The alarm went off at 4:15am but we were already awake. You know how it is – we knew we had to be in the lobby at around 4:40 and the body clock did the rest. Everybody had elected to go out to Angkor Wat to see the sunrise over the towers, so we piled into the buses and hit the road.
And so did about a million other people. This particular Sunday was the date of an international half marathon, starting and finishing at Angkor Wat. We’d seen quite a few people wearing shorts and numbers in the lobby, obviously participants. When we arrived at the carpark, it was apparent that a lot of people had been awake earlier than us, setting up the course and support facilities for the event. We had to detour around the course to get to the relative peace of the viewing area opposite the temple, lighting our way through the darkness with (provided) torches. We’d been told the site wouldn’t be crowded and I suppose it wasn’t if you think a few hundred people isn’t a crowd. Most of them stood crushed together around a lake where they could get a photo of the temple reflected in the water. We parked ourselves further up the hill on another ruin. We waited in warm darkness as the temple’s towers started to stand out black against the background. A hint of deepest crimson stained the sky, then lightened to blood red.
To be honest, I was disappointed. The temple was a silhouette. A little later, when the crowd around the lake had dissipated somewhat, I managed to get a photo of the reflection. I expect anyone who has been to Angkor Wat has one of these. Then we joined Linda and Mike on the causeway in front of the building for more photos.
Our guide had given everyone careful instructions on where to meet at a designated time for a tour of the complex, but somehow we managed to lose the group. We saw them from a distance, dutifully made our way across the grass – but by the time we arrived they had disappeared.
On these excursions we were all given little radio receivers with an ear piece. That way the tour guide didn’t have to shout and we could be some distance (not too far) away to hear what was said. Having arrived where the group was supposed to meet, we headed inside, hoping to catch them. Every now and then we’d hear a snatch of words through the ear piece and changed direction on that basis, following the sound. The reasoning went something like ” we heard him going that way, so if we go down this corridor we should catch up with them over there”. This happened several times. I felt a bit like Merry and Pippin in the Mines of Moria. As a result, we saw a lot of places we might not otherwise have seen, walking over planks laid to protect the uneven paving as well as the tourists. At one point Mike went off to look at something, Linda waited for him so now there were two… But if we met any orcs they were well disguised as foreign tourists.
We did eventually catch up with the group at the place where visitors could climb a stairway to stand on the top ramparts to admire the view. Mike and Linda found us there and did the climb. We didn’t. It wouldn’t do to have a coughing fit on the stairs. In all these temple the top of the building is the pinnacle, the closest place to God. It’s as true of Christian churches. In this case, not everyone could climb up, that was limited to the king and his senior people. The stairs we tourists use is recent and is built over a steep ramp – which was how the climb used to be made, no doubt virtually on hands and knees.
Angkor Wat is enormous. It was never overgrown with trees like Ta Prohm, and it was never completely abandoned although it was sacked by the Khmer’s deadly enemies, the Cham. Read all about Angkor Wat here. One reason for the lack of intrusion from trees is the tightness of the joints between the stones. We’ve all seen pictures of the buildings at Machu Pichu but these constructions were almost as good. Holes were bored into the stones and then the edges were ground against each other to make a perfect fit. There’s no mortar.
The bas reliefs were fascinating. There are lots of warfare, of course, and crushing of enemies under our feet. But this was originally a Hindu temple and while Buddhists don’t believe in hell, Hindus have a version. Some of the carvings show some pretty awful practices, such as cutting out someone’s tongue. There are plenty of gods and demons, too. One shows the five faces of Shiva. Another shows a deity riding a water buffalo.
There are plenty of monkeys in the forest surrounding Angkor Wat (not inside). Our guide warned us not to get too close or try to touch. They do bite and rabies is a thing here. On the way back to the bus we came across a tree where a dozen baby monkeys played around, being supervised by one old aunty. Maybe it was the kindergarten?
After we’d crossed the wide moat surrounding the complex we had to get to our bus, parked somewhere in a distant corner of the car park. The half marathon was finished and the crowds were prodigious. It was all we could do to keep an eye on that bobbing blue APT sign as we fought our way through. When we finally made it to the bus at least we got to sit down in air-conditioned comfort while the driver tried to get out of the place. It took about an hour.
After lunch we had a whole swag of choices – horse and cart ride, quad bike excursion, an artisan’s workshop, a Buddhist blessing, shopping – or a relaxing spa treatment at the hotel. After all that walking, we were both happy to chill out at the spa.
In the evening APT gave us a list of places to go to for dinner, depending on food choices. The cost of the meal and the tuk-tuk ride there and back were included as part of our tour. About fourteen of us elected to go to the ‘Kitchen’, a restaurant which offered real Khmer food. We had a great evening. The food was delicious and the staff cheerful and informative. Pete asked about one of his dishes, bamboo sticky rice. The young lady serving us explained that the sticky rice was cooked inside a bamboo stem. She was lovely. Pete and I had ordered a second glass of wine (the first was complimentary) and at the end of the evening she presented us with a bill each. I looked at mine and thrust it at Pete, which raised a laugh from our friends – and also from the waitress, who gave me a broad smile and a thumbs up. Two of the dishes were presented with a bit of theatre, requiring the restaurant manager to light alcohol fumes (flambe). He had a bit of trouble the first time because his lighter didn’t work but in the end it was suitably spectacular.
It was a lovely evening ending a memorable visit to Siem Reap. Tomorrow we’d be off to board our river ship, the Amalotus.
PS If you ever want to find earlier posts, they’re all listed on this page for easy reference.