Cambodia Part 3 – in the Adults Adventure Playground..
This is the day I come face to face with one of the archaeological winders of the world. But to face one of those you must have breakfast so I fill up on fruit, pastries, bacon, baked beans and potatoes, all washed down with copious glasses of orange juice. Then, wearing a yellow t-shirt so bright it puts the sun to shame, I am ready for the off.
The sun was already fierce by the time we stopped at the entrance to the archaeological zone to get our pictures taken for our passes. It was just after 8.00am and already a sizeable queue had formed. Thankfully, given our official tour group status we were hurried through and, passes sorted and verified, they let us loose in the park.
Angkor Wat is protected by a wide moat and to enter you first must cross a broad stone bridge which leads from the car park opposite to the outer wall of the temple complex. As you cross you can just see the iconic spires, peeping over the roofs. Built between 1113 and 1150 in the reign of Suryavarman 2nd, Angkor Wat is both a state capital and a temple.
One of the largest religious sites in the world, it is based on a Hindu universe centred on a stylised Mount Meru, the centre of the physical, metaphysical and spiritual universes and it’s the home of Lord Brahma and the Demi-gods.
There are so many facets to Angkor, so many little details, that it’s easy to miss some. We missed seeing the famous relief “Churning of the Ocean of Milk” because we were so caught up seeing other things.
Inside the complex another broad causeway leads to the central elevation. On either side libraries and large reservoirs lay empty. The reservoirs have been utilised for many photos of Angkor as they are ideally placed to catch the facades reflection.
Wonderful friezes of Apsara dancing girls adorn the walls and everywhere you look there is another exquisite carving or another viewpoint, another photo opportunity.
I know that to some it’s all a bit samey, a bit, well, dull I suppose. People see gorgeous photos of places and expect an exact recreation of what they’ve seen. Have they never heard of photo manipulation ?. I had seen photos and thought it looked fascinating. I thought it was an astonishing place with a beauty not born from bright colours, not eye catching, but an austere beauty, a quiet dignified air, something beautifully crafted to a plan that only a master builder could have come up with.
This was spectacular. But it wasn’t an in your face spectacular.
The central representation of Mount Meru is called The Bakan. Here, proper etiquette must be observed. Hats are removed, knees and shoulders covered, for this is a sacred place and if you are asked to do something to show respect then I think you should show it. It’s their country and their rules.
The short climb is steep but well worth it as, from the very top of the tower you get a 360 degree view of how Angkor fits in with the surrounding jungle. From my vantage point I could see people streaming to and fro along the causeway and, further in the distance, the static balloon that rises majestically to give tourists an aerial glimpse of the wonders below.
It’s simply awesome.
Even in quite a small area I found places where, away from the crowds, I could stand and quietly contemplate the genius of its construction. It’s uniformity, it’s solidity, the quality of its carvings, the designs, the patterns, it’s glorious setting. I felt so alive. Refreshed, invigorated, blown away by the imperious nature of one of the worlds great wonders.
But Angkor Wat is just part of a much larger picture.
Angkor Thom, the fortified city, is equally noteworthy.
The bridge to the south entrance has 54 gods to its left and 54 demons to its right. Each figure holds a seven headed Naja.
In the 13th century, King Jayavarman 7th began to construct a Buddhist temple in the site of a previous Hindu construction. What he delivered were 54 towers bearing more than 200 carved faces of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, the “Holder of the Lotus” or “Lord of the World”. He looks a friendly fellow, quite serene, an enigmatic smile playing about his lips. Like Angkor Wat this is, again, a representation of Mount Meru on three levels and again there are very fine reliefs depicting domestic scenes as well as conflicts with the Cham.
You don’t really need a guide here so we are off at our own pace, just wandering up and down and looking for the best carved face. To be honest they are all beautiful and it’s such a special place I’d urge you to go but then it would get crowded and, you know, I don’t want it to be. I want it to be mine (and for a few special people).
It’s such a thrill to be let loose in these places. To be told to go off and explore. To climb up, climb down, go left, go right, see one great view, turn around and catch another. Simply amazing!.
Our morning ends just down the road from the Bayon at the Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King, two fine terraces with carved depictions of elephants. These look out over the Royal square which is now used more as a meeting area or car park than anything Royal and one has to be careful not to be mown down by an errant tuk tuk driver on the busy road that runs alongside.
Let’s buy a guidebook shall we ?.
How much ?.
How much you offer ?.
How much do you want ?.
But sir, price here $27.95!
I’m not very good at bartering. I think I pay too much because I don’t do eye contact and I don’t like confrontation and I give in quite easily but this games quite fun. Eventually I end up with what I want for $6 with a free plastic bag to protect it. And it’s a genuine book, not a photocopied one like some ended up purchasing. You really have to watch their hands when they hand it to you. Little magicians some of them!
It’s back to the hotel after a wonderful morning. As we drive through Siem Reap we pass a shop proclaiming itself to be the home of the Asian Smile Service or A.S.S. for short. I wonder if I’d get a bum deal from them ?.
But now it’s lunch time. Time to replenish our reserves.
There’s more to come.