Angkor Wat is apparently the most visited location in Cambodia; more people go there than go to visit the capital. Today it was our turn to add to the load.
Siem Reap isn’t such a big place, so it was only fifteen minutes’ drive from our guest house to the ticketing area. It looks like there is (or was) a good black market for the tickets as you have to get your photograph taken to be printed on the ticket and it is inspected at the entrance to each temple in the complex. Single adult entry is $20 but if you want to come on more than one day there are three- and seven-day options. I am toying with the idea of coming back tomorrow, but since the three-day ticket is $40, there’s no point in committing now.
Over the course of the day we visited Angkor Thom, the Bayon, Baphuon and cut through the palace complex before going on to Ta Prohm (the ‘Jungle’ Temple, used in the original Tomb Raider movie). After lunch we went on to the highlight of the day; Angkor Wat itself.
With the exception of Ta Prohm, the plan seemed to be visiting them in reverse order based on their degree of ruination. Not a bad strategy as I think all of us commented at some point in the Bayon about how fantastic it must have looked when it was new. While Angkor Wat isn’t quite that complete, it certainly gives you a better idea of the grandeur of what once existed here. Every surface is carved with patterns or murals. There were remains of paint or pigment in many places. At one point the lichen-covered remains of one of Naga (seven- headed serpents, whose statues often adorn the entrances to temples) had been laid down pending restoration. You could see that the pupil of the eye was painted black and the eyeball was an inlay of Mother-of-Pearl. I imagine these temples rivalled those in modern Bangkok in their time!
Initially, I compared the temples with the cathedrals of Europe, which I think they would have outshone as architecture, but most of them are more than just the building itself. They are more along the lines of a country estate; striking buildings, whose architects also built grand gatehouses and formal approach bridges laid out between ornamental lakes to make sure the visitor was impressed and humbled as they approached the inner sanctum. Even with much of it in ruins, the plan still works; the vista as you pass through the gatehouse takes your breath away.
The Angkor complex was covered by jungle for many years and only rediscovered in relatively recent history. Much of the area is still under vegetation and there is plenty of wildlife to enjoy as you explore. My attention was first caught by the butterflies which were varied and abundant. Also some variety of dragonfly seemed to be swarming today. Brett spotted a snake slithering atmospherically over the Jungle Temple. The monkeys were the big hit though; they roamed the site freely, to the locals annoyance and the tourists’ delight!
Ronnie our guide was a bit of a philosopher as well as a tour guide, but I think he was a little put out that many of us weren’t keen on the detailed history he was ready to share with us, instead preferring to go off and explore by ourselves in ignorance.
The day was due to end by watching sunset over Angkor Wat from the Bakheng Temple, built on a hilltop southwest of the temple. We had the option of climbing the hill ourselves or paying $20 to ride an elephant to the top. One of our group, Tim, had mentioned he wanted to ride an elephant at some point on this trip, so he and Lucy boarded and headed off up the hill after a few photographs. Brett and I chose to trek ourselves and the climb, while winding, wasn’t too harsh.
In the end the evening was too cloudy to give a good sunset, or any good evening light on the temple, so people started drifting down early. There was a thunderstorm going on a few miles away which provided a sound and light show to pass the time though. When it became clear the storm was heading in our direction, everyone decided it was time to go and the group headed down almost as a unit. We made it to the bus with about ten minutes to spare before the heavens opened.
When people have talked about the rainy season, they have typically said it rains heavily for a short period and then stops. Today was not a typical day; it started around 6pm and was still raining heavily when we went to bed four hours later!
Back at the hotel, all anyone wanted was a shower after a very humid day clambering over dusty ruins, but after freshening up, we headed down to the guest house restaurant to see what was going on and ended up heading out to dinner with Lyn (an Australian lady) Monica and Ana (a Peruvian mother and daughter) and Amelia, Marc’s Peruvian partner. I was also after Wi-Fi, because my laptop hadn’t been able to hold onto the hotel connection for more than a few minutes at a time and it was frustrating seeing everything cycle and not upload any photos!
In the end we had a good meal, although the restaurant’s Wi-Fi wasn’t any more reliable than the hotel’s! Brett and Lyn had the best dinner, a Khmer Barbeque; a wok-shaped pan with a dome in the centre which they brought to your table, filled the rim with stock and lit a flame under. You could then stew your vegetables and cook your meat – which included portions of crocodile and kangaroo! The mango daiquiris helped sooth our jealousy though…
After dinner we braved the rain in search of a free ladyboy show that Lyn had heard about somewhere. In fine tourist tradition we spent ten minutes walking the wrong direction (in the rain) before realising our mistake and heading the right way. The show was staged at the back of the Siem Reap Night Market. It was free to watch, although there were two rows of massage chairs directly in front of the stage, so I suspect it may have been a marketing ploy. The show itself was quite jaw-droppingly bad. To begin with they were at least trying to put on a good show, although the lip-synching was sometimes quite random. As the show went on though, it got more and more bizarre and politically incorrect. One of the later scenes had a man beating up his mistress so she would leave him alone with his new bride…
After we left the show and I gave the tuk-tuk driver the name of our guest house, he asked if we wanted “Lady Bang Bang.” I declined and said we’d be fine with the Victory Guesthouse. He set off in the opposite direction though. When we got his attention and showed him the card with the guest house address on it, he was rather sheepish and said he’d misheard me; he thought we wanted the Happy Guest House. I suspect we narrowly escaped coming face to face with some lady bang bang there!
Ah, well, all part of the adventure!