Say Wat? Incredible Temples in Siem Reap - Part 1
Day 840 (eve) - 841
At number one position of the Lonely Planet’s top 500 places in the world, one of the Guardian’s seven alternative wonders of the world plus with the help of Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, half of Cambodia’s tourists visit Angkor Wat. And we’re now included in that half.
We arranged for Keo, the best tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap to pick us up at 4:30 pm. He informed us that if we purchased our tickets after 5 pm, we could visit see the sunset for free at one of the temples.
At the Angkor Enterprise Centre, we paid our US$37 each for the one day pass, however, due to the impact that the COVID-19 virus has had on tourism, the government here have given an extra day on the single day pass plus extended the temples it usually covers. Every cloud has a silver lining!
As we walked up the 70m high hill to reach Phnom Bakheng Temple, it was lovely to get to know Keo. He says that he is “just” a tuk-tuk driver, but he is far more than that: knowledgeable, warm-hearted, with a great sense of humour. We soon discovered to our delight that as well as informing us of a few facts of each place, he would advise us where to take the best photos.
As we reached the stairs to the Temple, a sign stated that numbers were limited to 300 people at the top. There was no problem today. Cards were handed out to track the number of visitors, but I noticed that there were plenty of cards left.
We were positioned in a great place to capture the best shots of the sunset with the rest of the small crowd, waiting for the magical spectacle to happen. Keo was concerned that it was cloudy, he wanted the best for us. However, we were more than happy with the wonderment of the Temple basking in the golden evening light.
As we walked back down, we could hear music; it was a group who have all been victims of landmines, entertaining visitors for some money.
There was no sunrise temple visit for us; we are not early birds, so Keo picked us up at 8 am and dropped us off at the West end of Angkor Wat.
The build-up of excitement grew as we crossed the bridge watching workers clearing weed from the moat. The place is vast, majestic; it is the largest religious monument in the world and worth every 500 points on our Lonely Planet spreadsheet.
As we walked through the first gate of this 12th century Hindu Temple dedicated to Vishnu, we saw a camera crew interviewing one of the guides about the impact that the virus is having on the local people. Interestingly, they asked him a few times the effect on him personally, but he always responded in the collective term.
Keo had suggested that we walked to the right-hand lake. We would be able to see a reflection of the five towers, shaped like an unopened lotus blossom, in the water. What a treat. We were the only ones there, and then gradually a few others saw what we were doing and joined to capture some great shots.
We wandered through the arches and wide corridors; the sheer volume of the stone and carvings was incredible. Eventually, we came to the central tower, with a note that suggested people usually have to queue for at least 15 minutes—no queuing for us. We climbed straight up the steep stairs and marvelled at the 360-degree surround of this incredible place.
We could see that this Temple had changed from Hinduism to Buddhism as a few Buddhist statues were being worshipped. The change happened during the 16thcentury after monks cared for the place once this area was no longer the capital of the country.
Two and a half hours later, we arrived at the east gate greeted by our new friend, Keo, ready for our next temple visit. Yes – Angkor Wat lived up to our expectations.
At the entrance of our next Temple, there was a face on top, I thought this was Bayon Temple - I got confused. Keo explained that this was Ta Som, one of the smallest of the Temples. Despite its size, it had everything including carvings and trees growing over the temple. We saw a group of Japanese lads breakdancing and challenged Keo to do the same – he did a very good job!
One side of the long pathway leading to the temple, stallholders selling artwork and clothes tried to entice us. “Awt tay arkun” (No thank you) we said with a smile. They all took this with good humour, having a laugh with us, making out that they didn’t understand.
But Jac couldn’t help herself; on the way back from the Temple, she ended up buying a couple of artworks for their elephant-themed bedroom, including one being painted why we stood and watched.
Our third Temple of the day was at the Buddhist Temple Ta Phrom, otherwise known as Tomb Raider Temple. If only I had a tight black vest and shorts to wear so that I could do my Angelina Jolie/Lara Croft impersonation. Mind you, that dress attire wouldn’t have been appropriate – shoulders and knees should be covered.
What a place! We could see why Ta Phrom was used as the location for the Tomb Raider film. It’s mystical and with the colossal fig, banyan and kapok trees spreading their gigantic roots over and through the stone walls, John Wyndham’s novel “Day of the Triffids” also springs to mind.
With climate crisis often in the forefront of our minds, it shows here the power that mother earth has, she has regained her grasp over these 12th-century human-made structures after it was left abandoned over 500 years ago. An incredible, powerful place.
After lunch, and at last, we went to my favourite of the day – Bayon Temple. It has 216 faces from 54 towers, looking down upon us. They seem as if they are watching our every move, with a sense of joy, a slight contented smile on their faces. Is it love?
Usually, there are crowds of people here, but like Angkor Wat, we were fortunate with only a scattering of other visitors joining us. We climbed up steps, down passageways, were they secret corridors at one time? Tim and I found a dead bat placed on a gate. It was so sweet it seems weird that people can be afraid of them.
This Temple is richly decorated. Along the outside is a beautifully carved fresco in stone showing scenes from Angkorian Khmer times - an excellent historical reference.
I wondered where Jac and Tim were, so walked across the road to find them with Keo, sitting talking with a monk. He used to be a farmer and became a monk two years ago. He gave us all a blessing, we knelt before him, bowing our heads while he sprayed us with holy water. Jac had a sneaky peek and got the blessing right in her eye!
We had already gone way over our allotted time with Keo, yet he seemed more concerned for us to have a lovely time. Throughout the day, he would give us cold water and wipes from his cool box, ensuring we were refreshed – what excellent customer service.
We arrived at our accommodation, exhausted yet happy and satisfied after our fabulous day Say Wat? We have 500 points each on our Lonely Planet's spreadsheet - Yay! And another day of temples to look forward to tomorrow.
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