A long time ago I read about Angkor Wat and the Angkor Thom as well as the surrounding area. It was really the pictures that drew my attention. The faces starring out from the pages had an expression of serenity and confidence. I hoped that one day I would see them with my own eyes and today I did.
One of the best times to see Angkot Wat is early in the morning as the sun rises in the east. This temple is oriented to the motions of the rising sun. The main axis of the temple runs along an East West line. In order to watch this splendor I was up at four to leave at five. I must say that I have enjoyed sleeping here. Even now sitting here on a patio at the Temple club listening to Hip Hop being blasted at a high volume I feel really rested. I fell asleep after returning from sightseeing today. The hotel also had a complimentary massage that I took advantage of. Then there is the Cambodian stick I found on the street.
I had a new tuk tuk driver and I splurged on a guide. His name was Soum and he was there at four-thirty in the morning as I foraged for coffee in the darkened restaurant. I wasn’t the only one. Angkor Wat is popular in the morning and others in the hotel were also up this early. The road to Angkor Wat was also busy with people being driven in an orderly procession of tuk tuks towards the temple. The darkness of night was slowly loosing its grip over time as we walked the bridge leading us over the water towards the temple. This place is a great source of pride for Cambodians. It is even featured on its flag. The whole compound is a metaphoric representation of the universe.
I quickly set up for a timelapse capture of the moment the sun rises over the temple. We had enough time to readjust for a better position. I keep playing around with timing between shots and the math has always been easy to figure out to see how many shots I need. The remote trigger makes it easier to check out the crowd gathering for the big moment. Soum was patient and appreciative of my effort. We had a well deserved coffee afterwards.
I keep losing my concentration as I watch people walking by and walking into the club. The music has also got me bobbing my head and my toes tap to the rhythym of another pop tune being blasted through the sound system. The gleeful sound of a girl giggling and that waitress. The promoters in the front of the club are kicking around someone’s sandal in a game of catch it if you can. It’s all done in a playful manner. The mood changes with every song.
The first thing we saw once we got inside were three sets of galleries. These were three scenes representing the Great War with the Siamese as Thailand was once known as, the great Milk Turning, and a representation of the circle of life. These were reliefs carved into stone on the wall and were about a hundred meters long. There was a lot of discussion especially once by chance a couple asked Soum about something. They were from Chilie traveling through south east Asia together. They happen to be staying at the same hotel as me too. What are the chances of that? They negotiated to be included with me as part of the tour. I didn’t mind as it can be difficult being the only focus of attention. It gave me freedom to explore on my own.
Discussions quickly turned to recent history and the tragedy Cambodians suffered under Khmer Ruge. It’s estimated that over a million people died during their rule in the early part of the 1970’s. The Khmer Ruge believed in a society based on agrarian culture and as a result most of the people were forced into hard labour. Control over Angkor was also central to this strategy. There are bullet holes scattered throughout the walls of this and other temples. The other holes are from the Siamese who eventually conquered the Khmer empire back in the day and looted the gold and diamonds that were embedded in the walls of the temples.
Angkor Thom was next on the agenda. We had breakfast first and got to know each other. It was nice to meet that couple actually. The guy is an engineer and the woman works in sales. He was interested in the construction of the structures and she was interested in everything. Their English between the two of them was pretty good. They lacked stamina though but that’s ok as I got to explore on my own frantic pace. Angkor Thom had the faces I saw all those years ago. With the sun so high up in the sky I had difficulty capturing the colors as I perceived it. All those tourists didn’t help the matter either. Still with enough patience I managed to do the best I could.
The walls of Angkor Thom also had reliefs carved into them. It’s a beautiful place. They are slowly restoring it as well. This area is much larger than Angkor Wat as it also had other structures nearby that served as a sporting arena and other temples associated with different functions. At one point some 30-40 thousand people lived here in the little area of this complex surrounded by the water.
The last temple of the day was the one made famous by Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider. The trees have really made themselves at home here. They both destroy and maintain the structures. Their roots feeding off the moss that covers the rocks creating a path through the cracks into the inner recesses between the rocks. One of the little temples on the premises had a neat echo feature. When you hit your chest the noise reverberated within the chamber in a sacred tone. You’re supposed to do this seven times as a cleanse of all the troubles one carries with themselves. This complex houses thirty-seven little temples representing heaven. It’s all tied in with Buddhist/Hindu mythology. Soum was impressed with my knowledge and insight and was appreciative of my tutelage of his English. His command of the language was impressive even though he hasn’t lived in an English speaking country.
Mombo Number Five has just come on and the place has filled up as I sat here writing this story. Two fine looking Cambodian women just sat down nearby. They are wearing gowns and the guys they are with are nowhere near as elegantly dressed but they are busting a move to the sound of the music obviously enjoying the ambiance.
Happy is the next song on the list and I’m feeling the sound. People on the street are moving along bobbing to the sound feeling the song and the woman busking is teaching them the moves. I realize that I’ve said enough about today and it’s time to see what’s inside soon.