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Ta Prohm, Thommanon and the Terraces

CAMBODIA | Monday, 29 March 2010 | Views [551]

Jungle temple

Jungle temple

The Temples of Angkor--Day 2


Still didn’t catch the sunrise, although I was around before most of the tourists. I get strange looks from the groundskeepers as I pedal past, and there are a lot of them. Even in the heat they stay covered head to toe. Some of them even wear gloves. At 7:00am I am already sweating after my bike ride in (only 9 km, no great endeavor). The sunscreen I applied at the guesthouse is a milky white mess on my arms. My first stop is Ta Prohm where the temple is slowly being reclaimed by the surrounding jungle. Since it served as a backdrop in a Tomb Raider movie, it is a must-see on most itineraries. I wanted to see it while it was relatively quiet. I imagine this area as a slow, silent struggle between nature and a man-made structure. The roots of the fig trees embrace the temple walls in a death grip. When the trees die, they topple over and take the stone towers with them. There is a group of children there for what I am assuming is a school outing. They are more curious about me than they are the temple. A few of them take my picture. It is at this point that I start to feel the lack of a tour guide, or at least some information that is more substantial than the paragraph my Lonely Planet guidebook gives me. I am starting to wish that I had not so quick to dismiss the hawkers selling the Angkor Wat books. The quiet of the morning is broken by a group of Chinese tourists descending upon Ta Prohm, so I make a hasty exit.

I headed back towards Angkor Thom. When I finally broke down this afternoon and bought a guide to the temples, I found out that I found out that Angkor Thom is not a temple itself. “Angkor” actually means city, so Angkor Thom was at one point a city with residents, a royal palace and several temples, including Bayon. Angkor Wat translates to “city (which became a) pagoda” because it is the granddaddy of all temples in terms of size and importance. Do you see how much I need a guide? Even with no knowledge of Angkor Thom, the Elephant Terrace is still impressive with the way they carved the large animals in relief. I took a long look at that, the Leper King Terrace and Phimeanakas. This was enough for one morning. I wanted to go back to the guesthouse, get some cold water, get some food, and clean myself up a bit. The milky white mess that the sunscreen had made on my arms this morning was now smeared all over my back pack, and I could feel myself starting to freckle. I had parked my bike in a deserted spot to avoid the hawkers, and when I returned to it I found that my strategy had backfired on me. A large group of students had chosen that location as a place to have their morning meal. I don’t know what led them to gather around my bike. I squeezed through the group of students and unchained my bike from an obliging sapling. Someone had left a half-full can of Sprite in my basket and I had to find the owner before I could clear a path to the road. The students seemed more amused than annoyed. I wonder if they would have felt the same way if I had taken some of their drinks. Lord, I was thirsty.

* * * * * * * *

I returned to after a light meal and a rest to take a look at Angkor Wat. There is currently some renovation work being done to the west side of the temple, so my picture of it includes the scaffolding and green tarps that are being used for the project. Damn my luck! I appreciate they want to be able to preserve it for future generations, but this kind of stuff really spoils the effect. I shook this minor disappointment off and toured the great temple at my own pace. Occasionally, I would pass a tour group, and the guide would be pointing out specific sights in the group’s language. These tour guides are impressive. I have heard Cambodian tour guides speak Chinese, Japanese, French, German, and English. I left the temple feeling …..less than thunderstruck. Was I missing something? Should I have had a shot of caffeine before I came? Around sunset I headed back to my bike, I pulled out a $5 bill, rolled it up in my palm and strolled close to the vicinity of the fellows selling guidebooks. One of them bit. He asked $8 for his copy of Ancient Angkor. I feigned a bit of interest and offered $5, but I continued walking. He countered with $6. I told him that I only had $5. He accepted and now I have a guidebook specifically for the temples at Angkor

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