Saturday, 28 February 2015

Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom

The Hard Rock Cafe of Siem Reap

Our last entry from Cambodia before flying out to Sumatra tomorrow morning on Air Asia. We've been in Siem Reap, the city at the edge of the huge complex of temples at Angkor for 5 days now and made two visits to the temples, both starting early to avoid the heat of the day which, most people are agreed is unusually hot. 

It is not just the heat of direct sunlight but also the humidity, which makes it very difficult to do any physical activity from around 10:00am until at least 17:00. Even the air-con set on maximum cool at all times doesn't keep us cool enough at night so we're having the fan on as well. There's no mosquito net so were having to keep covers over us while we sleep, but even then the blighters have bitten neck, face and bits of arms hanging out while we sleep. That's even after us swatting the few that get into the room, we just don't know how they get in! I've even got sunburned sitting in the shade by the pool from reflected sunlight, so have to keep clothes on even in the shade.

Sights around Siem Reap
A well kept Wat in Siem Reap. That's an elephant hedge
Despite all this we have enjoyed our stay here, our hotel, Angkor Pal Boutique Hotel is a nice place, conveniently located for good restaurants, the town itself is clean and tidy with many restaurants and bars to suit all ages and tastes and its but a short tuk-tuk ride from the ancient seat of the old Khmer civilisation, Angkor.

The same Wat from a different angle
The iconic pre-dawn view of Angkor Wat, 50 min before sunrise
The temples of Angkor were built between the 9th and 15th centuries when the Khmer empire was at its height, covering most of what is today Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. There are thought to be over 1000 temples here, some now just a pile of rubble, but ranging all the way up to the very impressive Angkor Wat. It represents the greatest concentration of religious buildings in the world and is a UNESCO world heritage site. It fell into disuse after 1431 and was largely retaken by jungle, except Angkor Wat which remained constantly in use. Various theories have been put forward for its demise and, if you're interested you can read them here: It is believed that about one million people lived in the area at its height, compared with a population of London at the time of 50,000 so, in its day it was an immense and important world empire.

Were we alone at this spiritual moment?!
And this is what you have to contend with to get 'that' photo!
For our second early morning start we went to see sunrise at Angkor Wat, something that seems to be on everyone's list. There's a lake inside the outer walls that stands in front of the iconic structure and, in the correct position the sun rises behind the temple with perfect reflections in the lake. Simon and Diane, friends we met in Vietnam and are still in touch with, visited in November last year and took a stunning sunrise photo. You can see their blog entry on it and see their photo by following this link:

Our early morning walk round inside Angkor Wat
Some of the beautiful stone carvings
We'd heard it can get busy and the rumours were not wrong! It's 5:45am, its still dark, but as we arrive at Angkor Wat its as busy as a Premier football match half hour before kick-off. We walked over the outer moat on the huge stone walkway, under the massive stone entrance and into the huge inner area in the vague light of pre-dawn with the other hundreds of people. The lake, on the left hand side of the main central stone thoroughfare, where we were told was the correct place was heaving with people!

The inner, inner courtyard of Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat
We recognised the view from photos, but it was still too early and the cloud in the sky indicated we may not get a good sunrise. Its still only 6:00am, a full 50 minutes before sunrise, so we set off to look round inside in the early morning relative cool and light. As its been continually used and looked after there were no huge trees with their roots wound down through the stonework and although it is a massive structure it didn't have quite the same 'awe' for me as Ta Promh, but it was still very impressive.

Some of it is decidedly showing its age, in fact a lot of it is!
My best sunrise photo
We'd seen most of what we wanted to see by about 7:15 and the sun was up as we walked back out to the lake and inner courtyard to see the crowds who had patiently waited at the waters edge now advancing towards us. However there was still a photo opportunity as the sun was still low enough to be behind the central tower if you got in the right position, so we managed to squeeze between the remaining people and get some nice photos.

An interesting sunrise photo!
Our tuk-tuk driver outside Bayon
Back to our tuk-tuk driver we headed off to the even bigger complex of Angkor Thom and the iconic temple of Bayon inside. This one brought tears to Jackies eyes as its 54 towers have 216 stone faces of a smiling Avalokiteshvara. In the early morning sun it was a bizzare sight and the increasing crowds were becoming a distraction, particularly the Chinese who are not backward in coming forward and quite happy to command the best spots while they have photo after photo taken while they smile, hold up hands, lean against one another etc, oblivious or totally uncaring about others.

This is Bayon 'smiling face' temple inside Angkor Thom
Entering Bayon
We headed back out, walked over the terrace of the elephants and terrace of the leper king before deciding the combination of crowds and heat were becoming too much. Its 9:00am as we head towards the outer entrance of Angkor Thom and there's a huge traffic jam. The entrance gate is only wide enough for one vehicle, so police are on hand to direct the traffic and the scene resembles the M25 motorway round London in rush hour! Its hot, we get through and, on the way out pass a tuk-tuk going the other way carrying Ian and Franzie, two people we met on a number of occasions in Laos. We knew they were here but hadn't managed to meet up, but we exchanged mad waves as they headed into the temples with all the crowds and heat - rather them than us! We were back before 10:00am, in time for breakfast then a dip in the pool.

Under one of the 216 faces of Bayon
Bayon Temple
At breakfast the following day, after an early morning walk round town, we met Chris and Esther, a couple from Toronto who we got on really well with. We chatted for ages then met up later and went out to dinner with them, had a really nice time. They've gone out temple viewing today, we thought about going with them but I think we're 'templed out' now, so we've done a bit of shopping (I bought a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses for $2 - obviously genuine) and were now in our air conditioned room booking hotels and planning for Sumatra.

Bayon Temple
Nose to nose!
I had a haircut which was a bit scary, he did lots of it with the clippers which I'm not really used to despite visiting the barbers for many years! I think it's fine and is certainly lighter and cooler. The good thing about hair is it will always grow back!

A final point I must add are the cats here at the hotel and Mr Bun the owner. There's a very pregnant cat and three young kittens who bounce about all over the place. Mum cat doesn't know what to do with herself she is so hot and so pregnant, so Jackie has taken to bringing her into our air conditioned cool room where she spreads out on the bath mat, clearly enjoying the cooler air. She's not so happy when we go out, trying to find the coolest corner in the corridor, that still feels like a sauna! 
Bayon Temple
Remedial work at Bayon. Stone block just being lifted away
Mr Bun, the owner is a character in himself and always comes over for a chat, sitting down with us while we have breakfast and chats away telling us what good people we are. He asked if he could be my friend on Facebook, which he now is and he's friends with Chris and Esther, making many comments to postings. Jackie put a photo of pregnant mum cat on saying how she'd smuggled her into our room. Ian commented 'the notices clearly say no pussy cats in rooms!' but Mr Bun commented 'Yes, its my cat haha!'.

A final meal tonight and then we get a tuk-tuk at 6:30am tomorrow to Siem Reap airport and say goodbye to Cambodia. Its been great, we really like the country, maybe we'll come again.
Bayon Temple
Bayon temple

Bayon Temple

The terrace of the elephants

The terrace of the leper king

Stone carvings of the wall of the terrace

Jackie, Brian, Esther, Chris and Mr. Bun at the Angkor Pal Boutique Hotel

A DIY BBQ dinner with Chris and Esther
Jackie with very pregnant mum cat, cooling off in our air conditioned room

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