a longer than intended stay in Phnom Penh, Lindsay and I headed north
to Siem Reap, the city nearest to ancient Angkor Wat. We arrived
around 2 a.m. after the best bus ride we’ve had in SE Asia. Our
chairs rivaled first class airplane seats and the bus even had a
toilet. It was a welcome change of pace after our adventures in
it was late and we were deservedly tired, we couldn’t resist walking for an hour comparing our options for lodging. Finally we
settled on a place that would let us share a $2 bed in their outdoor
dorm. The fun part was keeping sand out of the sheets. It was hot and
the air was still, but sleep came easily.
morning we transferred to a bona fide room before renting $1 bikes for
the day and setting off on a 10k cruise to Angkor Wat. We stopped
midway for some fresh juice when we spotted a sugar cane lady. She
ran the cane through her press and then ladled it into little open
topped plastic bags and served them with straws. We had a few
servings and reused our bags, which amused her.
we arrived we were surprised to learn the park entrance fee is $20
per person for a day pass, but when are you gonna find yourself in
Cambodia again, ya know? It turns out it was totally worth it, so no
regrets. Buying tickets was actually exciting, too. Out of nowhere,
Lindsay screamed like she’d been tasered. A spider nearly the size of
my hand was making it’s way up her thigh when, without looking she
brushed at the itch and felt that freaky large thing. She screamed
repeatedly, too. The Thai women working the ticket sales had a good
laugh. It was a benign spider.
on bikes, we rode for a while more and approached the Angkor Wat moat
from the south side. I’d looked at the map of the grounds on which
the moat appeared to be narrow. Wow, in reality it is just shy of two
hundred meters wide! The far shore held a gorgeous forest. So we rode
around to the entrance, parked our bikes where the seats might not
cook in the sun, and made our way to the two hundred and fifty meter
promenade that crosses the moat.
walk across was surreal. Angkor Wat is not something I ever imagined
I would actually see in real life. It is the stuff of National
Geographic specials and Indiana Jones adventures. But there we were,
fully amazed and feeling very grateful.
Inside the moat is an impressive tonnage of stone. I have not been to the great pyramids, but the huge size and great quantity of the stones used to construct the temple made me wonder at the labor used to build it. Sadly, the halls and walls are no longer as ornate as once they were, prior to their ‘discovery’ by the west in the 18th century. Many of the statues have been stolen and others carted off to museums for preservation. Nonetheless, the walk through the temple is spectacular for the architecture and the scale employed.
After plenty of gawking, Lindsay and I picnicked in the surrounding forest and took a swim in the moat. We scared ourselves a bit initially with thoughts of crocodiles and beasts that may lurk in a moat so large, but after swimming I am pretty sure they would have cooked by now. The water was as warm as soup.
Surprisingly, the highlight of our time in the park was not the famous Angkor Wat temple. The much older neighboring Angkor Tom contains perhaps a dozen temples, one of which we absolutely loved. Bayon Temple is the more astounding for its monolithic carved stone faces, and much aged ruins. Because the temple was built without true mortar it has not withstood the centuries as well as Angkor Tom. An earthquake toppled a good portion of the stonework, which just adds to the charm.
We really had a blast exploring Bayon. It was easy to imagine ourselves trekking through the jungle hundreds of years ago, on safari, and finding this mysterious temple.The maze of hallways and stairs, intricate carvings, and towering faces, toppled stone gives it a real magic.
If you ever find yourself in this part of the world, definitely spend a day in Siem Reap to see these wonders. Angkor Wat, and the lesser known Angkor Tom, are treasures.
John & Narisa, the folks we rented our loft from in North Adams, have a gallery there in Siem Reap. He's a photographer that specializes in infrared photography of Angkor Wat and does really amazing work. His website is http://www.asiaphotos.net . The infrared makes the already otherworldly ruins even more surreal. It would be great to see his work full sized and in person after visiting the temples.