Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Temples, Day 2 Siem Riep, Cambodia, Tuesday, 06 March 2007 11:00pm

The sites we planned to visit on our second day around Angkor were all much closer together, so we asked Phan to bring a tuk tuk (motorcycle-rickshaw) instead of the car. It worked out well. We hopped between a lot of temples with quick, breezy rides. It was a very hot day, so the breeze was appreciated. Each of the sites was interestingly different from the others.

We started with Angkor Wat itself, going in the morning to avoid the crowds. Khmer temples are normally oriented to the East, so the most spectacular approach is in the morning, with the sun streaming down behind you. However, the causeway that crosses Angkor Wat's giant moat is on the West side and your first views are from there. The Way To Do It is to visit Angkor in the afternoon. Because we did the opposite, we got to enjoy the tranquil breezes at the top with only a small horde of other tourists, rather than the full crush.

Angkor Wat was monumental, but I thought that the bas-reliefs were even better than the huge towers. There were carvings from the Reamker, the Khmer version of the Ramayana. It was neat to try to figure out who was who from my knowledge of the Indian version.

Our next stop was Prasat Kravan, which was tiny in comparison. Unlike the rest of the sites around Angkor, it was made of brick instead of stone and was not built by royalty.

In the parking area, I broke down and bought a copy (literally, though it was nicely bound) of a guidebook specific to the ruins. We've been avoiding buying things in the parking areas because the kids doing the selling are annoyingly insistent, but I wanted more detailed information about the sites and this boy was offering it to me for only $5 instead of the $11, falling to $8 that they were asking for the same book at Banteay Srei yesterday. (I had to turn my pocket inside out to show them that I only had $1, before they stopped trying to sell it to me).

We continued up the road to Sra Srang, which was a platform overlooking a former royal bath — a man-made lake — and then crossed the street to Banteay Kdei, to meet Phan on the far side. Banteay Kdei is partially collapsed and has plenty of "Danger, No Entry" signs. The highlight is the Hall of Dancers, with hundreds of Apsara dancers carved on the sides of the columns.

A little girl sang "You buy post card" at Jessica, so she broke into our supply of colored pencils and gave her one. When the girl immediately used the pencil for a hair chopstick, we realized that we needed to give paper along with the pencils. My journal sacrificed a few pages and the girl started happily scribbling.

The next stop was Ta Prohm, which is famous for being the "unrestored" temple. When archaeologists started working on the Angkor sites, they left Ta Prohm as they found it, half-swallowed by the jungle. It turns out that they're doing a lot of work to keep it in that state. There were work crews sweeping dust away from the strangler fig roots intertwined with the stones. It was less wild than Beng Mealea, but very atmospheric. On the far side they were obviously working on rebuilding structures. There were surveying teams measuring the existing walls, and huge arrays of numbered stones lying in grids.

As we were walking out of that complex, another girl started trying to sell us T-shirts. It started at $3 for one, and $5 for two, and fell to $1 each by the end of the road. When I told her that we didn't need one, we needed zero, she answered that she'd sell us zero for $10.

Contrasting with Ta Prohm, in the process of falling apart, was Ta Keo, in the process of being built. The site was abandoned after the structure was in place, but before the usual ornate carvings were added. It was really neat to see the blocky, almost modern design underlying the decoration.

The last two sites of the day took that contrast in a different direction. They were a pair of matched temples, one restored and the other in the process of being restored. We could see the carvings done to match the existing designs, some of them obviously very fresh.

By this point, we were pretty tired, and not really in the mood to wait a couple hours for the sunset, so we headed back to the hotel for a snack and a swim.

We spent the evening at a traditional dance performance. It started off with Apsara ballet, which I found to be static. Mostly poses and hand positions, rather than active movement. Happily, the dance moved on to some country courtship dances and a mythological dance about a goddess and a demon.


gina (Anonymously) Friday, 09 March 2007 8:54am

I just happened to take a look at your journal, and whaddya know, you're in SE Asia! I hope you're having a wonderful trip. I'm enjoying the updates and am looking forward to seeing your photos.