Cambodia | Siem Reap: November 9-15, 2008

November 9th, 2008

So we’ve finally arrived in Cambodia! We’re at the Soria Moria hotel, a boutique hotel in Siem Reap. Our flight from Saigon was quite uneventful other than being almost entirely empty! The plane was at the most at 20% capacity; something we’ve never encountered in all our travels so far. Upon landing in Siem Reap, we came upon the airport – cute, modern, and artfully decorated. Obtaining our VISA upon arrival was a breeze; yet another page in the passport being occupied now! Our pick-up was by “tuk-tuk” – a buggy being pulled by a two-wheeler – the main form of transport in this small town. As we were being taken to the hotel, we felt remarkably good and positive here. It was a peaceful and charming place that felt quite hospitable and friendly – and we’d just been here for under an hour! We decided we must stay here for longer. 3 days just won’t do! We saw a large number of massive hotels and resorts on the way to town, all with the name “Angkor” or “Khmer” reminiscent of the heritage of the place. Already we were seeing glimpses of the unique architecture and art of ancient Cambodia, carved into beautiful statues and reliefs adorning these hotels.

We finally got into the centre of town, which was mostly dusty and unpaved roads surrounded by tourist agencies, massage parlours, and small shops, and even more hotels! It definitely seemed like the bulk of business was centered around tourism. After all, we were near the home of Angkor Wat – one of the most famous temple complexes in the entire world. Finally, at our hotel, we were greeted quite warmly at the reception – again, a first for us! Our room itself was clean, but nothing great. Even the bathroom was just alright – the website made it look a lot better! We just settled in and relaxed for a while, checking out the tourist brochures for the local temples – there were a LOT of them. Karthik started planning out our days ahead and we also started inquiring into our options of prolonging our stay in Siem Reap.

So we made calls to Bangkok Airways about cancelling our flight to Bangkok and to our hotel reception about extending our stay. Then it occurred to Karthik that we could consider flying to Hanoi instead since the weather was much better now. We really wanted to go to Halong Bay while in Vietnam, however the cyclone going on then really threw a kink into that plan. So we checked out flights and it certainly seemed possible! We got on it – found out that we could cancel the Bangkok Airways flight from Siem Reap to Bangkok if we replace it for another flight with the same airline. The Internet connection was good so we cancelled the flight and booked a flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai within Thailand and informed the airlines so they could refund us. We just needed to book something from Siem Reap to Hanoi in Vietnam.

So Karthik went out to explore the area and look for some tourist agency – the one near our hotel suggested it’s possible and only Vietnam Airlines flew there. A bit expensive, but it’d be worth it. But the agency was fairly ghetto so we thought we’d book it with someone else in the centre of town. Karthik walked further to get some water supplies and saw the area wasn’t all that developed, but it was cool. A river ran right through Siem Reap and there were all the signs of a river festival being put together; it’d be cool to catch it sometime this week. Now with over 10 litres of water in hand, Karthik decided to take a tuk-tuk back to the hotel. We just relaxed after that and ordered some pizza. Everywhere we went, the pizzas have been quite small even when ordering large sizes, so we ordered two large pizzas. When they arrived, they were ‘actual’ large pizzas so we were like, “hmmm…” Still they were tasty, so we actually ended up polishing off both in one sitting! On a side note, Cambodian pizza joints have ‘special happy/ecstatic’ pizzas, which are pizzas with certain toppings that give one the feeling of happiness – possibly mushrooms or some such herb. We were intrigued but didn’t want to take the chance of having a bad reaction. Plus we were fairly beat, so we just wanted to go to bed after our pizza. So off we go!

November 10th, 2008

So we woke up today and wanted to take it easy, since we decided to remain here till the end of the week. We tentatively made a plan to go visit the temples on two separate visits, since otherwise there’d be just too many to check out. This place was just teeming with temples, to be honest – the remnants of the old Khmer empire. We thought we’d just explore the centre of town and the Old Market today, just walk around since this town was so tiny. Then we were just getting ready, but we found the bathroom to be too bad for what we were paying. So we were a bit peeved and now had to start looking for other hotels in the area. After much asking around and research, we settled on this Claremont Angkor Hotel not far from where we were. So we just packed up and then checked out.

