Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Cambodia Part V - the Magic and Majesty that are the Temples of Angkor...


And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.  The Bull is on his third AFD in a row and 7th in the last 8 days, as well as his 6th straight day of cardio.  Today was a 5K on the treadmill in the condo, and it's AMAZING the difference between indoor and outdoor here (elevation plays NO part either way, as Singapore is as flat as Kansas).  Tonight's 5K was 23:10, whereas my 4.7 K outside last wee was 24:25 (meaning that I would probably have gone about 25:50 for a 5K).  Even though it is cooler this time of year in Singapore, you realize that you're more acclimated than you think and that the humidity just NEVER lets up.

Look at my hot sexy little hippy - after this trip, she is henceforth
known as Lara Croft - Tomb Raider.
But enough of that (I can hear Hitman and Shogun snoring from here...) - let's get back to Cambodia for the first of several blogs that will feature more pictures than words (insert OSC saying, "Yeah, RIGHT").  And so we kick off the first of our three blogs detailing our experiences in one of the most unique and awe-inspiring places we've ever been - the Temples of Angkor.

It was an EAAAAAAARLY call, as we had to rise at 4:15 to meet our guide, Daling, at 5 AM in the lobby.  He was right there waiting for us, dressing in the official English speaking guide uniform (picture a cross between cub scouts and boys scouts, and you've got it - yes, yes, I know the shirts are the EXACT same - I'm talking the colors).  When I saw him, I could only think one thing - this guy is the MATT DAMON OF CAMBODIA.  Seriously - if he had a) started doing a mathematical formula, b) started running a con job in Vegas, or c) whipped out a dozen passports and a gun (and asked me if I was Treadstone, of course), he could have been the guy's twin (except with caramel skin and black hair).  I'm tellin' you - it was uncanny the resemblance.  We also met our driver, Brom, who did NOT look like the Cambodian Ben Affleck.  Oh well, one out of two ain't bad.

It was then over to the Temples (only about a 5 minute drive), where the first thing you do is buy your tickets.  Over 2 million people visit the temples every year, and this was where we learned that ONE GUY WHO'S NOT EVEN CAMBODIAN gets 70% of the revenue.  Apparently the guy is best friend's with the Prime Minister, but that is some definite corruption that needs to be addressed.  Granted, the technology that prints your face on the ticket is cool, but should that give one cat 50+ million USD a year?  Methinks no.  Anyhoo...

Our guide was just AMAZING.  This guy knew EVERYTHING ABOUT EVERY TEMPLE, including the best view points at different times of day to catch the light, the right path to walk through a temple to minimize other folks in your shots, the right order to visit temples so that you would be practically (if not completely) alone, and all the history you could handle.  He showed this off almost instantly when he said, "most folks go through the West entrance to Angkor Wat.  If you're okay with it, we'll take torches (flashlights) and walk through the East entrance.  It's much better."  Unsure if this was some Egypt style grift, I was a bit leery.  But boy was I glad that we trusted him. 
Notice the reflection on the water - this just got better and better.

Here we are, dawn is just starting to break.  The sky is gray.  The trees are rustling with animals.  And we are all alone on this path.  And then, suddenly, in front of us, with NO ONE blocking our view - is Angkor Wat.  Photos don't do it justice, but the stories do - it is just as impressive as everyone says it is. 

The Angkor Temple Complex stretches over 500 acres, but there are various other complexes as well tied to this area.  It's a common misconception that everything is called "Angkor Wat," when in fact only this temple is called Angkor Wat (meaning the Temple of Angkor).  Incidentally, this is the largest religious structure in the world, but all I could think of whilst looking at it was:  "Mor-tal Kom-baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat!!!!!!  FINISH HIM!!!!!!!"

We wandered to the front and saw the other people gathered for sunrise, and then we waited. I'd heard that this was less than impressive, and at first I agreed.  But then, suddenly, the sky light up like a Christmas tree, and it was AMAZING.  This early morning cost us a whopping extra $5 USD, and it was worth EVERY PENNY.  We were snapping photos like crazy (the gorilla came in VERY handy), and then Daling came through in the clutch again.  Not only did this guy know EVERYTHING about the temples, he was also a master photographer, and knew EXACTLY where to have you stand to get a great shot.  He never complained once about all the photos we asked him to take, and oftentimes he volunteered.  Also, we were NEVER rushed at any point.  I'm tellin' you - this is how every tour should be.

