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Temples of Angkor, Day 3

CAMBODIA | Wednesday, 10 December 2008 | Views [1358]

My final morning I woke up deliberately at 4AM, since I was supposed to get picked up at 4:30 by my tuk-tuk driver to go see the sunrise. I had no idea what time I needed to be at Angkor Wat. By 4:45 my driver still had not shown up, and I tried to get someone who worked at the guest house (and slept outside!) to help me get another driver. No tuk-tuks at this hour I was told (we communicated, although he really did not even speak broken english). I wanted to walk into town to get another one, but I was told I would not find any. Yuck. I still had not seen sunrise at Angkor Wat, but 5 minutes later my driver showed up on his motorbike (only 20 minutes late...). I got on, we started to go, and almost immediately we fell over. Shit. This guy can't even drive the motorbike. I am really in trouble today. Luckily, he had no other problems on the bike.

We drove in, but we were told (ok my driver was told, I don't speak Khmer) we had to go to the backside instead of the front. I had no idea what this was all about or how it affected me. We arrived somewhere behind Angkor Wat. I could see nothing. Not a trail. Not the temple. I had no idea where to go. Luckily someone had their PDA (to provide a little light) and had been behind AW before, so I went with him and eventually we found our way around the temple to the front. We sat down behind the reflecting pool, and awaited sunrise.

Sunrise was spectacular. There were interesting colors both in the sky and in the water. The interplay of light and shadow was terrific. To my surprise, we were looking at sunrise from behind the temple (I had not worked out the geography yet), and not seeing the light directly illuminate the temple, but it still was a stunning show. 1 hour and 200 photos later, I left. But it truly was amazing. 

We then drove out to Bantey Srei. The ride was very uncomfortable, but finally we arrived at this small temple at around 8 AM. This place just glowed at 8AM! The sun hit the temple perfectly, and it was amazing. I walked around for about an hour looking at the fantastic relief work (best among the temples). By 9, more tourists arrived, and the light was not nearly as good. The moment had passed. This was easily my favorite temple, and quite frankly I might not have felt that way if I had showed up, lets say at 10 AM, when the light did not hit the temples so perfectly. I wondered how much I had missed out on the previous 2 days by not getting to the different temples at the recommended times. Instead of being on a tour that is optimized for the tourist, I was on one that was optimized for the tuk tuk driver. Shit.

On the way back I stopped off at a landmine museum, but I really was in a rush to get to my plane, so I could only spend 30 minutes there (I would have had more time, if we had gone yesterday, like I wanted to). I was taken back to my guesthouse (with my rear end really hurting by then, I wonder if the drivers get used to being on their bikes all day...) and my driver went to get his tuk tuk. It took a while but eventually he got back, picked me up, took me to the airport, and for a half day, most of which spent on a motorbike (which in Phnom Penh was half the price as tuk-tuks) he charged me $30. Well I guess I got what I deserved by not negotiating a price. I was under the mistaken impression that you get treated fairly in cambodia and don't need to bargain very strongly (maybe a little) but I was mistaken.  

Anyway, this was an amazing place and a great day despite the cost. I did completely break my budget in Siem Reap (I can afford it, but you do need some fiscal discipline or all the money goes floating down the river...). But I do have some hopefully obvious recommendations. 

A. Stay at a well respected guesthouse where there are lot of travelers similar to yourself (if solo, then you want solo travelers. If a couple, then a place with lots of couples. If high end, you want a high end place with great tours and so on, especially since the tours will cost triple if you are at a high end place....) Most important, the place has to be a great source of information, and ideally well located close to the busy part of town (a good place might well have recommended tuk-tuk drivers...). Since prices are often very different then when your guidebook was written, getting accurate information is critical unless you don't care if you pay triple the going rate for a substandard trip. I figured that everything cost me 4 times what it would have if I had only stayed where I should, at least for my first night (after that, you have the info you need and can stay anywhere)   

B. You need to do lots of research before you come to Angkor Wat. The one page in Lonely Planet's Asia on a shoestring was not even close to enough (go through a guide book to Angkor Wat carefully). Do not agree to go on the Tuk-Tuk's scheduled routes. You plan you own route getting to temples at the correct time, and agree on a price ahead of time or a clear fixed price for a clearly defined length of time.  

C. 2.5 days were not enough. Ideally, you should visit temples more than once at different times of the day. Also there are tons of temples scattered around that I did not see. I figure I could easily spend a week here without getting bored (and besides the food in town is really good), since the temples were all so different from each other. In some I even felt like Indiana Jones...

I really want to emphasize the aspect of seeing the temples in different times of day. Monet once painted a series (I think 13 paintings) of the Rouen cathedral, painted once an hour in different light for the course of a day. I still remember viewing 7 of them at the Art Museum in Williamstown MA (great place, I was so surprised, since its a small town in the middle of nowhere). I think anyone who has any interest in art, appreciates how magical this is. The artist is really doing a study of light, and how it interacts with his subject, as much as of the subject its self. This is the experience you deserve at the Temples of Angkor.

Tags: angkor

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