It’s hot, properly roasting , sweat drips off us, but it is worth it as we do the Temple circuits in the Angkor region of the old Kings. 900 years old, some 200 years older than that and so close together and yet so different from each other, it is beautiful and fascinating and slightly surreal to be here.
We nearly didn’t come to Cambodia, we had made our way down through Asia and missed it in our early travelling days thinking we had lots of time on this side of the world and would work our way up again , hoping to go to Angkor in the dry cooler time of year which is Dec to Feb, but as it has turned out we are heading home to continue our travels in Europe. So it is in June that we are in Cambodia and even though it is a little out of our way before Europe, ”Wow” I am glad we made the decision to come, it is worth it.
Cambodia has so much to offer, the people are friendly and smiley, The staff at our hotel could not be better, they love children, all making a fuss of our two, the prices are cheap, the food is amazing and the culture and history is so rich and varied, there is so much to see and do in this fascinating country.
We were recommended a guide by friends, a lovely man called Saravey and we contacted him via face book, so all booked online in advance. He came with a van and driver, cold water on ice , and to put the price in perspective, for a full days tour, plus van and drinks cost the same as a 10 minute camel ride for the kids in Australia, we did have to pay extra for Temple passes and lunch but these were reasonable and the passes cover you for a week.
We had taken a slight risk coming at this time of year as it is the beginning of the rainy season but we struck lucky and did not get stuck in any down pours while at the temples, in fact I think it is a good time to come as the crowds are minimal, we had asked Saravey to try to avoid any crowds and he did a great job as we saw quite a few coaches of Korean tourists but all going the opposite way, some of the temples we had practically to ourselves.
We went to Angkor Wat first, this is the big daddy with quite a bit of walking so to go early is a good idea to avoid some of the heat. It is stunning even from a distance and as Saravy explained about the gates and the large moat and how the three gateways were for the King, then the people and then one for the elephants, I tried to imagine how amazing it would have been to see the processions arriving there when it was all first built, even though just building it took 37 years. We have seen a few shows in Asia with Elephant processions, colourful and loud with musicians and dancing girls throwing flowers and then the men carrying coloured, high umbrellas and lances and banners, all dressed brightly and covered in jewellery, such opulence and such a strong image, and these were just small processions inside theatres for tourists, the real ones would have been enormous, spectacular and long, It is no wonder the people saw their Kings as Gods with such displays of wealth. Saravey then told us that some of the small chambers were studded with diamonds and jewels, I would love to have seen it that way.
The whole Temple is surrounded by a moat, a really big one which is edged with stone steps, kids still play in the water there. Then inside there are the five spires, representing the five mountains of the Hindu religion. I really need to read up on the whole thing as it is fascinating. We then saw a beautifully intricate carved stone mural of the legend of Vishnu and his battle with the demons and the monkey god, the same story as we saw painted in the grand Palace in Bangkok, Cambodia and Thailand are so interlinked by religion but at the same time are different and unique from each other.
We climbed the extremely steep stairs to the kings level and marvelled at the view, the jungle is lush and green at this time of year and it is a special thing in itself. There are rooms and walkways up there, elevated and majestic. The stairway up and down to this level is very steep and the children were not allowed up there, there is now only one stairway open to the public as accidents have occurred and I can see why, Saravy stayed with the children below while myself and Chris braved it, wooden steps have been built as the stone steps are treacherous, the ancient people must of had tiny feet for those narrow steps, after walking the corridors and marvelling at the kings view, we descended and then left the temple by the east gate, Angkor Watt is the only west facing temple, we looked back often as we walked along the path that led us away so we could savour the view and try to imprint the feelings it evokes firmly in our minds, we snapped lots of pics but it was not a particularly bright day and the photographs do not do it justice. We were very happy to hop back in the van though and grab a cool drink and then be cooled by the air conditioning before charging off to the next temple.
It amazes me that these temples are so close together, when these periods of building were happening it must of been a spectacularly busy place, thriving and rich, with kings who outdid each other by building more spectacular temples than their predecessors to show their faith in their gods. The themes that run among them are similar, Apsara dancers are everywhere, lotus flowers, doorways within doorways, and murals of elephants and monkey gods, ceremonial baths and some temples have been changed through history, images of Buddha have been chiselled away or had the eye of Shiva engraved in their forehead to change them to the accepted religion of the period, but still for them to stand at all is amazing, I had heard that the people had forgotten about them, that they had become lost but that is not true, the people still used some of them, they just lost the fight against the jungle and mother nature forced them out, and nowhere is this more true than in Ankhor Thom, but this post is becoming rather long, so I shall start another here.