My final morning in Chiang Mai in the very early hours entailed one last visit of the wats in my neighbourhood. Next stop, Siem Reap and the biggest wat of them all!
Siem Reap is almost, though not quite, entirely unlike Chiang Mai. My first awareness was the fresh air, then shock as my tuk tuk from the airport meandered past some of the hugest hotels I’ve ever seen! An endless stream of massive resort monstrosities. I wasn’t prepared for this! Then eventually I arrived at my humble dwellings… they were humble and fit the description of a dwelling. What would have been a grandiose building some 40 years ago is now somewhat decrepit and treated with an easy indifference. The staff are beautiful and before the night was out a friendship was formed (which made it a little awkward when I decided to upgrade from dwelling to room at the guesthouse around the corner!).
The people who work in Siem Reap found it hard to understand that I wasn’t going straight to Angkor Wat – it was incomprehensible. Then when I did go, I took a bicycle, which bemused them even more because why wouldn’t I take a tuk tuk? I shall tell you. The ride out to Angkor Wat from Siem Reap is 13 kilometres, it is also serene and green, like riding through a forest, it is such a beautiful ride. The other advantage was that on return, a quick u-turn and scrambling together of change, meant a visit to the Phare Cambodian Circus – brilliant!
Oh I am sorry… you want to hear about the wat?
Chained up the bike, and started walking up the immense stone bridge toward the wat. A cheeky jibe ‘no ticket, no temple lady…’, prompted me to stop gaping and produce my ticket – phew. The entry bridge is stone and solid and impressive with water either side… the gate (I presume it’s some sort of gate) guards the wat, the gate is impressive in itself. The wat, is something that is majestic and leaves an impression that will last forever. What I like about this wat is that it is one of the very few the remaining artefacts in Cambodia from before Pol Pot’s desecration of this amazing country. Everything else was destroyed, if it had anything to do with anything prior to 1975 – it had to go. Angkor Wat survived, was quietly revered even, but all of the buddha’s were beheaded or defaced. So whilst it remains for us to see today, it too, is scarred by the horrible past.
It is always a miracle to me when visiting old temples, churches and buildings; through Europe and Asia, as to how they actually got them to hold together and why they are still together – it’s quite impressive and a little bit scary so I try not to think about it too much.
Too late in the day to ascend to the pinnacle, a stroll along the grass as the sun started to set with crickets and frogs playing an orchestra-tic finale to a beautiful day.
This meant that another visit would be required for Angkor Thom and his friends… fast forward 2 weeks:
This time I got a tuk tuk with the smiley Mr Chad. There is something soothing about a tuk tuk ride, I might be alone in this, but it really is very mollifying. Then it rained. Hard.
The clouds parted and I arrived at my first stop; Angkor Thom – a quick huddle over the map, some directions from Mr Chad about how I walk through the trail of temples and meet him at the other end.
I won’t deliberate on all of the details; I think it is each person’s unique journey. What I loved most was the intricacies of the wall carvings, the towering tiers, the cool and peaceful sensation, the “option” to be blessed… for a “donation” and the sense of timelessness. Walking from Angkor Thom, to Bayon, to Baphuon, the Royal Palace, Elephants Terrace and then out to the marketplace; felt like walking through a labyrinth or secret garden. The magic and mystic of it all abruptly concluded by a very loud cacophony of “lady, you want drink?”. Yes, actually, I did.
After my drink, a little more wandering led me to meet some new “friends”. A couple of young lads doing the tour guide act … why not? So from here I was shown the Leper King Terrace and Prah Prailay. Having read up on a lot of the history I was impressed with the recital I received. What I didn’t expect was the fee at the end.. yes, yes, I know that nothing in life is free, but his price was extortionate. A kiss. We managed to agree on 1000 riel. He was pretty dark about it. He probably deserved more, the tour was quite good, but maybe he’ll be less cheeky in the future!
There was just one more stop for me that day. I quickly sought the safety of Mr Chad and his tuk tuk and we left for Ta Prohm.
It rained again. A lot. No end in sight, I got my umbrella out, waded through a river that used to be the entry path and got on with it.
I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps Ta Prohm is the way it is due to dozens of monks eating stone fruit and discarding the stones… they aren’t stone fruit trees, I’m not even sure what they are, but it made a nice mental image.
On doing a quick reference with Wikipedia – I was delighted that at least one type is a type of fig tree – so I will merrily pretend that the monks were eating figs and the remnants have created the amazing scene present today.