We hired a Tuk Tuk and Driver for three days (11th – 13th Jan for US$76) to show the four of us (Aad, Mike, Vince and myself) around the temples of the Angkor Archaeological Park and Siem Reap Province. These represent the ruins of the ancient Angkorian capital cities of the Khmer Empire (9th – 13th Century AD) and included the most famous and well known Khemer temples, such as Banteay Srey (11th Jan), Angkor Wat (12th Jan) and Bayon (on 12th Jan).
Day one (11th Jan) we had breakfast at a nearby cafe….nothing special but cheap and cheerful! Our driver, Sovoeun, collected us at 9.00am for our full day out… starting by a stop off to purchase our three day pass (including photo) for US$40 each. We rode past Angkor Wat enroute (we will go there on day two)…we passed through the South Gate of Angkor Thom, which as very impressive and as we approached we saw elephants giving people a tour of the the area. We passed another temple with a large crane…I think it was Bayon, which we will stop off and see tomorrow. We were headed out of the North Gate on our way to Preah Khan Temple, this was an awesome place and at the entrance there were musicians performing, mostly land mind victims, so Vince and I contributed to the collection pot (an occurence that seemed to be regularly repeated at most of the temples). There were also some stall holders, trying to sell tourist stuff but we were not interested in books, postcards, t-shirts etc…..and although I would not have bought any, I did find the paintings by local artists interesting along with handmade musical instruments, including some drums with what I think was snake skin.
Back in our tut tuk we were taken to a smaller “hospital” temple….origianally called Rajasri, but now called Neak Pean (coiled serpents/nagas)…..showing the four elements within the 4 water pools…..Earth – Human, Wind – Horse, Fire – Lion and Water – Elephant. It was quite a long way out to the Island Temple in the middle of the last baray ( Preah Khan Baray) to be constructed by a Khmer King. The temple is on the axis of a lotus pattern of 8 pools and the water was thought to have healing properties. All four of us had the same thought as we travelled over the wooden bridge…..hope we don’t end up in the water like we did at Inle Lake in Myanmar!
Next we stopped at Ta Som, a small monastic complex like a miniature Ta Prohm, built in the late 12th Century AD by King Jayavarman VII in the Bayon style and it is the most distant temple on the Grand Circuit…lastly we headed 37km North of Siem Reap and visited Banteay Srey, Citadel of Women, from the late 10th Century AD under King Rajendravarman, with some of the most beautiful carvings in Angkor, stopping off on the way for some lunch.
On the return trip we stopped briefly at the Cambodian Landline Museum….which was very emotional….especially reading the stories of the child victims that live at the centre.
We completed our day with a climb up for sunset shots at Pre Rup (Temple Mountain) built by King Rajendravarman II in the late 10th Century AD…..a very busy day! I was very hot, in fact feeling like I was going to pass out by the end of the day……but after we got back to our hotel and freshened up I felt much better. Dinner with the boys was just some burgers at the nearby little place we had breakfast and dinner last night!
Day two (12th Jan) Up at 4.30am to get picked up at 5.00am our driver had us out to Angkor Wat in the dark so we could watch the sunrise over it. It was absolutely jam packed and although well worth the early start to see, I had trouble seeing over the crowds and Vince ended up taking photos over people’s heads and hoping for the best….we weren’t disappointed….you’ve got to love that Olympus TG4….BRILLIANT! We spent quite some time exploring the temple, including making friends with a pig down by the lake….Ankor Wat truly was beautiful. However, the line was so long to go into the inner sanctum that we decided to give that a miss.
Back in our tuk tuk we sped off for the South Gate of Angkor Thom, the Walled City of King Jayavarman VII from the 12th and 13th Century AD built in the Bayon Style. We saw the elephants again on the way through and briefly stopped to take some photos….we were shocked to see their tusks had been removed….they did not look very happy….you would not get me to part with any money (fee was US$20) for a ride ….it seemed too cruel!
Bayon, the temple of faces at the centre of Angkor Thom, was absolutely fabulous to experience, but again packed with tourists and it was frustrating us to try to get photos because of the crowds. It was getting on to the middle of the day and the sun was unforgiving. I was overheating again and so was Vince, so we decided to just walk along the Terrace of the Leper King towards the parking area near the North Gate, and as we did so we walked past Baphuon (Central Angkor Thom) from the mid 11th Century AD under King Udayadityavarman II, but we didn’t go inside as we were melting, hungry and getting over the crowds. Walking past the Terraces of the Elephants was amazing and the detail was just fantastic.