We took a tuk-tuk to the hotel and asked him to wait while we checked out the room. It was clean and spacious, and even got some wireless Internet. What’s more, it was a good $10 cheaper than the previous place. We even arranged transportation to the temples and back with the tuk-tuk driver, who was a nice chap. So we settled in here and were pleased enough. We chilled for a while and then went out for a walk. We walked by the Siem Reap river and saw all the preparations being made for the river festival. Some long “dragon” boats were moving along the river, preparing for the competition. There were some loud Cambodian songs being played on the speakers, while stages were being erected for performances. Also, there were tons of roadside vendors selling all sorts of fried snacks, boiled corn, fruits, and other stuff. It was a nice environment all in all.

We crossed the river on one of the many bridges in town. We were walking towards the Old Market and as well, to look for a travel agency to book our tickets to Hanoi. There was a nice temple along the way – all temples here being called “Wat.” The style was quite unique and different from anything we’d encountered so far. There were these tall, ornate pagodas while all the roofs pointed up into squiggly tips. We wandered around, taking some snaps and checked out the many Buddha statues, what with Buddhism being the main religion here. There were also many monks in saffron-coloured robes walking about since there was a monastery on site. We then continued our way to the Market. Along the way, there were a lot of kids climbing up the trees along the bank of the river and jumping in. It was such a natural, unrehearsed sight in all its warmth and fun. Penny took some neat snaps of the kids and then further up, we saw one of those long dragon boats parked by the river. At the head of it was a… well, a pig’s head! It was stuffed with flowers and incense, however didn’t help to make the sight any prettier! Further up yet, we saw a monk sitting around with some locals… get this, having a smoke! It was SUCH a funky and unique sight – a robed monk (an older man) smoking away! We did our best to catch a photo without offending him in any way.

Finally, we were at the Old Market which was actually a maze of shops further inside a structure by the street. We didn’t care to do much shopping, so walked along the main street and saw plenty of tourist-friendly restaurants, cafes, massage parlours, and backpacker hotels. We were looking for this particular travel agency and eventually found it at the corner of Pub Street. We bought our tickets and had them in hand, and now were hungry. We noticed there were quite a number of Indian restaurants, but Karthik saw this Mexican place that looked appealing. So we thought we’d leave the Indian food for another day and sat down for some burritos and tacos. In fact, we ended up ordering chimichangas – fried burritos with stuffing and served with rice, beans, and salad. It was yummy, and we quenched ourselves with some Angkor beer – the local brand. All full by now, we couldn’t walk back so we grabbed a tuk-tuk back. As the sun was setting, we saw the river festival get a lot livelier. We also learnt that in a couple of days, it would get really packed and even livelier. So we decided to check it out then and came back to our room. We have to leave rather early tomorrow for the temples, so we’re just off to bed.

November 11th, 2008

Woke up and decided to check out the complimentary breakfast at the rooftop restaurant of our hotel. We were served the usual coffee, eggs, and toast. At one point, an Indian man approached us and introduced himself as the owner of the restaurant and hotel. He was a third-generation Singaporean of South Indian origin who had settled here and tended to the Indians who frequent the town. He also mentioned that the restaurant served good Indian food and we’re welcome to try it out. We then got ready for our first temple day tour – our tuk-tuk driver was prompt and picked us up. Along the way, we saw more of the town, which was somewhat underdeveloped, yet not overcrowded or dirty unlike other third world places. We also passed by the Angkor Museum containing some of the original artifacts from the temples. The temples themselves were quite far from town and eventually the road became wide and lined by really tall trees. It was very pleasant to be taking this ‘open’ mode of transportation and feel the breeze.

At the entrance to the temples, we got a three-day pass and they even took a picture of us which was printed on our pass. Our tuk-tuk driver was a talkative type and friendly enough to tell us a lot about the history and culture of Cambodia. He told us how the temple complex was a really huge one, spanning several kilometers from end to end within which were all the major temples, including Angkor Wat. Here we were thinking all of it was Angkor Wat or just one temple. Today we were going to pass through the main entrance of Angkor Thom, a vast complex of many temples which we’d be exploring.

Our first stop was the main South Gate that stood at the end of a pair of long “balustrades” or barriers on each side of the road. These barriers were actually representations of the “churning of the milk” which was a war between the Devas (angels) and Asuras (demons). On one side were all these Devas pulling a long serpent while on the other side the Asuras were doing the same. It was a really impressive sight, in spite of the age and ruined state of the statue. The road right in front of the gate was also a bridge over a huge moat (lake) surrounding the temple complex. The South Gate itself was a large opening through which all these cars, tuk-tuks and pedestrians were passing through. Atop the gate were the traditional smiling “faces”: one facing each direction – these were the representative art style of the Khmer empire. These were to be found in more impressive form at our next stop – Bayon.

