BootsnAll Travel Network

Siem Reap: The Temples of Angkor

We left Phnom Penh on Monday January 30th, and took an easily tolerable 5 hour bus north to Siem Reap. What was not quite so tolerable were the tuk-tuk drivers attacking us as we got off the bus. We collected our bags from underneath the dirty vehicle, and they swarmed on us, like piranha ferociously attacking stranded bait. 8 to 10 young guys surrounded us in a tight circle as we tried to put our packs on, each of them screaming in our ears, yelling louder and louder so to to be heard over the others. They waved signs in our faces, “tuk-tuk to any guesthouse, 1000 riel”. One of them grabbed my arm and spun me round, “Are you from the OK Guesthouse in Phnom Penh?”

I grabbed his hand, removed it from my arm, and replied “No.” Not even the old women of Croatia had been this aggressive.

I saw a driver lingering at the back of the pack, carrying a sign made of ripped cardboard as opposed to the laminated sheets most were carrying and pointed in his direction, “We’re going with him.” I said, and as though silenced by a judge banging down his gavel, they stopped their shouting and allowed us to walk to our tuk-tuk.

People stay in Siem Reap for one reason: Angkor Wat.

The name, though, is a little misleading, as Angkor Wat is simply one of the temples found around the Angkor complex: a sprawling area of land containing more temples than I could count, some huge and foreboding like Angkor Wat itself, and others small and looking almost insignificant amongst the surrounding jungle.

$10 US got us our own personal tuk-tuk and driver for the day, to take us the 20 minutes out to Angkor and back, as well as to drive us between temples, typically located a few kilometers apart. Our first stop, along with seemingly everyone else in the area, was Angkor Wat.

Many words have no doubt been written about this place, this place that inspires awe in surely the most hardened and cynical traveller, and I am positive I have nothing new to add to the catalogue of descriptions. But I must write something about our visit, if only to accompany the hundreds of photographs we took.

Angkor Wat is, to put it simply, awesome. And I mean that in the word’s truest sense. When you first see it, it seems distant, a mass of stone standing colourless against the glare of the sun. But as you apprach, treading gently along the uneven stone promenade, it begins to tower over you like a giant. It is huge; starkly exposing your insignificance in this immense world.

We stumbled along the path, our heads drawn upwards to the five towers shooting into the sky, leaving our feet to flounder blindly over the stones. We climbed up the steepest of steps to the top, and, almost overcome by the enormity of the place, sat down to consider where we were. Young orange-robed monks walked peacefully amongst the tourists and their cameras, before we saw them, too, pull out digital cameras and guide books. I guess everyone has to see this place for the first time.

Past Angkor Wat, we visited the compound of Angkor Thom, a huge area surrounded by an 8 metre high stone wall, and containing a numer of temples. The most astounding of these being the Temple of Bayon. It is the temple of faces; over 200 huge smiling faces are carved into 54 towers, and to walk amongst the maze of carved rocks, with their knowing eyes and thin lips, is to smile. You can’t help it.

But, even with the immense awe and wonder inspired by these two temples, nothing could compare with the haunting beauty of Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom is the jungle temple. You’ve probably seen photos of it; of its walls being enveloped by huge tree roots.

It is a crumbling old temple that has been overcome by the power of the jungle. Massive trees have shown scant regard for the building; reclaiming their territory. Their roots choke the stones, extending down like the claws of an eagle snatching up prey. Or, sometimes, they are more gentle, running along the top of a wall like an arm around someone’s shoulder; two old mates getting reacquainted.

We visited Ta Phrom on our second day at Angkor, arriving there around 6.30am. And while the masses were watching the sun rise back at Angkor Wat, we had the moody temple almost entirely to ourselves. In the first hour we saw just 2 other people. Climbing around this deserted, silent temple as the morning light began to filter down through the jungle canopy, and I mean climbing – the piles of fallen stones, giant blue and grey stones, made walking not always possible, was mesmerising. An experience I shall never forget.

After hearing so much about this place, this Angkor Wat, and paying the $20 US per day to get in, I was suprised at the sparsity of the place; in the area, situated amongst the various temples, are villages, and schools. People simply going about their daily lives, living in the shadows of an astounding cultural foot print.

By 7.30am, the buses of tourists with their shouting and noise began to arrive, signalling our time to leave. And after visits to a couple of other temples, we headed back to Siem Reap.

In between our two days at Angkor we had spent a day in Siem Reap, organising a Vietnamese visa (there was to be no repeat of the Cambodian visa debacle) and getting some internet time.

This day off also raised the question, what do you get when you mix a tennis racquet, swarms of mosquitos, shitloads of blood, and screaming kids?

We found out the answer when we visited the Siem Reap Children’s Hospital to donate blood. Now, I hate hospitals at the best of times. Back home, you don’t normally donate your blood at a hospital; there are buildings and organisations concerned specifcally with blood-donating. But here, in Cambodia, it was shoes off at the hospital door.

Barefoot, we were led through the hospital and asked to wait outside a small room marked “Blood taking”. Small kids were led past by their mothers, and would look inquisitively in our direction, some giving a small wave, others hiding behind their mother’s legs. A young mother stood nearby rocking a crying baby. And we waited, trying not to look too conspicuous.

As we waited, we heard what sounded like sparks igniting coming from the blood taking room. Zap, Zap, Zap, it went, on and on. How the fuck do they get this blood, I thought, with a welding iron? Bec was a little more jovial though, “It sounds like they’ve got one of those mosquito killing tennis racquets in there,” she said jokingly. What she was referring to was an ingenious little tool we’d seen in Laos and Cambodia; it looks like a small toy tennis racquet, but instead of the head containing strings with which to hit a ball, it has electrified wires like those on a bug zapper. It is battery operated, and you hold down a small button on the handle whilst swinging it at mosquitos. And when you strike one, it fizzes and burns on the wires before falling dead to the floor. We loved it. But, surely they weren’t using it in a bloody hospital!

After filling out some basic forms, we were led into the tiny room, and sure enough, there was the lone doctor, swinging that tennis racquet like Roger Federer in the Australian Open. Zap! Zap! Zap!

Bec volunteered to go first, and whilst she lay on the bed being tended to by the young Doc, it was my job to smash all the mosquitos. In the 5 or so minutes Bec took to knock out 350ml (in Australia the standard donation is 750ml, a fact which shocked the Cambodian doctor), I swatted at least 10 of the little bastards. As I sat, eyes scanning the bare, pink walls, the Doc would suddenly turn away from the bag filling with Bec’s blood and point, “There! There!” and I would jump up like an objecting lawyer, wielding the racquet as though it were a light sabre.

Who knew giving blood could be so much fun?

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One Response to “Siem Reap: The Temples of Angkor”

  1. sean Says:

    now i want elephant glue … AND an electric racket thing. but just try to get them through u.s. customs, hahahaha ha ha .. ha … *sigh*

  2. Posted from United States United States

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