Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Temple of Angkor
At one time, Cambodia was the center of a great empire, stretching into Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. Their great capital at Angkor Thom, near the current city of Siam Riep, was one of the greatest cities in the world, with a thriving population of over a million in 1400 and home to some of the greatest works of architecture on the planet.
I spent three days here, mostly touring alone. Michelle had already spent five days here, but was kind enough to return so I could see the temples. The first day, I biked to the Roulous group, East of town. The map said 13km, but this was misleading as it was actually 20km from our hostel (13km from the far edge of town). It was a long hot ride and the temples were merely nice. I accepted the workout; I'd been lazy for the last few weeks in Laos, just chilling and drinking delicious beer.
The second day was even hotter. I bought a three day pass and decided to save the star attractions, Bayon and Angkor Wat for the last day. On day two, I biked the grand circuit, hitting up the secondary, but still quite great ruins of the ancient capital. It was over 100F and everyone thought I was crazy to spend eight hours biking 60km that day. It really wasn't so bad, somebody tried to sell me water far more often than I needed it and the temples were great. The highlights were the mountain temple of Pre Rup, the massive monastery of Preah Kahn, and Tha Proem, where the Tomb Raider movie was filmed. The last is quite popular for its rustic, eaten-by-jungle look, featuring many trees growing into the temple. The effect was killed by the wooden plank walkways and roped off photo areas.
The last day was the most spectacular of course, but I planned it that way. I shared a rickshaw with Marion and Blancdine to the Bantay Srei temple far to the north. To to a wise choice in stones, this temple contains the best preserved sculptures and carvings in the whole park and is deservedly popular. I left them near Angkor Thom and caught a motorbike to Bayon, one of the most famous temples in the world, simply known as "that temple with all the faces". It was both incredible and creepy. There were literally hundreds of faces, staring in the four cardinal directions on each one of the many towers. The carvings around the outside walls were quite amazing as well.
I ended my day at Angkor Wat, largest single religious building in the world, hailed by most as a wonder of the world (sure as hell beats the lame statue of Jesus in Rio). I cheated though. The previous day, I snuck a look from the East side to catch a good sunset photo. I was not too impressed honestly. The second time, I did it right, entering from main gate, facing west. (Angkor Wat is unique as one of few Hindu/Buddhist temples who entrances does not face east.) It is breathtaking. Huge, with hours of carving spotting opportunities, is is definitely a wonder. I arrived later, so I pushed through it quickly, but I could have spent much more time marveling at many hidden carved corners. The first floor has a giant carved mural stretching around nearly the whole building (over a kilometer in length). it is obvious why Cambodia adorns their money, flag and everything else with the awe-inspiring temple. Siam Riep was well worth the money and the time.