We soon found ourselves in the parking area and made our way to some stalls to get some cool drinks and Vince poured a bottle of cold water all over me to cool me down….which made me feel like I’d wet myself but did work! Back in our tuk tuk we headed East out of the Victory Gate, past some smaller temples (e.g. Ta Keo), but to be honest we were all “templed” out and the heat had just zapped us….so we opted to just head for the Jungle temple, Ta Prohm, that had been filmed in “Tomb Raider”. No Lara Croft today, this Bayon Buddhist style temple built by King Jayavarman VII in the mid 12th – early 13th Century AD had been clearly reclaimed in parts by the jungle! Again, lots of tourists but well worth the visit….I had a little adventure of my own here …..but that’s another story!
We were finished by lunch time, so we got dropped off next to Pub Street, and we had lunch at The Red Tomatoe before walking back to our hotel to cool down and have a bit of a rest. Later in the evening, Vince and I took a walk to Pub Street and had a foot massage (US$7) for a hour in “Pure Vida” for our aching legs and feet….followed by dinner at the “Temple Bar” where we were treated to a display of Aspara Dancing…….very interesting and enjoyable.
Day Three (13th Jan). After a less than stellar breakfast we headed south today at 7.30am to avoid the heat….off to see the Roluos Group, the oldest Khmer Temples and it was the first Angkorian capital city.
First we stopped at Preah Ko, which was the first temple to be built in the 9th Century in the ancient, and now defunct, city of Hariharalaya, by King Indravarman I, some 15 kilometers south-east of the main group of temples at Angkor, Cambodia. It was a relatively small temple with three main buildings. Preach Ko was dedicated to the Hindu God, Shiva, and was a funerary temple of the king’s parents, maternal grandparents and the previous King, Jayavarman II and his wife. It is in the Preah Ko style of construction.
Back in our personal tuk tuk we were whisked onwards to Bakong, the largest temple in the group from the early 9th Century AD which was part of the King Indravarman period and also in the style of Preah Ko. It was the first mountain temple, built of sandstone, it resembles a pyramid, guarded by lion guards and elephants….it was very impressive.
Our final visit was to the Lolei Temple….also from the late 9th century AD…it is the northernmost temple of the Roluos group of Hindu temples built as part of Hariharalava, King Yasovarman dedicated it to Shiva and the members of the royal family. Once an island temple, Lolei was located on an island slightly north of centre in the now dry Indratataka braay. Scholars believe that placing the temple on an island in the middle of a body of water served to identify it symbolically with Mt Meru, home of the Hindu Gods, surrounded by oceans.
At both Bakong and Lolei there are contemporary Theravada Buddhist monasteries. At Lolei, Vince spoke with one of the monks, Hun, and explained that his wife was a teacher interested in schools in Cambodia, and suddenly we found ourselves being invited into the school. The school caters for both boys and girls from the local community and is free (funded by donations). They have around 250 students from primary and secondary up to 18 years, including sending some off site to univerisity. We got to see an English class operating, as well as a computer class and the library…..Hun introduced me to the class and I really enjoyed interacting with them….I have never taught in a bilingual class before…..loved it! . We made a small donation and found it a very interesting experience….in fact more interesting than the temple itself which was under renovation.
We decided not to go on to the Floating Villages as Aad was feeling unwell and Vince was hot…..so we got dropped off in town at Swensen’s Ice-cream. After which we went our separate ways….Vince and I shopped for an Angkor Wat charm from my bracelet in the local market, and we were again tempted into a foot massage which was blissful! Lunch was at “Geneviev’s” ….we found out later it is recommended as one of the top 3 restaurants in Siem Reap! It employs people with disabilities and is linked to the Fair Trade Village, which we also popped into look at as they offer employment and skills training for people with disabilities and showcase their wares…I bought a pair of earrings recycled from bullets. Whilst we were there, we met Rick (Access Seim Reap) and he and Vince got to talking motorbikes….one thing led to another and it turns out he has a project in mind to provide cheap transport for people with disabilities, including landmine and UXO survivors who are in wheelchairs…which involves building a custom made sidecar. We would really like to try to help and I contacted our friends in the Perth Motorcycle and Sidecar Riders group (which Vince founded) to see what can be done to assist…..US$800 would buy the bike and make the sidecar….giving a degree of independence and dignity to people in wheelchairs……Craig and the gang are keen to get involved…….I’m very excited about it!
Back at the hotel we had a bit of a rest and then went out for dinner to Pub Street….again to the Temple Bar….this time with Aad and Mike, so they too could see the dancers. Afterwards we walked through the night markets and we tried “snake”…..well Vince and Mike actually ate it…..I tried to bit a bit off but it was rock hard and I was worried I might damage my dental work……so I just licked it a bit instead! They also had spiders….but I passed on those!