7- 10 January 2013
40 USD for a 3-day pass…time to explore Angkor Wat, Thom, Bayon, Roulous and other surrounding temples. Every visit made me realise how artistic and smart people were back then especially since they created such grand masterpieces out of the most primitive of tools.
Since the temple complex is huge, walking would take too long. The best way to move around the huge complex is on two wheels. Tang Reng, my lovely guide (No. 017834276 or 010716933) took me around on his motorbike. What followed was three days of Tang taking me around all the major sites within the complex, trying out various Cambodian snacks, goofing around, making ‘mini’ discoveries and me bombarding poor Tang with all sorts of Cambodia-related questions.
“We will start at a very important place. This place is so important that it is on our flag.” explained Tang Reng.
After a short ride, the moat and long wall revealed the main entrance to the iconic Angkor Wat.
The five rising towers (sometimes, you see three depending on where you stand). is covered with reliefs which tells the story of gods fighting demons in order to reclaim order.
As the largest religious monument in the world, it started off as a Hindu temple before becoming a Buddhist temple around the end of the 12th century. The Khmer King had a vision to build a state temple that will also act as a mausoleum. Extremely well-preserved, Angkor Wat is designed to represent Mount Meru- the home of the devas in Hindu mythology.
Many temples within Angkor Wat became overtaken by vegetation- adding an extra mysterious touch to the already fascinating place. Overall, it is well preserved although during the Khmer Rouge Regime, wooden structures were destroyed and pavilions were destroyed by the Americans.
Tang Reng pointed to a few headless statues and said: “Many were stolen then sold in Thailand. Locals who live near the complex, sneak in and make money from it. Very bad.”
Many ancient carvings have been destroyed since during the early days of tourism, the site was not very well-preserved.
Whether it is the corridors with carved reliefs or well-arranged temples, there are plenty of places to discover in the complex.
Depending on one’s time, visitors can take the grand circuit or the small circuit routes. Apart from the main entrance, there is also the temple made famous by the Lara Croft film.
Another popular temple is Bayon or the one with the carved faces.The Leper King Terrace and the 350m-long Terrace of Elephants around Angkor Thom served different functions back then (the first became a cremation site and the second, with its magnificent elephant carvings, served as a viewing platform for the King). Since they were made from organic materials, the ones that exist today are only the temple foundations.
It was great to discover the temple complex with a true local and I was very surprised to bump into lovely Fishe from Malaysia. I first saw her in Phnom Penh. Fiercely independent and also a history/culture fan, we got along quite well so we made a deal to find time to travel together someday. Can’t wait!
On the second day, we visited a few more temples. Tang wanted me to see as much as possible and explained with great detail just how the construction all came into being. After spending half a day at the various temple grounds, Tang decided to teach me motorbike riding so off we went into the Cambodian countryside.
It was a beautiful day and a very nice ride into some hidden small towns and endless rice fields. It was great to meet the locals especially seeing little kids having a whale of time, splashing about in the local river and laughing with great positivity. “Hey, madam, come, come,”- nice for them to invite me but I think I’ll go for a dive another time.
Restaurants were pretty hard to find in the Cambodian countryside. The only place with some food was the insect stand and the lolly stall. So, Tang and I sat along the river bank- eating frogs, grasshoppers, cicadas and other crunchy fried bugs or two along with some local lolly and coconut juice.
We visited more temples – this time known as “The Roluos Group”. It’s a group of monuments which represents the remains of the first major capital of the Khmer Empire. Located about 13km southeast of Siem Reap, it is a short ride away from Angkor Wat and since your pass includes the Roluos Group, you might as well pay the site a visit. There are significantly less tourists there.
Tang and I did the usual stuff- running around the various temples, taking photos and learning about the history of the place. Tang showed me a very well hidden statue. Tucked inside one of the corridors, it’s known locally as an auspicious statue due to the location, intricate carvings and a neat fish carving found at the base of the statue.
Dark and damp, temples always make a perfect home for a family of bats. We could smell the bat poo so we followed its trail and I pointed my camera and snapped this amazing photo. Apologies for waking you guys up and what a great Sir David Attenborough moment.
Tes’s cousin Ung is a dentist. That is one profession which requires brains and patience. She kindly picked me up from the guesthouse and took me out for dinner at a very local restaurant. We later had milkshake and chatted about each other’s country and our lives. She took me around the night markets and gave me some gifts. Such a lovely person- love her!
Time flies when you are having fun – I look forward to Laos but not the long journey ahead. # For those thinking about traveling overland from Cambodia to Laos, it is most convenient and less of a hassle to go via Thailand. I’m all ready for my trip: Siem Reap to Bangkok then wait for a train to Nong Khai then walk then car and voila- Vientiane, Laos. Of course, you can also fly straight into Laos but then, I wasn’t too keen on paying so much money for that trip.
The three-day trip ended quicker than I’ve imagined. I said goodbye to Tes, Tang and Ung. One day, I’ll be back and I’ll definitely stay longer.