Wednesday 03.03 We arrived in Siem Reap at 12.35. Siem Reap airport must have been designed by the people who design Bangkokair’s airports for it was well designed and attractive. There was minimal hassle in getting our visas and we easily found our tuk-tuk driver. The drive into Siem Reap, although less than 10km, was stifling in the midday heat and we were very glad to be in the shade when we arrived at the guest house.
entrance to our B&B
reception area, still with its red lanterns left over from the Chinese new year
One of the lads in reception said he had looked on the internet and found that it was 37 degrees C that day. It certainly felt like it and we were very glad of our welcome iced lime tea with mint and the cold refreshing towel. With the help of the same lad we organized our programme and guide for the following day and then had a rest for a couple of hours before our tuk-tuk driver picked us up at 4.30 and drove us to the ticket office to get our tickets for Angkor Wat.
The ticket office opened at 5pm and you were entitled to go in to the complex that evening and then start your 3 days next day. We wanted a 3 day pass. When we got to the ticket office itself we were told that we could only have a 3 consecutive day pass and that if we wanted a random 3 day pass we would have to go to a different ticket desk! How frustrating to be told that if you had queued for a long time!
Armed with our passes the tuk-tuk driver then drove us to Angkor Wat itself. At the end of a T-junction you are confronted by the sight of a large man-made body of water with a wooded shoreline on the other side. We followed the road round to the left and then round a corner. As we went down this we caught sight of the causeway crossing the moat to the complex of Angkor Wat itself. The moat surrounds the entire complex. We left our tuk-tuk and then ran the gauntlet of the kids and other hawkers trying to persuade us to buy books, bracelets or postcards. We walked over the causeway, towards the complex – a breathtaking sight.
Angkor Wat is the largest and probably the most breathtaking of the monuments at Angkor and is believed to be the largest religious structure in the world. The whole archaeological park covers some 120 square km. It was probably built as a funerary temple to the King Suryavarman II (reigned 1112-1152) to honour the Hindu deity Vishnu. According to our guide book “Angkor Wat replicates the spatial universe in miniature. The central tower is Mt Meru, with its surrounding smaller peaks, bounded in turn by continents (the lower courtyards) and the oceans (the moat). The seven-headed naga becomes a symbolic rainbow bridge for man to reach the abode of the gods”.
Once you have crossed the first causeway over the moat you pass through the main gateway and then walk along another causeway (no water here).
for a small fee you could have your photo taken with some dancers
We walked all the around the covered walkway area where the best bas reliefs are (eight hundred metres of them).
inside one of the covered walkways
a statue of Vishnu in his many-armed aspect
Although the section “the churning of the ocean of milk” was closed for restoration a large photographic panel has been erected to show this section. I quote our guide book again: “this brilliantly executed carving depicts 88 asuras (demons) on the left and 92 devas (deities), with crested helmets, churning up the sea to extract from it the elixir of immortality. The demons hold the head of the serpent and the gods hold its tail. At the centre of the sea, the serpent is coiled around Mt Mandala, which turns and churns up the water in the tug of war between the demons and the gods. Vishnu, incarnated as a huge turtle, lends his shell to serve as the base and pivot of Mt Mandala. Brahma, Shiva, Hanuman (the monkey god) and Lakshmi (the goddess of beauty) all make appearances, while overhead a host of heavaenly female spirits sing and dance in encouragement”.
The majority of the bas reliefs were completed in the 12th century.It’s amazing to think that these incredibly beautiful and intricate carvings were created while Europe was still in the middle ages!
late afternoon sun strikes the cruciform covered walkways in the middle section
and the front of the main section
view from the entrance gate looking back to the main building
From here we watched the sun go down but the final stages of its descent were obscured by trees.
evening sky reflected in the moat
most people have had enough by now and trudge wearily back so it’s a good time of day to visit
my favourite photo of the day
We walked back to the parking area, found our tuk-tuk and drove back into town where we asked to be dropped off in “pub” street. As we drove off all of a sudden the cicadas started their stridulations and the noise was deafening as we approached the outskirts of Siem Reap.
We ensconced ourselves in a bar on the corner of the main crossroads where we had frozen margaritas and nachos. You had to be quick drinking the margaritas because they quickly overflowed as the ice melted.
A young lad with a big smile and only one leg sold us a copy of Ancient Angkor, one of the definitive books on the Angkor complex. We asked him what had happened to him and he told us he’d been in a car accident. We saw many other similar walking wounded, probably landmine victims. Sadly you cannot help them all and we tried hard not to give in to the winning smiles of all the child beggars who accosted us at every temple we visited as it unfortunately tends to encourage them to continue a life of begging.
We got talking to a French woman sitting at the table next to ours and she told us that there were lots of restaurants inside the passages near the old market so we set off to find somewhere to eat.
We settled on the Amok restaurant (amok is a typical Khmer dish, like a fish soufflé) where we had the set meal of bar (fish) cooked with ginger. It was delicious. After dinner we walked back to the guest house – only about 5 minutes away and very conveniently situated in the Wat Damnak area on the other side of the river – much quieter. We went straight to bed about 11pm.