Bayon was one of the top “must-see” temples in Siem Reap and justly so. As we got there, even though it was partly dilapidated and poorly-maintained, the scale of it was immense. As we entered the structure, it kept rising in levels, along which were a large number of reliefs of sages, apsaras (maidens), and gods. As well, there were many columns rising up atop which were the smiling faces looking in each direction. These faces were really striking, unique, and nothing like we’d seen in any country. We found several good photo ops; even one that was a window that had a parapet on which we could sit and behind which was one of those faces. In one of the temple chambers, there were Buddha statues that were still being prayed to – obviously not part of the original temple – that being mostly of Hindu origin. We walked around for some more time and then as we were leaving, we saw another Buddha shrine behind which the entire temple structure was visible and rose up into the sky. It was a fabulous sight!

So we finally were done with this complex and we were now going to go find our tuk-tuk driver again, since we couldn’t walk between the temples – the distances are just too great. On the way to meet him, we saw another temple with a massive Buddha statue – a far newer one and not related to the Angkor ruins. We just took a couple of pics and didn’t venture too close to the statue itself, else we be asked yet another time to donate more money. That’s the thing – such ‘donations’ shouldn't be forced; if we feel like it, we should be able to donate freely. Anyhow… we walked towards the restaurants near Bayon - a long, long row of many restaurants primarily serving the tourists and tuk-tuk drivers. We didn’t really feel like having a full meal, so we checked out the sliced mango pieces being sold in baggies by ladies along the road. We then went and found him when he suggested taking us to the far end of the road, dropping us off there so that we could explore the remainder of the nearby ruins and walk back. Plus we had to use the washroom!

He took us along a long road within Angkor Thom, this massive complex that contained all these temples. There were temples to the left and temples to the right. At the other end of the road were the washrooms where Karthik was brave enough to venture forth and heed the call of nature. Penny in the meantime was talking to the tuk-tuk driver who was talking about his large family who live far away from here. He happened to be living with his wife’s family since in Cambodia, the groom moves in with the bride’s family – unlike the tradition in most countries. One of his siblings was part of the war that happened in Cambodia a few decades back, when a lot of people lost their lives during the Khmer Rouge regime – an ugly part of this otherwise wonderful country’s history. It was interesting to hear about his life and his family in such a candid and open manner.

Karthik returned and we got dropped at the Terrace of the Leper King –a terrace with hidden sculptures and galleries along corridors below. We ventured down into the corridors and checked out the carvings, which were of Hindu mythology and were quite well preserved. It was neat that it was ‘hidden’ from view when on the terrace – one wouldn’t otherwise know its existence. We were unable to explore further into the corridors since parts of them were flooded. So we went back up and hung out there, taking in the scene. Right next to this terrace was the Terrace of the Elephants, along the sides of which were intricate carvings of many elephants. Connecting these two terraces was a long, raised platform which was in a somewhat shabby state. So, rather than check out that terrace, we ventured away from the main road into the ‘forest,’ to explore some of the inner temples. We walked along, and in spite of being bothered by hawkers selling paintings and such, came upon a clearing with a large pyramidal temple surrounded by a moat of green water. It was a cool sight, since this temple, called Phiminikeas, was supposedly meant to represent an ascent into the heavens. It indeed was. It was a large structure with several, extremely narrow steps going up. There were people up there, so we thought it’d be possible. But, when Karthik tried climbing up them, it was just impossible. The steps were incredibly narrow and the feeling of vertigo was just unshakeable.

So we walked around the structure and what we saw just made us laugh. They had a ready-made platform built with proper steps taking one to the top! Karthik decided to go alone to the top, daring not to use the platform but climbing the original steps – which were a bit wider than the ones on the other side of the pyramid. At the top, he explored around for a while as it afforded a good view of the surrounding area. There were also some young monks just hanging out there, while the rest of the area was in ruins with just stones and rocks lying about. After coming down, we walked towards a palace which was supposed to have been further inside the forest. We walked and walked, passing by ant hills, more abandoned rocks, and overgrowth. But no palace! So we abandoned this futile search and went back towards the pyramid temple. Next to this one was another large temple called Baphuon atop which there was supposed to be a huge sleeping Buddha statue. On our way there, we passed by several interesting trees with large holes in them. As well, we saw a huge field of stones which had been covered in moss. It was a spectacular sight, like totally out of Tomb Raider or some such movie. All these stones probably belonged to temples from ages ago, but were now completely overgrown with vegetation. At the Baphuon temple, we were disappointed that it was being renovated and the entire structure was off limits. So we walked around it, passing by stray cows and more orphaned rocks.

