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Last day at Angkor Wat

CAMBODIA | Wednesday, 31 March 2010 | Views [443]

That's a whole lot of carvings

That's a whole lot of carvings

The Temples at Angkor--Day 3

I made it for the sunrise just to say that I have done it which is a good thing because it was cloudy this morning and that greatly decreases the dramatic effect. I was joined by about a million other tourists who dragged themselves out of bed to witness the same thing. Around 6:00am I was satisfied that I was not going to miss any amazing photographical event and so I hopped on my bike and made for Angkor Thom to revisit Bayon. Yesterday I took the time to study my copy of Ancient Angkor and I realized that I have been a big fool. Both Bayon and Angkor Wat are famous not only for the structure of the temple but also the extensive relief carvings on the temple walls. I hadn’t looked very closely the first time, so now I had to go take another look. At Bayon (the temple with the big faces) there are actually two sets of carvings; one outer gallery, and one inner gallery. I spent about 30 minutes looking at the inner gallery wondering why the descriptions in the book didn’t match what I was seeing on the wall. Finally, I had an “ah, duh” moment. I was muttering something about being too stupid to live when I first laid eyes on this amazing wall of carvings. Both heavenly and worldly themes were represented here. It wasn’t just gods, angels and depictions from religious works. By looking at these carvings you can actually get an idea of what life was like when these temples were built. The intrigue is in the details. The subject of one wall was a procession of the Khmer army, but you see little scenes within it like a soldier being followed by his family, or the preparation of food after a hunting party. It’s incredible.

I biked over to Preah Khan, another temple that actually served as a university/monastery. I tried to follow the descriptions in the Ancient Angkor, but there were so many little chambers and so much of the temple had caved in that it was hard to follow. After about an hour of reading, re-reading, doubling back through chambers and getting stuck behind large tours, I gave up. Next time, I will hire a tour guide. It was 9:30 by this time and I wanted to go to Bakheng, a pyramid-style temple on a hilltop where I could get a shot of Angkor Wat from an elevated position. I sweated buckets as I climbed the circular path up to the temple. I didn’t want to deal with the sunscreen today so I hiked up the hill carrying an umbrella to keep the keep from Cambodian sun off of my face and shoulders. The stairs at the temple inspire wobbly-kneed vertigo with their 12” rise and 4” run. From ground level, I hadn’t realized how hazy the day was. With the exception of a few of the towers, Angkor Wat was miserably obscured.

* * * * * * * *

I sat down to my first meal of the day at 11:40am. I remember looking at my watch because my lunch special came with a draft beer and I wanted to see if it was before noon. Cold drinks turn warm really quick in this environment so I didn’t bother to wait the 20 minutes. For $7 I got a mango salad with shrimp, seafood amok (a Cambodian-style curry) and steamed rice. I didn’t get any photos of the food this time. First of all, I was so hungry, I didn’t think of it until it was half finished, and second, Amok isn’t really photogenic. They dress it up as best as they can, but it is a stewed dish. After lunch I tried to rest as best as I could, but like an idiot, I had stopped for a blended coffee drink after my lunch and the espresso they used had quite a kick to it. Even though I wasn’t sleeping, the air temperature was so hot that I didn’t want to get up and move around. I lazed around until my watch beeped at the top of the hour. I digital display read 4:00pm. I hoped that this last look at Angkor wat was worth getting all sweaty and grungy for.

During my bike ride I kept pace and chatted with a young Cambodian woman who just wanted to talk to me. How refreshing! Her English was limited, but functional, and we were both trying not to end up as hood ornaments. But it is nice for an introvert like myself to have a friendly exchange, just so you know that you aren’t becoming a complete misanthrope.

I got to the temple at 5:10pm and I marveled at the artwork on the galleries until they kicked me out at sunset. I can’t believe that I almost missed this. It was like the work at Bayon, only to a greater degree. There was so much detail I got lost in it. My Lonely Planet guide only briefly mentions the bas reliefs so I didn’t pay it much attention. If I hadn’t gotten that guidebook, I would have left completely clueless. I left the temples feeling satisfied that I had gotten my $40 worth even though there I haven’t seen even half of the temples. There is the Ruolos group that is several kilometers east of Siem Reap proper, and there is Banteay Srei which is something I really would have liked to see, but it is about 70 kilometers round trip from town. I was enjoying the bike rides, but that is just a bit too much pedaling, especially in the heat. Another time. This whole trip around Southeast Asia seems to be a rehearsal for another trip sometime in the future.

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