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Siem Reap

Written on: Monday December 17th, 2007

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

What a welcome we received here. I'd been chatting to the owner of the guesthouse we were staying in in Phnom Penh and he'd told me of a place his sister owns in Siem Reap and he'd make sure somebody would meet us to take us there when we arrived at the bus station. Not just that but some dude with my name (albeit spelt very unusually) on a welcome board waving it at the bus window. With that, there was no way we could down the guesthouse he took us too, and his offer of transporting us on his tuc-tuc all around the Angkor temples the following day, which was the purpose of ours and most others visit up to Siem Reap.

On the bus on the way there I got chatting to an English lad named Ollie and as our room had three beds in it and he was travelling alone we invited him to join us for the next few days, which he happily took us up upon. A relatively early night for a 5am start the next day in order to catch what we had assumed would be a rememorable sunrise over Angkor Wat the following morning beckoned us. Arriving in the pitch black and finding our way with torches in to the temple area itself, it was a memorable time, but unfortunately not for great reasons.

The temple itself cannot be faulted. Despite us visiting enough temples in the past couple of months to put Lara Croft to shame and because of this, be a little unimpressed when visiting them now, these temples were something different, and deserve their tag of being one of those must-see places to see in the world. The problem was the complete lack of atmosphere there due to the swarms of people all milling round the open grassy compound in front, awaiting the sun to rise over the top of the temple. It wouldn't have been so bad had the people there calmly choose a spot and sat or stood there silently, reverently taking in the moment. Instead tonnes of Japanese pushed past one another releasing flash after flash from their Nikon's and conversing at one another like attending some sort of frantic business meeting. One over-enthusiastic tourist even decided to light up half the compound with his built in halygon light from his video camera, shining it around as trying to find an escaped convict. We left quickly.

I'm glad to say it got dramtically better from there. After breakfast we travelled a fair distance north of the main Angkor temples to Banteay Srei. A reasonably small temple area, but characterised by it's intricate designs and ornamentation on it's stone doorways.

Heading back we made a stop off at the landmine museum, a sight that at first I was happy to miss, but afterwards very glad I visited to gain an understanding of just how bad the landmine situation is, and be amazed to find out about the amount of countries still producing these hideous weapons, designed not to kill, but purely to maim.

After that sombre stop we got back on the temple trail and next visited what all three of us unaminously decided was the best temple area, Ta Phrom. The temples have their name from the Angkorian period between the early ninth century and the middle of the fifteenth century. During this time two kings in particular let loose with these temples to emphasise the unique Kymer religion of Devaraja - god-kings. Each successive king after Jayavaramen II tried to outdo the last by bulding a bigger and grander temple, either with Hindu influences like Banteay Srei, with Buddhist carvings like Ta Phrom or both such as Angkor Wat, which was built by Jayavaramen VII, and actually has both Buddhist and Hindu architecture. What strikes Ta Phrom apart from the others is the site it is actually built upon and has been allowed to grow around. First entering the temple area you see a huge leafless tree towering up from the centre of the building, and the rest of the temple area is much the same, making you believe that any moment now Harrison Ford is going to come jumping out from behind a pillar, clutching a golden talismen chased by a huge boulder rolling down towards us all. This great air to the place was even more encapsulating once you climbed over a few tree stumps, through a few broken down doors and in to a secluded area away from all the snapping Japanese.

Ankor Thom followed, and the magnificent temple of Bayon, built in a pyramid formation with 54 towers, to represent the 54 provinces of Cambodia back then, with 4 faces on each, each face facing one of the cardinal points. The faces are thought to be sulpted as the face of Jayavaramen VII.

Gouging ourselves on lunch and being harrassed by the small children all intent on you buying their fruit or tat, and each with a different witty reply we made our way back to the main event, Angkor Wat. Dave had one kid ask him to buy her postcards, he said he didn't want one to which he was told by the cheeky 8 year old that he then must buy two. Whilst later on in the day a young girl tried to push a flute on me. I politely informed her that I couldn't play the flute. 'You learn' came her reply.

In the sunshine Angkor Wat was alot more impressive, although I'm sure without the massing hoards if would have been spectacular at 5:30 that morning. Other than the 5 huge towers that individualise Angor Wat, it's bas-relief, a covered gallery that extends right around the temple, telling the stories of many Hindu legends such as the Ramayana and the Churning of the Ocean of Milk is extremely impressive. You could easily spend a few hours just walking round this trying to work out what is going on and wondering what the 6 armed one is doing with all those swords.

Not a lot to mention about the town of Siem Reap itself, although I was served up my own raw food and a mini-cooker to cook my own food that night, which was original if nothing else. I don't pretend to be much of a cook, I was still eating about 40 minutes after Dave and Ollie had finished. The following night back in Phnom Penh I made sure to order a dish that was well and truly prepared ready for me to eat.


From Kelli on Nov 20th, 2011

So that's the case? Quite a rveeltaion that is.