This carving, on one of the walls, is entitled "The churning of
the sea of milk."  It's how the gods and demons fought in a
tug of war to create the Exilir of Life - Aqua Vitae (no, NOT
the Irish whiskey variety.)
Can you say calorie free?  Because I can.  After all - I know
what healthy is...
This is one of the oldest statues in the
temple - I believe it was carved in 1200.
We spent the next 2 hours in Angkor Wat, including getting up to the towers!  We were actually the first group that got to go up (Daling timed it so that we were there EXACTLY when the rope dropped), so we got to stay up as long as we wanted (unlike crowds later in the day who have only 10 minutes and have to wait in line for up to 45 minutes).  Another thing interesting was that there were many Cambodians in the temple, and they seemed MESMERIZED by me and Jenny.  Daling explained:  "Cambodians can't really get visas to travel, so they aren't used to foreigners.  So they save their money and come here for the day instead to take pictures of foreigners in the morning.  Then, satisfied, they go home."  Sure enough, we looked over at that exact moment to see this Cambodian lady having her picture made with two blonde haired Brits.  I SERIOUSLY never saw that one coming.  It was then over for breakfast, where we had arguably THE BEST iced coffee we'd ever tasted.  Seriously - we will make this at home - bring on the condensed milk and all the sugar my body can take, baby!!!! OH, YEAH!!!!!

This is the entrance to Angkor Thom.  You drive through the
original gate - note the Buddha face above our heads.
In our defense, this was Daling's idea.  He asked Jenny to
"kiss the Buddha."  Let's keep the comments to a minimum,
shall we?
We then went to Angkor Thom, the ancient city and capital of Angkor.  You drive THROUGH THE ORIGINAL GATE, which is a four-faced Buddha (apparently the face is like the Emperor's at the time, but NO WAY I can spell that cat's name.  Let's just call him J7.).  And then there's the city itself, which is just MIND-BLOWING.  All the towers have the 4 faced Buddhas, and everywhere you looked was a postcard.  It's a good thing we had a 16 GB memory card, because we were CUTTING through that puppy.  I actually found Angkor Thom to be more impressive than Angkor Wat, and it was practically DESERTED.  Seriously - look at each shot - there's practically no one in ANY of them!
Yes, KJ, I am well aware that I look
like quite the tourist in this one.  At least
the shirt is grey and I'm not wearing an
audio guide.  Baby steps...
It was then over to Bauphon Temple, which (mum, get ready to say it:  "You two are the luckiest people on earth) had JUST OPENED 1 October - less than 3 weeks before we'd arrived!  It apparently had been closed since FORVER, as our guide's mom had always wanted to go to the top but it had never been open - and she's 71!  The stairs were STRAIGHT UP, and whilst the sign said "no entry to summit," well, we took that as a guideline for lesser experienced, less adventurous tourists.  I'm glad we exhibited a flagrant disregard for authority, as the views from up there were just SPECTACULAR. 

It was then over for lunch, where I had a mango AND coconut shake, and then Jenny and I ate 2 entrees that should have fed 11 people.  The amok curry came out in a coconut that could have sheltered a baby elephant, and despite wanted a "light lunch," we were forces of nature (much like me with these Ruffles chips at the moment.  Muffin - I need you here to make me resist the chippypoos!!!!!)

The "illegal" view from atop Bauphon.
We then hit a final temple that had a view of Angkor Wat in the distance, which was nice but not as spectacular as the previous three.  What I was noticing was that each temple was distinctly different, and each had a different story, style, and aspect that made it very unique.  On the way down from this temple, we passed an elephant heading up to collect some tourists - it was a neat way to end day 1 in Angkor. 

Daling and Brom then drove us back the the Motherhome, where Daling turned to us and started his Day 1 farewell with "Ladies and Gentlemen, we are now finished."  You see, Daling always started with "Ladies and Gentlemen," which we found very cute.  His English was phenomenal, and his stories about contemporary Cambodian life (his apartment still had water in it from the flooding, for example) very interesting, and his knowledge of the Khmer Rouge and the ancient history of the nation were staggering.  He was a walking encyclopedia-photographer-guide-amigo, all for $25 a day (flat rate in Cambodia for English speaking guides).
There are men, then there's Chuck Norris.  Then
there's Jack Bauer.  And finally - fear the
He left us about 4 (so 11 hours of templing), after which time we hopped in the pool for a bit before showering and then heading back to Pub Street.  I tried a "Grasshopper," which tasted just as manly as it sounds.  Picture a liquid, 10 oz Junior Mint.  It was good, but I was almost in sugar shock when it was over.

It was then off to bed, a spell-binding day in the books and the promise of more to come the next day.  And so we sacked out, exhausted but looking forward to Angkor Round II - which we'll cover tomorrow.

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print.  Chat tomorrow!


Sam and (still battling it out with Sarah's iPhone but enjoying the Phillips Island Penguins) Jenny

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