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Angkor Wat is what its all about!

CAMBODIA | Wednesday, 17 November 2010 | Views [750]

Cambodia has become an inspiring experience for me. On Friday we met up with Kiwi born, half Cambodian, Peap Tarr, who is living in Phnom Penh. He is a sick artist, and through mutual friends we managed to connect dots and arrange a catch up. His crew of friends here are involved in diverse community projects based on music, dance and art, working with children in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. To me it seemed a way to create a future where there is no past, as the history of devastation to this nation at the hands of the Khmer Rouge has eliminated unknown amounts of tradition and culture of this nature. The guys we got to know over copious bottles of whiskey at a VIP party, were mostly American born Cambodians, all rapping about their collective ideas and goals to develop their root connections with this damaged but determined country.


On a hung over tummy I set off for Siem Reap on Saturday. The bus ride I spent eyes glued outside, enjoying my disposition for sleeping on buses as I get to take in so much of the countryside and villages along the way through Cambodia. I try not to compare each place I go to but its difficult, as here I could still be in Laos weren’t it for a few things. Cambodia is interesting for me as I am relating this experience to knowledge of the horrific past burdened upon these people.


The bus moved along, I occasionally chatted with a few Australians sitting nearby. The stopovers contained colourful tables laden with fruit, insects in oil and freezers of cold drinks, the usual sales pitches moaning around. Trundling off the busm after the 6 hours split up with headphones, staring, photo taking, thoughts and things, a tuktuk kindly delivered me to the hostel where I was expecting to find Greg, who I met in Hanoi, staying there.


My $1 a night dorm was on a mattress in an open bamboo hut with about ten other beds, all with mosquito nets with various sizes of holes stretched through them. Up to the bar for internet usage and a cold drink, I saw Greg and we caught up, it was over a month ago since I’d seen him, it's sad how times speeds up so much as we grow older! I met his other friends who he had lived with in Australia for a year, it was like homecoming to see a friendly familiar face and sit around with a bunch of travelers, all easy going and talkative, sharing backgrounds and beers into the early hours. Luckily Cambodia stays open later than Laos.


 I spent a few days relaxing in the intense heat, and moved to a barn-like structure in the same hostel, that has open rooms with two beds in each. Very communal, but a bit less rustic than the bamboo shack. I also browsed the markets around town, there’s 5 or 6 as far as I’ve seen, all selling similar wares, but slightly different varieties than other countries, so of course I’ve found necessary and unnecessary items on my mind to purchase.


Yesterday was our first day at Angkor Wat. I had an idea that we could spend the whole day roaming vast temples taking stupid numbers of photos to try catch the essence we were surrounded in, then finish the day off with an impressive sunset behind the main palace. This was certainly close to how the day went down. Basically at each stop, our friendly, smiley driver would tell us where we were and how long to go in for roughly, even though neither of us had a watch. That was cue to wander around the giant structures, sit and contemplate, avoid tour groups, bend low and high for specific shots, zoom in and out here and there to create the best colour, touch and rub the ancient stone, wonder at the detail and gaze at the glory. For roughly 6.5 hours we continued on. The heat was dizzying, the hum of whining girls trying to sell things along the way frustrating, the somber faces yawning above our tiny selves. It was wonderful.


The epic sunset I was anticipating was actually from the summit of a small hill, set up with small ruins smothered in scaffolding and surrounded in signs warning of danger inside. There were quite a few people all sweating and angling for a spot to spot the sun. To the opposite direction was in fact the main Angkor Wat complex, obscured by trees. We waited. The sun sank slowly, lazy in its resounding flames making the audience uncomfortably hot. Clouds started turning colours, and raindrops began their decent. By the time the sky was alight with colour, magnificent in its liveliness, we were soaked in the torrential downpour that thought it was an opportune moment to release its fury. In semi-laughter and frustrated slipping and sliding down the water and people clogged path, clinging onto my bag, as it was most certainly anything but waterproof, we made it back into our trusted tuktuk, only to arrive back in the main parts of town where it was dry as a bone.

We arose early as. Quietly making our ways into the darkness of pre-dawn, into the hands of our driver waiting for us outside the hostel. Off we went toward Angkor Wat, day number 2. Dawn was chilly, and we watched the sunrise with at least a hundred other bleary eyed, hushed photographers, and the confusing muddle of tour groups all wearing matching hats and with lenses down to their knees. I was wishing my camera had a bit more accuracy, trying not to stare at those obviously more advanced machines. It was the bright pink lotus flowers on the pond, alive with fish and insects in the morning light that captured my attention for the longest moments, although a craving for caffeine soon intervened and we made our way toward the waiting tuktuk.


The first big Wat we visited today was Angkor Thom. The stone faces on the pagodas were awe inspiring, every so often I would catch my breath, my camera useless in my hands I skipped from corner to cobble in a trance, spinning with my neck craned upwards at the thousands of carved figures. From there we sped around more of the same but each unique in its splendor. The elephant terrace was beautiful, postcard material, the shades of vivid greens, moss and leaves and stone aged skin to staunch sculptures of elephants that endure eras. Ta Prom was also a highlight, the roots of magnificent trees saddling the doorways and walls in and around the temples. Tumultuous rubble crowding the openings, colours varying from burnt orange and reds, to intense green mosses, covering surfaces of stones of all shapes and curves. In most cavernous openings in the ruins there would be a collection of disfigured statues or buddha, with incense and a candle burning, a gold scarf draped, some offerings and sometimes a donation box. The frequency of these shrines was reassuring, I like to know the sites are still used for worship, I lit and bowed and rubbed for luck at dawn, in the other temples when I would happen upon a smokey shrine, a nod and silent prayer to those powers that be, then off I would hop.


The sculptures in these Angkorian buildings are what will stick in my minds eye; the naga, commonly seen here as a seven headed serpent-sometimes human creature, protecting the entrances; the moats, some stagnant and moldy, others speckled with lotus pads, flowers and dragonflies; the women, carved intricately with beads and crowns, hands positioned in varying signs of peace and joy; the Buddhas’, slanted eyes and vague smiles, astoundingly beautiful, even when beheaded.  I seriously look forward to tomorrow, our final excursion into the ancient land around this sacred kingdom.



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