After arriving at Siem Reap and surviving the onslaught of tuk tuk drivers we are whisked off to our guest house after securing our driver for a tour of the temples. Day one: After a little debate as to what it is we should see first we default to the wisdom of Mr. Lee our driver. We start with the heavy hitters... Angkor Wat, what can I say that hasn't all ready been said. Awesome, huge, marvelous... all accurate descriptions but used too often (for more info on Angkor click the link). Built in the Hindu tradition as a model of Mt. Meru it was later converted into a Buddhist shrine. The scale of the Wat could have you exploring it for days.
The fearsome and ever present Hora
Next up... Bayon who's 200 plus carvings of the face of the Buddha of compassion may make you feel like you are being watched. An impressive sight, it is almost impossible not to catch a face in your photos. But who am I kidding, this is what you have come here to photograph! It is every bit as magnificent as Angkor Wat and a testament to the skills of the Khmer sculptors. It is generally believed that the face of the Buddha is a copy of the king's Jayavarman VII face. (not at all conceded!) Why not, after all he did consider himself a god-king.
Next it was off to what is called the largest jig-saw puzzle in the world, Baphuon. This temple was disassembled before Cambodia was plunged deep into chaos during the 70's. During which the records for re-assembling were destroyed. The back wall has an enormous reclining Buddha a mere 9 metres high by 70 M long, adjacent to the Royal palace area where we headed next.
While in the royal palace area I spot a monkey making it's way toward a group of us, along a wall. The monkey scampered down and is fed and attended to by several tourists. Not content, the monkey spots a young Cambodian girl with a bag full of (what we assume is) milk. A bound, a grab and snatch, and a bound away and the monkey steals the drink from the little girl . Completely shocked and terrified, it takes some time for her mom to calm her down. Unaffected the monkey attempts to drink the beverage. Nothing sweeter than milk stolen from the hands of a child! Cheeky monkey! However, you are warned that food can be targeted by monkeys while touring the temples of Angkor. You have been warned.
Day two involved a 5:30 A.M. wake up call to witness the sunrise at Angkor Wat. We arrive far enough before the sun does but not nearly early enough to beat the crowds. We are directed to the "best area" to see and capture the sun rise. We crowd in with hundreds of others to wait the arrival of the sun. Granted the lotus pond does have a nice aesthetic but we tire of the crowd and skip over to the other pond sans lotus for our sunrise photo opp. No need to clamor for space here, we are able to have just us and the Wat in the frame. Sometimes it pays to breakaway from the shot everyone has to have. I mean, really who misses the pink lotus blossoms in the pond?
As we head back ready for breakfast we pause at the stillness of the Wat and the calm of the moat around it. We are not alone in enjoying the peaceful setting. A Buddhist monk has plunked himself down on the banks of the moat and stares meditatively towards the Wat. We did continue our tour of the temples that day but moments like that seem to resonate.
Day three... abbreviated. Up until now we had completely obliged our tuk tuk driver and went where he suggested. But at 40 minutes one way on a bumpy dirt road and with our aging and aching backs we decided not to go to Banteay Srey. Instead we headed directly to the Rolus Group temples. These are pre-Angkor era and because of their age they are in a greater state of ruin. But this still seemed like a great way to end our tour of the temples of Angkor.
Begun in 802 until 1431, the temples of Angkor have to some extent been left to the jungle. Not even a king as great and powerful as Jayavarman VII can keep the jungle at bay for all of time. It is not uncommon to see massive trees sprouting from temple walls like those of Preah Khan and the ever popular and impressive Ta Prohm. So stunning, they have been used in films such a Tomb Raider. It is both sad and satisfying that these once great temples are being returned to the earth they were carved from. But time marches on with a fervour and ruthlessness far greater than any army, Khmer or otherwise.
Is it safe to say that there is no other reason to go to Cambodia than to see Angkor Wat? Well that's not true. We will always remember the people and especially the kids of Cambodia. We must not forget the turmoil they were put through under Pol Pot. This is the the most important thing to take away from Cambodia. But the most impressive (anywhere to date) thing to take away is Angkor. To come to Cambodia and not see it wild be fool-hearty. No doubt it will deliver as the 8th wonder of the world (with apologies to Andre the giant as I don't want to anger him).