We were now back at the main road and were walking towards the Terrace of the Elephants. At the terrace, Karthik went to check out the carvings… which were mostly in bad shape. However, the elephant heads carved into the sides of the terrace were quite cool, tusk and trunk and all! After some pictures, we headed back to our tuk-tuk driver and found him at the same restaurant. We picked up some more bagged fruits and were now headed to our last temple stop of the day – the Preah Karn temple complex quite a bit north of the Angkor Thom complex. When we reached there, our driver gave us a bit of history and mentioned how the Thai and Khmer empires had been warring for a long time way back then. An ingenious scheme the Thai army used to trick their way into a fortified temple totally amazed us. Apparently, the temple was surrounded by tall, thick bamboo forests which impeded the advance of the Thai army. So, rather than waste their energy cutting them down, they just made holes in them and filled them with coins. When a villager had cut one down to use it for practical reasons, he found the coins. Then, all the villagers joined in to cut the bamboo forest down! This way, they inadvertently gave access to the invading Thai army. Crazy but true!

So we went on to the Preah Karn temple, which was different from the previous in that, it was in a much more ruined state. Vegetation and trees had taken their toll and it was slowly being consumed by the jungle. But it was totally neat to see! It was also different in that the central North-South axis and East-West axis of the temple was one long corridor separated by short, fairly narrow doors. It gave a good view of what was before and behind us for some distance, but Penny felt rather claustrophobic entering through these small doors. Between the doors were small chambers where used to be statues and other things of worship. This whole complex once functioned as a university and library. Away from the East-West axis we were walking along, at one of the clearings, we wandered off to the side only to discover some wicked carvings still in their original state. This was unique in that most of the stuff around here was worn down and faded. We then went back to the North-South axis and were right at the centre of the temple, as now we could see the long North-South axis as well. A guidebook we had bought earlier today told us that at the far end of the North entrance was a cool Shiva statue. So we walked in that direction, with Penny braving yet more narrow doors and corridors. Finally, at the other end, we found absolutely nothing - just a little girl trying to sell us some knick-knacks. We kept walking further to the North entrance, and she kept following us persistently. We kept telling her to go to her mom and then telling her to go to school. Nothing worked! Then finally she left us alone as another tourist couple walked our way, only to go bug them instead!

Disappointed, we walked ALL the way back to the centre of the temple and continued our way along the East-West axis to the East entrance, where our tuk-tuk driver was going to pick us up. We were quite tired by this point and really looked forward to just go back. Just as we were leaving the temple complex, at the East entrance, we beheld a really wild scene! Huge silkcotton trees had taken root and completely invaded the temple. They were growing crazy all over the place, in and around and over the walls. It was an absolutely amazing sight; now THIS was something out of Tomb Raider! Karthik then told Penny yet another temple we’d be checking out later on our next temple day tour would be EVEN wilder! This was cool stuff for sure!

So we finally went back to our driver and started our way back to town. Along the way, we saw some people fishing with nets at some small pond, catching tiny fish. It was nice to see something like that, as we take pleasure in seeing the locals doing their own thing rather than bug tourists all the time. Finally, we were back at our hotel after a long tuk-tuk ride back into town, over the bridge, and along small roads. He’d been taking these ‘side streets’ closer to town to avoid the congestion along the riverside on account of the festival that kicks in full gear during the evenings.

Finally, at our hotel, we just wanted to relax and order in. we checked out the hotel’s food. We got the Indian food menu and were pleasantly surprised – they even had dosas and thalis and curd rice! I Cambodia of all places! So we ordered some thalis and they were delicious. Full enough, we just watched some TV and are now going to rest.

November 12th, 2008

Ouch! Our feet hurt. Waking up today, we’re not going to be doing much walking or temple touring. Perhaps some shopping around and hanging about the Old Market area. We had breakfast brought down today; this time parathas with yoghurt and pickle! Yummy! We got ready and since we were too tired to walk there this time, we grabbed a tuk-tuk to the market area. We even took our laptop with us to kill the time at a restaurant. First, we wanted to get some shopping done and out of the way. We checked out some shops, haggling for good prices on some T-shirts. There were more Tintin in Cambodia t-shirts, so we got one for our future baby to add to the one in Vietnam. We got some good deals on other shirts, including ones with temple prints.

