How long does it take to become 'templed - out'
Trip Start Jun 01, 2010
158Trip End Mar 11, 2011
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Where I stayed
Sala Bai Hotel Siem Reap
Read my review - 5/5 stars
Read my review - 5/5 stars
The gates are iconic, and the bridge over the man made moat features the demons and gods having a thug of war with each other. For this they use a big snake as a rope. The gate represents four large Buddha heads looking in all four directions of the wind. The are held up by an army of four trunked elephants, double headed snakes and more mutated animal sculptures. As this temple is one of the main attractions in the Angkor temple complexes there were of course hordes of tourists that made their way over the bridge. Sim made his best efforts to find us good photo spots and to avoid the crowds. He had a remarkable eye for photography and had good ideas for shots. But him pointing them out as a school teacher gave us a 'school trip' feel. We roamed around the complex for a couple of hours exploring a lot of four headed Buddhas and ancient decorations. The level of details in these decorations were stunning and roaming around the temples trying to imagine what life would be like in the days of the kings was enchanting.
Our next stop was what is now probably the most well known complex in the world. No not Angor Wat, that is a good second. The next complex we visited was the amazing Thom Phrom complex. Made famous by Brat Pitt's wife, the complex attracts more visitors than a fresh heap of doo would attract flies. So this is why we visit this temple around lunch time, this would at least safe us from a couple of tour buses. Those would be out at the tourist feeding areas around that time. For those who don't know what I am getting at, Thom Phrom is the backdrop of a few scenes in the Tomb Raider movie, a mindless action flick where miss Jolie tries to be the feminine version of Indiana Jones. Sorry, Indy is still number one in this genre I would reckon. While I write this I hear the tune of 'The raiders of the lost ark' in the back of my head, go Indy go!
All this does not make the temple less amazing. It is a gorgeous mix of nature and ancient human architecture. The trees grow through the temple replacing the superstructure with natural vines of wood. This slow process hold the temple together while slowly destroying it. It is only a matter of time before the trees crush the rocks. But removing them would destroy the temple instantly. We roam around the complex, again being shown the obvious photo opportunities. Sim is getting a bit annoying at this moment as he commands people out of the photo shots. Of course we would love shots without the signs of the hundreds of tourists around us. But a little understanding for other people would not hurt. This coming from myself, someone with a profound dislike for crowds, must tell you that he went far over the edge of the acceptable. We roamed around Thom Phrom for another couple of hours sucking up the history and the magic of the times long gone.
Then finally it is time for us to see the Wat! The symbol of Cambodia, the big kahuna, the one that is even printed on the national flag. We approach Angkor Wat from the back, which gives us a view of the complex with not to many visitors. As we approach the final climb, up the narrow ladder to the top terrace, Sim tells us he cannot go up as he has some soccer injury with his knee. We find this rather strange as he did climb some other temples with us, but anyhow. At the staircase we notice that most of the guides stay at the bottom. The soccer game must be pretty harsh around here as they probably all have a knee injury and love to chat about that at the bottom of the Angkor Wat top terrace. The climb up the temple used to be a pretty challenging exercise, like climbing the Mayan pyramids in Mexico. The old 'staircase' is made out of big steps heading up at probably seventy-five degrees. But nowadays life of the tourist has been made easier. A comfortable, sturdy wood and steel staircase brings you up the final climb. Not any more difficult thatn climbing up the stairs of a typical five story apartment building in Hong Kong Soho. When we reached the top the views were nice, but not amazing.
You basically see the flat landscape and the stretching low forests around you for as far as you can see. The top of the Angkor Wat is still a functioning Buddhist temple. So proper attire is required. We did actually see some people that were denied access because of wearing shorts and such, so keep this in mind when you plan to go up there. But honestly, apart from it being the big Iconic temple, there is not much up there. I personally found the view from the community center the day before a lot more inspiring than this one. We walked around the top level for a bit, but without explanation on the features of the temple it does not tell you much. So we enjoyed the breeze and a bottle of water, and climbed down again. Down at the base, Sim was still vividly discussion what we believe would be soccer injuries with his colleagues. But upon spotting us, he joined us and we continued our tour. The lower levels of the temple have impressive artworks showing legends of the live of the gods. The artworks are carved out of the soft rock as a big cartoon. They show the war with the Siam empire, nowadays called Thailand. The stories from the mantras portraying the holy mountain and the fight between the gods and the daemons.
We slowly walked by the wall as Sim pointed out scenes and specific characters. Suddenly we were rudely pushed aside by a horde of Korean tourist. But me being not the smallest guy on the block took my revenge and reclaimed our territory. The Korean guide addressed me in an aggressive tone, but probably only knew two words of English so I ignored his rude and inappropriate stance. Sim was noticeably amused by my 'I don't take crap from anyone' approach and told us later that the Cambodians dislike the Korean tourists here in Cambodia. They are generally rude and inconsiderate and illegally bring in their own people to guide tour groups around. In Cambodia you need a guide license to guide people around the temples, but this is ignored by the Korean tour operations. He told us that the other day a Korean tourist guide beat up a Cambodian driver, unbelievable!
As we concluded our visit to the Angkor Wat temple we visited a small and unknown temple complex close by. Sim spotted a film crew and we stopped for a bit to watch the taping of a traditional dance. As the sun was about to set we headed out for a hill supposedly overlooking the Angkor Wat temple. We hiked up the hill, together with a couple of hundred of other tourists as this is one of the must do things when you visit Angkor Wat. But what a disappointment it was when we reached the top. On top of the hill there was yet another temple, with stairs even steeper than the ones at Angkor Wat. It would be possible to climb them but we decided it would not be a good idea. There were just too many people around and the risk of someone pushing you on their way up or down was just to big. And on top of that we would have to risk the climb down in the dark as the whole idea is to watch the sun set on top of the temple. All in all, we decided it was not worth the risk. We made our way down the hill again, stopping at a little view point from where we could see the jungle and the sun. The view point was of course packed with people so we did not hang around for too long. On our way down there were still hordes of people coming up, we could only imagine how busy it would get on top of the temple. Thank goodness we did not climb up there.
We were all dirty and dusty from our day of temple exploring when we came back to town. You can say that after a day of temples you do get a bit 'templed out'. Dusty and most of all thirsty we first stopped at the blue pumpkin cafe where we lounged around in the AC with some nice coffee with a little snack. As the evening cooled the street down we headed out to find a place for some food. We stranded on a balcony of a Cambodian restaurant. From here we saw the red piano bar, also made famous by Jolie and her entourage as they hung around this bar during the shoots of the Tomb Raider movie. This payed off well for the bar as it was packed with tourists drinking overpriced cocktails. Good for them, we preferred to observe the crowds from up on our balcony, enjoying a cold glass of happy hour mojito. Slightly buzzed we tuk tukked back to the Hotel where our suite was nice and cold as we left the AC humming for the day. Tomorrow we will visit the source of all water, at least according to legend.
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