Siem Reap, Cambodia 03/'06
Note: First Part HERE.
The souvenirs are now a bit worn, and the photo album has already gathered dust on a forlorn shelf. But the vivid memories of seeing Angkor for the first time are still as clear as ever.
Our guide, Thom (who has been the most informative tour guide of all the times I’ve been to Siem Reap), picked us up at about 7 a.m. An hour earlier than most other tour groups. But Thom insisted on this, so we could beat the crowds and get the best view of the temples. One problem: I’ve never been a morning person. So naturally, I woke up late and crammed. And my face got the short end of the stick when I applied too much sunblock in the rush of things. My father pointed out that I looked like I had a kabuki mask on. Yeah, that’s my dad. Ever the sensitive guy.
[photo via http://discover-indo.tierranet.com%5D
I had a kabuki mask on, but I was rarin’ to go. Good thing that Siem Reap’s located in South East Asia, where there is only one seaon: Summer. It was scorching hot, so the zinc oxide paste on my face melted away after an hour, and blended to my pale skin. But I’m digressing.
In my experience, the first temple that Angkor tour guides take visitors to is, Ta Prohm. Tomb Raider ring a bell? I’m not sure if it’s because Ta Prohm looks best with the sun just barely out, or if they think everyone is a big fan of Angelina Jolie.
[photo via phuketno1island.wordpress.com]
Back then, Ta Prohm wasn’t the barricaded ruins that it is today. I actually got to touch and enter the individual citadels and its long corridors. Yes, most of Ta Prohm was crumbling to the ground (which prompted the recent restorations). But the winding roots and lush foliage of hundred-years-old trees made the place more interesting than the other much-restored temples. The serpentine roots creeping on age-old stone bricks was living history! Awesome.
I planted my hand on the trunk of one of the oldest trees, in a profound moment of solace. I’m not sure what that was all about. Perhaps I was being melodramatic, but I was most likely just being emo.
Oldest tree, about 800 years.
On our way out, we passed by a group of landmine victims playing handmade musical instruments. The music was lovely, but their broken state overshadowed the uplifting melodies. It was a bittersweet sight. Unfortunate how the Khmer Rouge disfigured such a beautiful country.
Our second temple visit was going to be a surprise, Thom said. Later on, he disclosed that we were going to visit “his” temple. At the time, I wasn’t sure if he was trying to tell us it was his favorite temple, or I just didn’t understand his particular brand of Khmer-English (which was actually very good). Turns out, it was in fact a joke. As we were nearing the end of a dirt road, I started to make out a row of what seemed like stone gargoyles leading up to a steeple-like entryway. It was freakin’ Angkor Thom! Nice joke.
We stopped by the entrance to take some photos. Papa, who suddenly became so camera-handy, was ready to shoot even before I could position myself beside the giant elephants carved out of – yet again – stone bricks.
I thought I looked so cool (bayong and all). Operative word: thought. Past tense.
We then made our way back to the car and drove to the 12th century Buddhist temple, (my favorite) Bayon, built by the Khmer king, Jayavarman VII. The temple’s baroque style is more similar to Ta Prohm (with the individual citadels), than Angkor Wat (as you will see later). But I’m not here to give a history lesson. So let’s move on.
From afar, Bayon’s many towers may appear to be a jumbled mishmash of random faces. But upon closer examination, you will see that each tower is calculatedly configured in relation to the others. This is why there are so many picture-perfect points on Bayon’s upper terraces.
See what I mean?
We moved along to other nearby parts of the complex which included Pre Rup Temple, The Elephant Terrace and Terrace of the Leper King, which had an open stadium in front for all kinds of sports competitions in the ancient Khmer kingdom.
After an exhaustive and exhausting (there’s a difference) tour of everything in sight, we made our way back to the car and headed off to the other side of the Angkor Archaeological Park, to where the Angkor Wat is located. I was starving for a proper lunch by then, so we took a break and ate at a no-name, overpriced restaurant on the side of a road. Please note that all restaurants in and around the temples are overpriced, and not necessarily good. However, we lucked out on the first time because despite being overpriced, the food actually tasted nice (unlike the other restaurants on my succeeding visits thereafter).
Here’s Papa (kind of) enjoying his lunch. This was when he still had a head-full of hair and less forehead wrinkles. From what I remember, we had chicken amok, a sweet-and-sour fish dish, fried rice and some sort of potato gratin (far out).
NEXT UP: More of the Angkor Archaeological Park... and Angkor Wat!