We wandered around for some time, but nothing really caught our eye. Then Penny noticed some really pretty cushion covers. Karthik in the meantime was checking out the sculptures in the same store. We told the storeowner that we need a good deal if we get a lot of stuff from her. So Penny picked out some nice covers as well as some beautiful scarves for our moms. Karthik had picked out a really nice wall sculpture of the Bayon Temple faces made out of wood. We took our purchases and walked around for some more time, but nothing really popped out.

Back now out of the market and on the street, we went around looking for a restaurant with wifi access. We saw one and sat down for something to eat. It was kind of a ‘chichi-foofoo’ joint with trendy couches, pillows, and décor. All sorts of people were just chilling around, including some Koreans/Japanese who were blatantly staring at us for some time. Crazy, rude monkey punks! We grabbed some drinks and ordered our food, and surfed for a while, looking for places to stay in Halong Bay. We left and felt like some beers would hit the spot. We went over to another restaurant/café/bar across the street and sat on their patio, ordering some Angkor beers. They also had wireless Internet, so we did some surfing and research for our next leg in Vietnam. We hung out for some time, and were also kept amused by some little girl who was hanging out our table wanting to give us her coins. Eventually, our beers done and coins back in the possession of the girl, we went back. ‘Twas a chill afternoon/evening in all, however another long day awaits us tomorrow at the temples.

We went back to our room and relaxed, when we heard loud fireworks go off outside. Even yesterday, they had been lighting them at around sunset and they were ‘really’ loud! Tomorrow was the last day of the river festival, so we thought we’d go out and check out the evening festivities. It was packed with people, lining the road by the river. We saw the tail end of the fireworks show, the loudness on account of how close by they were being set off! On the river were dragon boats coursing up and down the river, racing each other. It was quite thrilling! There were tons of small stands selling all sorts of edible goodies as well. Most of them didn’t look very palatable; however the boiled corn and sugarcane pieces intrigued us. We kept walking down the road and also saw some makeshift stages erected where performers were sounded remarkably Indian!

We came upon another bridge to the other side, which was brimming with throngs of people and vehicles. We couldn’t find much room to stand, so we started getting our munchies while heading back. We got some baguettes first, what with Cambodia having a French heritage and the preference for French-style baked goods. We then picked up some boiled corn and sugarcane pieces for dirt cheap (with dirt on it!) and stopped off at a roadside restaurant for coconut water. It was a cool sight, with couples and families all taking in the festivities. It was loud, hectic, dusty, crowded, and lively; all in all, really enjoyable. Finally, we took our goodies home and had them. As well, we got some more thalis and curd rice – our bellies are thanking us after a long time… and ‘regularly’ so! Karthik especially loves the fried chilis served with the curd rice. Now off it is to bed!

November 13th, 2008

Our tuk-tuk driver was on time, waiting to take us temple touring for a second time. We were eager to check out the temples today, especially since we were going to the actual Angkor Wat temple. First, we were headed towards a set of outlying temples that were supposed to be representative of beautiful ruins overgrown by jungle vegetation. More Tomb Raider moments awaited us! It was a beautiful day and the ride there brought with it a pleasant breeze. We were dropped off at the entrance to the Banteay Kdei temple, a smaller temple that was partly in ruins. To our right was Sa Srong, the ‘royal bath’ – actually a large pond. We walked towards there, being haggled by shopkeepers to buy shirts and such. We even said that we don’t need it and were replied to by, "why not?!" Imagine that! We found that funny!

At the royal bath, there wasn’t much to see except a large pond fringed by palm trees and steps leading down. We walked back, stopping off at one of the shops and got some cheap t-shirts. We then back to Banteay Kdei to start exploring. On the way to the temple, we saw some music performers who were injured/disabled/blinded by the war. They were playing a nice melody on traditional instruments, however what ‘got’ us was the sign in front of them stating that they’d rather keep their dignity and not beg, instead perform for donations. We gave a small donation, feeling touched by their message.

