Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sitha had told us the night before that we were scheduled to leave for Angkor at 8:30, so we got up and got breakfast before then. The weather looked okay, so that was good. We were worried it would be raining, as it was in KL and Bangkok the day before. We had to stop at the Main Entrance to get photographs and passes. The passes come in 3 day and 7 day passes. One of the few pluses of not getting here on time the day before was that we could get the cheaper 3 day pass instead. They didn't use to require photographs on the passes, but now they do require them because people were taking their passes (which aren't uber-expensive by the way, especially when compared to airfare to Siem Reap) and giving passes to friends, family, others on tour groups, etc. For a country as poor as Cambodia, this is a pretty screwed up thing to do. We're lucky that we get to visit Angkor at all - it easily could have been blown to bits in the civil war. It was one of the few areas where the military let things mostly be, although there is still evidence of damage, such as bullet holes in the walls.

Our first stop was Angkor Wat, which was only about 10 minutes from our hotel. We headed in from the West side, which is its "main" gate. Apparently most of the temples have their main gate on the East side, so Angkor Wat is unusual in that regard. Behind us was a huge yellow balloon, which didn't fit in at all. It is for rising up to look over the surrounding area, which is all well and good, but it seems like the balloon could be green or camoflauged instead of bright yellow. Back to Angkor Wat, the sun was was behind the temple and was pretty bright, which made it hard to make out any detail.

The grounds of the complex were huge, and towers of the temple were huge too, but interestingly they were smaller than we were expecting. We probably just had unrealistic expectations after reading and hearing so many grand things over the years. At the central area, there were different levels, and at each level, Sitha told us about the bas reliefs and what was being depicted, lots of Hindu legends and stories. Interestingly, the architecture and the bas reliefs were mixed, somewhat, with Buddhist, since the Khmer people were first Hindu, but then became Buddhist. So in many places, Hindu gods were replaced with statues of Buddha over the years.

Repairs of Angkor Wat (and many of the temples, for that matter) are still ongoing, and there was scaffolding in numerous places, which took a little bit away, but overall the structures were still very impressive. It just made us try to hide the scaffolding with whatever we could. We can't really remember everything Sitha told us - there was a ton, and we were sensory overloaded - so it's probably best to look on Wikipedia since our memory is invariably incorrect on all of this. Eventually we went to the top level, where only people appropriately dressed could go. About half the people couldn't go, since they were wearing shorts and tank tops.

After walking around at the top for 20 minutes, slowly made our way down. In certain places, there were hardly any people and it was very quiet and peaceful. In other places, pretty much the opposite. We made our way out the north side, then walked out the pathway to the east. All told, we'd been there about three hours, and it was pretty much what we expected.

The next step was Ta Prohm. This temple is famous for being unrestored - it has been left, more or less, how it was when "found." The people maintaining the area take out trees that are going to cause further damage if they fall down once sick, but otherwise leave most of the site alone. There were lots of people here as well, and we had to be a bit of a photo ninja to hide all the people behind buildings, pillars, etc. It was starting to get really hot, as it was the middle of the day now.

After Ta Prohm, we went to lunch, as by now it was 1:30. We had a traditional Khmer lunch, which was very good. After lunch, we headed to Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom was a much bigger complex than Angkor Wat, but the main temple, Bayon, was shorter and smaller. But to make up for that, there were lots of carved heads on the temples, lots of bas reliefs. Also, as Sitha told us, the bas reliefs had a lot of information about day-to-day life for the local people, which apparently was uncommon for the area. The faces were very intricate, carved after the main stones had been put in place.

After Bayon, we went to Baphuon, which was another terraced pyramid in the same complex. By this time, it was swelteringly hot, and the stairs were straight uphill. Even Sitha told us to just go up the stairs and explore on our own - by the time we got done, we could see he'd been hanging out in a hammock in the shade - good choice on his part. On the way out, we caught a glimpse of the giant reclining Buddha carved into the wall. The next stop was Phimeanakas. Justin asked what we'd see from the top of the steps, and Sitha said not much - so we just skipped. Then went to the other places in the Royal Palace area, Terrace of the Leper King and Terrace of the Elephants. There were excellent intricate carvings at Terrace of the Leper King. By contrast, the elephants at the Terrace of the Elephants were harder to see. Sitha showed us some places where the elephants were easier to see, and they were nice, but still not the easiest things in the world to make out.

We were fairly exhausted at this point, so every time we got in the car the AC was a blessing. But, that being said, we knew we were halfway across the globe, so we stopped at Angkor Wat once again, since the lighting was good and it looked like we might get a sunset. We took some pictures from outside, then went in. When we went in, we saw some monks, so Justin chased them down and got a photo. Then we went to a reflecting pool, which was excellent, with minor demerits for the scaffolding.

By the time we got back to the hotel, it was 6:30 or so. We talked about going out, but once we found out our bar had "good" ice, we decided to stay. At the bar, we discussed the new "7 wonders," of which Angkor Wat is surprisingly not one. We agreed on 6 of the 7 (Rapa Nui, Great Wall, Angkor Wat, Colosseum, Petra, and Machu Picchu), with Crystal's 7th being Chichen Itza and Justin's being Hagia Sophia. We hung out for a bit, then decided to get some sleep, because another long day lay ahead.