt the king himself did much of the construction, he probably awoke one morning and after the customary breakfast bowl of rice declared, I have a great idea, and its going to take hundreds of years of back-breaking work for my loyal servants to make benefit glorious nation of Khmer.
In the ninth century work began and finally finished in the thirteenth century with the largest religious structure in the entire world. Each subsequent king would declare, I have an even bigger and grander idea, and so for three hundred years each new king tried to out-do the past king. In the fifteenth century, the newly-emerged Siamese kingdom invaded, almost everyone died and the jungle reclaimed the temples. The temples remained a secret only known by the local population until the nineteenth century French explorers brought back sketches of the ruins, and falsely declared they had discovered them. The Western world woke up and the tours, touts and stealing began!
We spent our first day exploring 4 temples. Enthusiastically humming the Indiana Jones theme tune we ducked and dived in and out of ancient carved stone doorways and stumbled our way round miniature stairways and towering temple pillars. The temple of Bayon was full of smiling faces carved out of huge boulders and built one on top of the other.
Angkor Thom greeted us with a majestic long causeway leading to the entrance of the temple. We were told to walk around the back of this temple to see the reclining Buddha, this was more like a magic eye picture and the 4 of us stood together screwing our eyes up and squinting to see who could be first to spot the chilling Buddha in amongst the speckled stone.
I think from here its better to just to summarise what we saw over the next three days rather than describe each seperate temple. We generally walked around battle-scarred temples with stunning statues, stone sculptures and multi-layered towers. Many of the corridors are crumbling due to tree roots that force their way slowly between the blocks. Temple walls are decorated with magnificent detailed carvings of people, cows, wagons, daily life and great battles. Guarding the ancient steps are giant granite lions, tigers, eight-headed snakes and elephants. Next to them, sandstone gods with eight hands who sit cross-legged on lotus flowers watch over the temple ponds. We got up at 4am for great sunrises over Angkor wat and stayed till 5pm for sunsets viewed from the top of other temples and then on the third day I celebrated my 28th Birthday.
One memory that will take time to heal is every time we wondered out of the temple ten Cambodians came running towards us holding bottles of water and cans of coke, a wooden flute, a stringed instrument, books and a dinner menu, all of which got waved around in front of our faces as we listened to the first of many stall holders proclaiming "buy from meeeeeee" "2 for one dollaaaaaar." "Next time you buy from meeeeee" Our driver laughed as we jumped into our tuk-tuk and floored it.
Love Dan & Kat