At the temple ground, we walked around for some time checking out the various structures. There were ornate pillars, dancing apsara reliefs, open spaces with loose stones lying around, and elaborate sculptures adorning the doorways. Since a lot of the temple was in ruins, entire pagoda and structures were being propped up by wooden supports and tight rope enclosures. Still, it was a small enough temple complex to explore, and before we knew it, we were at the exit. However, at the exit, we saw this MASSIVE tree wrapped itself around and over the temple walls. It was such a crazy sight, like a living thing was making itself part of history deliberately. This was a silkcotton tree and was a spectacular sight with its wide trunk and huge branches, dwarfing the surrounding temple ruins. Apparently, there would be even more such mindboggling scenes at the next temple. So, without further delay, we met our tuk-tuk driver who took us to Ta Prohm, one of the ‘must-see’ temples here.

At the entrance, we saw a sign revealing all the restoration and preservation work here was a joint venture between Cambodia and of all places, India. It was nice of them, we thought, especially since we couldn’t really imagine them being philanthropic in this manner. Anyway, we went further in to explore the temple. In front of the entrance was a large courtyard or terrace made up of uneven stones. Karthik stopped here to refer to our guidebook to check out the layout – apparently this was a very romantic and mystical place since the jungle had taken over the place quite a bit. As well, it was easy to get lost just exploring away. There was a small doorway through which we entered. Immediately, we saw what the guidebook was referring to. There was a massive tree that was growing around the perimeter wall, on our left as we entered. On our right was a large pile of moss-covered stones. It was such an unprecedented sight! Never had we seen anything quite like this. Karthik felt like being a monkey himself and climbed up the pile of stones to take a better picture of the massive tree. Satisfied, we went further into the temple complex. We came around a bend where we could see many more small shrines and structures that were in a partially ruined state, and what’s more, covered in moss. They were all mostly green; it just looked magical!

We then came up on another huge silkcotton tree whose roots had formed a sort of large python winding its way through the temple stones and going into the ground. This definitely took the prize! What a sight! We couldn’t even imagine roots growing in this fashion. Spending some time here, we then went to a large open space. We were on the other side of the crazy python tree and could see it in its entirety. It was a gigantic tree, under which formed a small hole. We set up the tripod so we could be in this hole and take a picture. It was fun! We understood how this temple was rife with opportunities for exploring. We walked around and went further into the complex. Here too were more insane trees doing their thing, going in and out of the temple ruins. This part of the temple was more closed in, full of small corridors and enclaves. All around us were moss-covered stones and the jungle encroaching in. It definitely felt like we were transported to another time.

There were more areas to explore and even though we didn’t plan on spending so much time here, we just couldn’t help ourselves. We wandered around, not caring of where we were and where the exit was. Further into the complex, it was more humid. A lot of the structures were covered in moss, lending to that romantic atmosphere the guidebook spoke of. It didn’t, however, mention the big mosquitoes that would give us company on our tour. We were being bitten like crazy, so we stopped to spray ourselves with the repellant. We walked around some more before asking a guide for the exit and making our way out. On the way out, we stopped for many more pictures and admired the way in which nature totally had ‘conquered’ man’s creations. It was a cool experience in all! At the exit, the temple was surrounded by large ponds on which were growing large trees with expanding, mangrove-like roots. We took the bridge across the pond to the exit. Our last stop was the famed Angkor Wat temple itself.

We were quite hungry by now, but didn’t want to waste too much time sitting down to eat somewhere. On our way back from the Ta Prohm temple, we had to pass through the Angkor Thom we had been exploring a couple of days back. We stopped by the roadside to pick up a whole bunch of fruits. We were munching on these as we made our way to Angkor Wat. It was a good idea, since we weren’t hungry nor were we so full as to be unable to walk around. The entire Angkor Wat complex was surrounded by a large lake and the only way in/out was this long bridge. Having no guide, we relied on our book to learn that there were a couple of relief galleries near the entrance depicting the Battle of Lanka from the Ramayana and the Battle of Kurukshetra from the Mahabharata. Apparently, the detail and scale was quite impressive. Other than that, the whole complex was built along three successively higher levels. More than anything, it would just be up to us to explore around.

