The temples around Siem Reap are amazing. They include Angkor Wat – the largest religious building in the world – as well as several other amazing historic temples. My calves got a workout acending to the level of the gods all day long. Thank goodness I didn’t try to bike this one.
I had partial success getting a moto driver who could tell me a little more about the temples. His name was Kong (but said ‘coon’ with a whisper of a ‘g’ at the end). I told him I was determinded to find a driver worth his salt and asked him what his favorite part was about Angkor Wat. He couldn’t tell me a favorite part. However instead of repeating the route and temple names, he explained that moto drivers aren’t allowed inside and that you have to go to guide school and get a special license to learn about the temples. Fair enough. You’re hired!
He was really nice and loved using all the “American” phrases he knew on me. ”Let’s go, dude.” “Take it easy, dude.” ”Yo, my man, what’s up?” His English was superb for local standards. The first point of interest for me wasn’t a temple, but the road rules here. He, as the driver, has to wear his moto driver identification jacket when he’s driving me. And he has to wear a helmet. But I don’t. What gives? Also, he confessed to not having a license plate by way of explaining why we left the main road. He knows where all the cops hang out, so he just drives around them. I noticed about 30% of people didn’t have license plates. I think it’s usually not a problem for Kong, since he more often has his moto hooked up to his tuk-tuk (the pull behind cart for passengers) which obscures the view of the would-be license plate.
On to Angkor Wat! Once the home to a jaw-dropping empire, Angkor Wat and surrounding temples boasted a metropolitan population of over a million in the days where London was a small, 50,000 person city. Wow. I always try to imagine these places with the all the missing wooden structures that have long since rotted and the sea of houses that must have rolled out between all the places of worship. Now the space between is covered in groves of trees and jungle. Angkor Wat was pretty awesome in a very sweaty way. It’s surrounded by a moat, and it’s a veritable Asian castle of which it was refreshing to wander the cooler corridors. It smelled like a mix between castle (musty), incense (to carry prayers to Buddha), and cave (bat crap- and lots of it). Out of respect for my very warm-blooded body, I very slowly made my way up and down the stairs throughout the compound admiring the bas-reliefs and sculptures – both the ones that have lasted the ages and the ones that have been recreated.
Next it’s on to Ankgor Thom – another compound only slightly less majestic. It’s way larger in terms of acreage, but includes a wider variety of temples. One of the neatest things about the temples surrounding Siem Reap is that they weren’t built all at once, but rather in entirely different centuries. So, they carry with them the history, values, customs, and architecture of the ages. The similarities are noticable, but the differences are amazing. Angkor Thom is surrounded by enormous walls 24 feet high and 10 feet thick all the way around. The gem of Ankor Thom is Bayon – a fortress of an ancient king complete with pinacles similar to Angkor Wat, but each hosts a enigmatic face. They are said to resemble the king, looming over the kingdom reminding the people who’s who. It was my favorite of the temples in terms of beauty. Also worth mentioning are the ”Elephant Terraces” where I got to wind my way through canyons of buddha images adorning the bases of the monuments. Wow.
“Let’s go, dude.” Onto Ta Phrom, the last stop of the day, and award winner for most mysterious and adventure insipring. This temple has only recently been slated for reconstruction and repair. So, it is a testament to what the other temples would look like today were it not for due diligence of ages of culture conservationists. Here the jungle literally eats away at the temple as tree roots slice through walls and wrap around structures like boa constrictors. There are huge stone chunks of the temple everywhere, and a walkway throughout to keep visitors away from areas which are in serious danger of collapse. It is rumored that portions of Indiana Jones films were shot here amongest the historic rubble. My favorite parts, of course, were the enveloping trees and the places where I could see the walls starting to spread apart – like looking at gaps in a Jenga game on a grand scale.
My least favorite parts where other disrespectful tourists – especially the ones who look like me. Do they just not read that it’s not okay to wear shorts and tank tops in the sacred temple grounds? Do they not care? What’s so hard about wearing some capris? Can you really not handle a t-shirt? And quit holding hands! PDA’s here are SO not okay. But you didn’t read that either, did you?! Do you see anyone else doing it? No. Do you think that means you’re the only people at Angkor Wat who also happen to be in love? No. And quit climbing on the temple! I know you can read. I know you saw the sign. Thanks for making white tourists look like jerks. Grrrr!!!
By the end of the day, my legs were wobly from all the climbing and motorbike riding. It’s actual exercise to sit on the back of a motorbike here. It is both really uncool and super weird (not to metion uncomfortable for people who are embarassed by a hug) to hold on with anything but your legs and core strength. So, when Kong wanted to take me to one last temple, I declined. He guilted me into it by saying, ”you don’t like the temples that much, do you?” Okay, okay, one more temple! And of course it had to be the steepest one. Much like climbing the sacraficial pyramids at Tenochitlan in Mexcio, but steeper. Some stairs are worthy of a climbing rating – granted only 5.6 or 5.7, but still! I offered up my thanks for my young legs the whole way up and the whole way down. The view from the top was spectacular and very worth it. I also got to tease a trinket selling girl who asked me where I came from. I fired the question back at her, and she said ”my mother.” I laughed out loud and said, ”Yeah? Me too!”
Overall – Angkor Wat is amazing. Maybe it’s my northern hemisphere blood, or my lack of education about the temple history (or both), but they don’t beat Machu Picchu for awe and amazement points in my book. I suppose because I’m a mountain girl, ruins with peaks shooting skyward all around and a temperature in the comfortable 60’s instead of the sweltering 80’s (and that’s the winter temp here!) get my vote more easily. I definitely recommed a trip, though, and I look forward to returning one day!
I had Kong drop me off at a tea garden famous for it’s butterflies (none in sight) where he invited me to meet up with him and his American girlfriend for dinner. I readily agreed!