Wonder Of The World
Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
144Trip End Oct 06, 2013
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We started our Siem Reap temple trekking with the star of the show, Angkor Wat itself. By sheer fluke we got there just as the sunrise bus tour crowd was leaving for their organized breakfasts. After fighting the crowd current, we had a number of remarkably quiet hours within the complex. Its claim to fame is that it is the worlds largest religious building and has been a significant religious centre since inception, first as a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu, and then as a Buddhist temple.
It is designed to represent Mt Meru, home of the supernatural beings in Hindu mythology. It definitely is huge- it's surrounded by a moat and an outer wall that is 3.6 kms long which helped to keep the jungle at bay even after it was sacked for the final time by the Burmese. Limestone blocks were transported from a quarry 40 kms away and, almost unbelievably the entire temple was completed within 40 years- must have been a lot of construction elephants on site
Just as we found our way to the front of the temple again, we could hear squealing bus brakes and could see the distance invasion starting to form (headed up by a number of flag carrying tour guides). It was time to go and for the rest of the day we seemed to be about two hours ahead of the hoards. Our second stop within the old capital city of Angkor Thom (host to Lara Croft: Tomb Raider for those fans of Angelina Jolie), was also one of the big hitters of the temple complex- Prasat Bayon. Its fame comes from the large serene faces carved into the many towers on the site. There are about 200 faces staring down at you as you explore. The face is argued to be a morphing of the faces of Buddha and the temple builder, King Jayavarman VII The reason that this temple is so different from the more classical style we just saw at Angkor Wat is that it was the last temple built at Angkor and was largely a Buddhist structure. Our tuk-tuk driver had dropped us and moved to the other end of Angkor Thom to set up his hammock and wait for us- as a result we meandered through most of the other temples (DH might argue that we saw and explored EVERY temple within Angkor Thom but I think that was just a blood sugar issue because we skipped breakfast and lunch)
After waking our driver, we took in Phnom Bakheng which is normally only visited at sunset because it sits at the top of a hill and gives sweeping views of the surrounding areas including Angkor Wat. Unfortunately it's the only hill in the area and as a result, it is a big stop for the bus tour folks and it gets so crowded they try to limit the number of people going up just so the hill doesn't collapse under the weight of these many sunset buffs. Neither of us needed to see the sunset that badly so we went for the early visit- Angkor Wat is way off in the distance so I can't imagine the sunset would be that wonderful? Back at sea level we continued our tuk-tuk tour although, even for me, the temples were all starting to blur together.
As our day was winding down, we went to visit Ta Prohm, a temple that was on the bus tour itinerary. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm has been left in much the same jungle covered condition in which it was found. The combination of the surrounding jungle and trees growing out of the ruins themselves have made Ta Prohm one of the most popular temples to visit
Our second day of temple touring started further afield with Banteay Srei, another of the must-dos. Even though we started out early, the buses had more HP than our over-worked tuk-tuk and many beat us to the site. The guardians of Banteay Srei had obviously tired of bad tourist behaviour and had roped off the entire temple (is this the future for the other temples?) but since it is a relatively small temple it was still possible to get close-up views of the elaborate carvings that were the big draw of this temple. The poor photo-posers were relegated to posing in non-descript doorways off to the side. This did nothing to lower the volume of their conversations which had nothing to do with the temple itself (you've spent hours riding the buses- what have you got left to talk about??), but DH had loaded up at breakfast so we were able to take it all in stride
On the way back we stopped at a landmine museum hosted by former child soldier Aki Ra who is well known for his efforts to clear Cambodia of the millions of landmines and unexploded ordinance/bombs that still kill and maim thousands of people every year. Although constantly harassed by local officials (who believe he will scare tourists off) Aki keeps his museum going with the help of foreign benefactors. He also supports mine-blast victims and has an ambitious goal to clear the remaining 1-6 million mines out of Cambodia within 3-5 years (the official estimate is 50-100 years). The costs of laying mines are low, as little as $3 US per mine, but the costs of
removal are very high, $1000 US per mine or more. This tragedy is the very dark side of Cambodia and stands in stark contrast to the shining jewels of Angkor.