At the end of the bridge, we came upon the entrance which was essentially a long barrier with two gates to enter and exit. Beyond the barrier, we could finally see Angkor Wat! It was stunning! There was again a long corridor to walk along to reach the physical entrance of the temple complex. To the left and in front of the temple was a small lake, making for a cool reflecting pond for the temple. We stopped by there first, taking some pics. This was the ‘classic’ shot taken of Angkor Wat with its image being reflected in the pond. We then made our way to the proper entrance. To our right was the Mahabharata gallery, and it was a long one at that! So we started our tour here. The reliefs were really detailed and still in amazing condition. On one side of this gallery was the entire Kaurava army and the other consisted of the Pandava army. There were so many warriors, horses, chariots, and elephants that it seemed like a scale replica of the war itself! It was awe-inspiring to say the least. We now ventured further into the temple, which consisted of fairly tall ceilings and large columns. All around were carvings again of apsaras, demons, gods, and sages. Within the temple itself were large tank-like spaces that may have served as ‘royal baths’ at one point. In the centre of this level was a large Buddha statue (obviously added later by the locals) that served as a shrine.

We realized that this level would just have been too much to explore in full, so we took the stairs to the next level. Here we came upon a large opening that was a terrace surrounded by corridors on all sides. These were covered corridors that had windows with ornate supports. On this terrace rose up the third level right smack dab in the middle. It was this third level that had the four tall pagodas on each corner with the main one at the centre. Unfortunately, the steep staircases to this level were closed off, and also there was some construction work being done on the main pagoda. So there was metal scaffolding on one side of it. Still, it was a very cool sight to behold, since all these pagodas formed the famous image of the Angkor Wat temple. The scale of this temple was truly immense and it made sense how this is still the largest Hindu temple complex in the world to date.

We walked around the terrace, taking pictures and setting up the tripod here and there. The crowd was light, thankfully. The sun was just beginning to come down and due to set within an hour or so. The guidebook mentioned that this would be a good time to check out Angkor Wat, and it was right. The shadows formed by the setting sun really brought out the structures and the detail carved into stone. Just to think all of this was made of solid rock with nothing hollow about it, was incredible. Those guys just did everything grand back in the day – no drywall or concrete needed. So our self-made tour of Angkor Wat was coming to a close, so we started making our day down a level and out. On the way out, we wanted to check out the other gallery of the Battle of Lanka. Again, it was just as detailed and equal in scale to the previous gallery. It went down half of the entire front side of the complex, the other half being occupied by the other gallery. This too was divided yet again into the monkey army of Rama on one side battling the demon army of Ravana. It was all pretty neat to take in.

As we left the temple, we saw something most curious and amusing! On this side of the temple that contained the Ramayana gallery were actual monkeys playing! They were atop the roofs, jumping and leaping about, shaking another scaffolding structure, and being… monkeys! It was curious in that these monkeys were nowhere else to be found, except near the Ramayana gallery… which consisted of an army of monkeys! Cool stuff to be sure! Satisfied with our time with these simians, we made our way back. On the way, we stopped by another temple on one side of the complex. This was a modern, Cambodian-style temple with more depictions of the Ramayana fable painted on the sides of the roof.

We then went back to the reflecting pool in front of Angkor Wat hoping to catch the scene as the sun set. We set up our tripod and hung around for a while, hoping to see something spectacular. Another person with a much larger, expensive camera/tripod set up told us that the weather was not too cooperative today. Apparently, the setting sun was meant to bathe the temple complex in gold, but not so today. So we still took some pictures and then wrapped up here. Satisfied with our day out at the temples, we went back home. Tired, we told our tuk-tuk driver we’d see him again tomorrow to check out the Tonle Sap Lake near Siem Reap and the floating villages on it. We just watched some TV, ate more thalis and curd rice, and are now off to bed.

November 15th, 2008

Yesterday, we weren’t quite up to the floating village tour. We paid the tuk-tuk driver for all his services and he was happy enough. Tired and in pain from our excursions, we just decided to stay in and relax. We even had some in-room massages that helped iron out the kinks. We also chatted with folks back home and with Nik, who was impressed with how cheap the t-shirts were here. We were off to airport today to fly to Hanoi, however thought of stopping by the Old Market on the way to pick up some tees there.

Karthik also went to get some passport snaps taken, needed for our VISAs upon entry in Vietnam as well as our Indian VISAs we’d apply for in Bangkok. Finally, we checked out of our hotel and were happy that the bill was quite reasonable! On the way to the airport, our tuk-tuk stopped by the roadside while Penny went to grab some cheap shirts. She bought four for six bucks! Can't beat that anywhere! At the airport, we checked in and then had some quick lunch before boarding our plane. We're off to Halong Bay, Vietnam!

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