Today is an exciting day. To see the great temple of Angkor Wat. This is pretty much why I am in Cambodia right now. After visiting Borobudur (Yogyakarta, Indonesia) last year, I discovered a love for exploring old stone temples and Angkor Wat is the ultimate temple.
Between the 6th and 12th centuries, Cambodia is believed to have been comprised of competing kingdoms. This is when the majority of the temples, including the most famous, Angkor Wat are believed to have been built.
Angkor Wat, meaning City Temple, is the largest Hindu temple in the world. It was built as a representation of Mount Meru, the home of devas in Hindu mythology. During the 13th century, the temple gradually moved from Hindu to Buddhist. Today it is still used as a Buddhist temple. The temple is surrounded by a 190m long moat.
As such, Angkor was the first on my temple list. I had been advised by a few people to build up to it, visiting the smaller ones first. Hmmm….no, just can’t wait. So after purchasing my $40 ticket (valid for 3 days), the tuk tuk driver, Paul, headed off through the forested roads to the temple.
My first sight was pretty underwhelming. Just the tips visible over a long stone wall. But after heading across the moat, through the wall and up a long walk way, the temple was visible in all it’s glory. The famous viewpoint with the reflection in the water is a small puddle of water just off the walkway and not the moat. It looked pretty spectacular.
Inside, I was surprised at how big it was. Every corner provided a new and exciting backdrop. When I thought I had seen it all, something else new appeared! The edges are lined with columns, with ornate murals on the walls. Just inside from that, rows of Buddhas and windows. Various different levels all come together into making up the vast temple.
I spent several hours wandering around all the various rooms and corridors, it was huge! Loved it.
Up next, Bayon. Along the way we passed a large family of macaques, complete with several cute babies and a herd of elephant. As you do. Walking down the road. Bayon is another temple I was really looking forward to. Adorned with 216 faces of Lokesvara (an enlightened being in Buddhism), this maze of a temple spirals upwards through several layers to the top where the faces are visible in all their glory. This ended up being my favourite temple.
We stopped for lunch at a noodle stall, thinking this would be a cheaper option than an actual restaurant. $6 for noodles from a roadside stall, are you serious?! Total rip off.
The terrace of the elephants was cute. Part of the Angkor Thom city walls, the elephants adorn the walls, flat murals as well as statues walking out of the wall. I love elephants and this wall was really cool!
A couple of smaller, less well known temples next, including Ta Keo and Banteay Kdei amongst others. Despite being smaller, they were still a lot of fun to climb up. Around and explore! Each turn around the temples all provide something new and exciting to see. The age of the temples is incredible, they have stayed in such great condition.
So far, at every temple (except for Angkor Wat) I have pretty much been the only person there. Maybe bumping into 10 other people. It has been brilliant. Being able to experience the grandeur of the temples by yourself, without crowds of people pushing and shoving for the perfect photo and children screaming around running the atmosphere. Photos with not a soul. It has been perfect. Although my luck was about to run out!
Ta Phrom, better know as ‘the-tomb-raider-temple’, played host to some of the set in the 2001 film. This temple, being so famous, must feature heavily on the Japanese tour bus route. The temple was packed! The jungle has grown over the ageing rocks, tree roots have penetrated through the rocks, breaking apart walls and doors, creating a beautiful landscape. The atmosphere was just slightly ruined by the vast vast numbers of people here. But aside from that, a pretty cool temple!
Time for sunset. Another highlight. Around 4.30pm, I pretty much ran up the hill towards the temple of Phnom Bakheng, only to be greeted by a huge queue of Japanese tourists. Probably around a thousand people. These people were slowly being let up the stairs into the temple. Too late to watch the sunset from any other point (it is a good 15 minute walk downhill) I had no choice but to queue. By 5.45pm, the sun was dipping, sky turning orange and only about 30 people infront of me. However, just then, they shut the gates and declared the temple shut. What?! I was not happy. Neither were the hundred or so people behind me!! So given no choice, I began the sad walk back down the hill with no view of the sunset. On the way back down, there is a small look out point, but the trees have grown over it that the view is almost completely obscured.
So, feeling rather disappointed at such a rubbish end to a great day, I headed back in my tuk tuk, home. A quick dinner at a nearby restaurant and collapsed, exhausted into bed!
Sunday 5 August 2012
An early 4.30am morning. Off to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. I arrived in the dark, tripping my way over the stone path across the moat and towards the temple. The view point by the puddle was pretty crowded already. Need to be here early for a good spot!
The huge black temple gradually became visible against the dark blue sky, it as pretty spectacular. However, far too cloudy for a proper sunrise which was a shame. After the sun had broken over the horizon and into the sky, it was time to leave and explore some new temples.
We drove again through the walled city of Angkor Thom, past Bayon and the Terrace of Elephants, but this time off in a new direction towards some new temples.
First stop, Preah Khan. This is a large temple with not much left in tact. Trees have grown through the walls and much of the temple is in big-lump-of-stone ruins. But it was still really cool. Other stops included Neak Pean, a temple surrounded by several lakes, but has now been closed off so visitors can only view from a distance, Ta Som, Pre Rup, Banteay Samre and Banteay Kdei.
We drove through some pretty villages, surrounded by green rice fields, cows still being used to plough the fields and pull along carts.
By the time we pulled up at the last and final temple, I was felling pretty exhausted and a bit ‘temple-d out’.
It was only 11am by the time I arrived back at the hotel – already having done 6 hours of temple exploring!!! So time for the swimming pool!
I headed into town for some lunch and icecream and a spot more shopping. Spent the rest of the day eating, drinking and swimming!
Monday 6 August 2012
Off for some cooking today – cooking lessons in one of the local Cambodian restaurants! We started with an early morning walk around the local market. A couple of things I have never seen before, a green small aubergine vegetable and some coconut milk squidgy paste desserts!
I made a mango salad, a Khumer curry and a banana sago dessert. It was really fun, all I did really was chop up vegetables and stir. Although I made the curry paste with a lot of chopping and grinding with a pestle and mortar! Everything was already pre-measured out which made life quite easy! The food ended up being really tasty.
The afternoon was a lovely mix of swimming, sitting in the sun and eating!
Given the sunset two days ago was totally disappointing, I needed to go again. So this time at Angkor Wat. After a short tuk tuk ride, we were pulling back up at the famous temple. Just as we got there, it started to rain. Typical!!!
The rain didn’t last for long, however it brought one advantage – pretty much everyone left!! I just sat it out inside the entrance and waited it out. After the rain cleared, the sun began to set magnificently infront of the temple, behind the entrance wall building. It was beautiful. With no one around, I could appreciate the beauty of the temple without the crowds of people everywhere. Perfect!