The next day I got up promptly at 4am when the alarm went off, got dressed and went in search of tea and coffee for us both. We met up with our guide and driver and set off at 5am, it was still pitch black. We drove to Angkor Wat to see the dawn and watch the sunrise. The price of 1USD each secured us a chair to sit on and a glass of what was supposed to be coffee but tasted suspiciously like a mix of tea, coffee and chocolate all in one, it was actually pretty disgusting! We watched as the sky went from pitch black with a waning moon and gradually turned pink and then the sun came up. There were lots of other people there too, in fact a whole audience waiting for the sunrise.
just look at all these orbs!
At 5.55am exactly the cicadas started again. It was as if someone flicked a switch and they all started in unison.
the ice man cometh and does saw blocks off with a handsaw! The ice is for keeping drinks cool not for putting in drinks, I hasten to add.
We walked all round the internal covered walkway again with our guide, stopping at intervals as he explained what we were seeing. In the section of 32 hells and 37 heavens was a scene showing an adulterer being forced to shin up a thorn tree and other people being thrown into the sea (we had thought it was a rape scene). Later we saw one of the same thorn trees in the grounds.
Our guide explained that the basins in the cruciform cloister were not kept filled with water but were used for drainage. Rain falling on the barrel shaped cloistered walkways apparently resembles waterfalls.
At 8am the central stairway to the top was opened and we climbed up to admire the view from there.
It was sad to see that people had felt the need to desecrate the holy area by scratching graffiti on some of the columns and there was a strong smell of urine up there too. However, the view from the top was fantastic and we were able to get a much better idea of the size of the complex – large – and this was only Angkor Wat itself. Angkor Wat itself is only a small part and the archaeological park covers a very large area.
On our way back to the main gate I went to photograph a tree I had noticed earlier covered in blossoms, now at 8.45am most of the blossoms had already fallen and the ground beneath was carpeted with them.
We were driven to a café for breakfast – just far enough away that we were not disturbed by kids selling things and the food was good too.
Suitably fortified we left there just after 9.30am and drove to the parking area near the south gate of the Angkor Thom complex. Demons guard the right hand side of the bridge and gods the other side, both “teams” holding on a to a naga (a 5, 7 or 9 headed serpent) in a depiction similar to the tug of war in the bas relief of the churning of the ocean of milk.
We got back into the car for the short drive to the Bayon temple itself, in the centre of Angkor Thom (not lazy, we just wanted to stay out of the sun as much as possible :-).
We visited the Bayon complex which is famous for its 216 faces. At first sight it just looks like a pile of stones …
It was beginning to be hot by now and we didn’t see all the bas reliefs because most of them are not under cover, but only the section featuring the naval battle and some scenes of local life as it was lived 500 years ago. Like the bas reliefs at Angkor Wat these ones (built about the same time) were incredibly intricate and detailed.
When you climb up to the next level there are faces everywhere and wherever you turn you are being looked at by one or more faces wearing an enigmatic smile. Each face is identical (possibly the king’s face) and they were apparently carved in situ, not carved first and then assembled. The stone quarries are some 50km away so bringing the stones to Angkor must have been a mammoth undertaking in its own right.
I usually try and avoid taking photos with people in them but here it’s the only way to give you an idea of the scale
a local artist and some of his water colours for sale
We then left by the north gate
and walked on to the 11th century pyramid temple called Baphuon, again crossing on a long sandstone causeway. This was notable for the large reclining Buddha on the back wall. You might have to look hard to see it.
We walked round the outside of the Phimeanakas (meaning celestial palace), a laterite pyramid-style temple which we didn’t climb. Laterite is an iron-rich clay widely used in SE Asia which is soft and easy to dress, however, after exposure to the elements it becomes very hard and pitted making it unsuitable for dressing.
Nearby were two “swimming pools” which had kids bathing in them. Our guide informed us that the larger one was for the women, which showed that there many more women than men living in the complex when it was originally built. We exited through the west gate and turned left on to the massive walkway leading to the elephant terrace
– so called because of the carvings of elephants, pulling up lotus plants by the roots, using their trunks
and thence to the terrace of the leper king. No one knows exactly why it is called the terrace of the leper king.
Behind this wall of carvings
and protected from the fierce heat of the sun we walked around the base of the terrace where we were able to view the hidden wall. I photographed the nagas and deities of the underworld on this hidden wall.
As you follow the inner wall you can see the increasingly rough chisel marks on the figures, an indication that this wall was never completed.
We passed the large seated Buddha at Tep Prana,
this rather colourful little lizard perched on top of the right foot
and went into Preah Palilay in a woodland setting with trees growing out of the sides of the tower.
By this time we had had enough so decided to call it a day and were driven back to the guesthouse where we both went to sleep for a couple of hours.