The Ruins of Angkor Wat - Tuesday, February 24, 2004

It was pretty easy to find a guesthouse. The internet and our used copy of Lonely Planet are pretty helpful. We didn't know whether or not to expect someone from the guesthouse to be waiting for us outside the airport. Our driver Preyta was waiting with a sign. Five star service at one star prices! We took the 20 minute drive past Angkor Wat to our guesthouse in an extremely comfortable moto. It's really comfortable carriage with pillows attached to a scooter, very lounge chair-like.

We hired Preyta and his Moto for two days to drive us around the many temple complexes surrounding Angkor Wat, which are quite spread out. We considered biking from temple to temple, but it was over 100 degrees with humidity. I think we would've petered out pretty early in the day. The day was long and hot, but well worth the trip over.

We had missed sunrise, but were early enough to tour half of what we wanted to see.

For some in-depth information on the history of Angkor Wat check out this link. A quick general overview:

The temple complex was built at the height of the Khmer influence on this region of SE Asia. During the years, 879 - 1191 CE, a series of kings which ruled an area stretching from the Bay of Bengal in the west to Vietnam in the east and also going as far north as the Yunnan province of China and south to modern day Cambodia and Thailand. This complex was a social and administrative complex built in there for the strategic military and agricultural importance. During the reign of the Khmer, citizens worshipped Buddhism and Hinduism, but there were a variety of other cults followed depending on what time period the different kings ruled. People even worshipped the kings themselves.

Day 2 was much different because we decided to hire a local guide to fill in where Lonely Planet had left off for touring the main sites at Angkor. We wanted to get our money's worth since we only had 2.5 days to explore. Unfortunately it was not worth the splurge because our guide's English was a bit lacking, and his explanations were extremely specific. He wasn't too good at answering our general questions about Buddhism, Hinduism, and the time period. However, he relayed some interesting factoids and stories about certain carvings and significant ruins. We could have done with a bit of higher-level historical perspective, but later learned all that on the internet. Forget the stories, the ruins were incredible. Monks are still doing sit ins amidst the ruins of these once grand palaces and buildings. Like Tikal in Guatemala, it is easy to see how much effort it took to construct these immense structures.

Visiting the main sites of Angkor surprisingly only took us two days. We saw more than the average bear on the first day and then followed up on the second day with Angkor & Bayon Temple, and were ready to call it quits after lunch. At this point, we had seen enough wats to last a lifetime. Apparently another set of ruins was only 35km away. We didn't even consider it. OVERLOAD!

You can see the French influence in the town's architecture. We wandered around the city market, visited roadside food stalls, and M had another foot massage. Too bad it's not this cheap at home for an hour of bliss! It is a bit surreal to be in SE Asia having a baguette and coffee in the morning, and then followed up by a traditional Khmer lunch. The food was pretty darn good. There also seems to be more Vietnamese restaurants here than in Thailand. Mmmmm?

For our evening activity, we watched a traditional Khmer dance show for a few hours over dinner. It was beautiful, but our pictures don?t do it justice. The men, women, and children were incredibly graceful.

Our flight back to Bangkok was in the afternoon, but we were done visiting wats. We considered going to a lake nearby and having lunch at a floating fishing village. Good advice from fellow travelers kept us wandering around Siem Reap for the day. According to the grapevine, the road is one of the worst in Cambodia and the fishing village smells like a sewer.

Not sure lunch would have tasted so good!

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