Worn ancient magic
Carved from stone by hands of slaves
Here for those who seek
We curiously ate the “Western-style” breakfasts in our hotel, then searched for a way to rent bikes for the tour of Angkor Wat we wanted to do. The receptionist at our hotel insisted that we didn’t want to bike, that it would be much better to get a tuk tuk to take us around. Well, we wanted to bike, so we searched and found a hostel that rents bikes, and then moved our stuff there.
Bike-ed, we set out for Angkor Wat. We handed over $80 (!) for two three-day passes to the temple grounds, which they printed for us with small photos of us. I guess there must be a black market for handing these passes around?
Anyway, we cycled the “mini tour” of the temple complexes. We didn’t get a guide, partially because we didn’t want to get ripped off and we have no idea how much any of the “tour guides” actually know about the area. In much the way I wanted a biologist to walk around Daintree with us, I find myself wanting an archaeologist and a Buddhist monk to walk around with us here. There is sadly no audio tour and no trace of signboards around here, except a few detailing how reconstruction has been done on various parts of the temples. So we just explored and got a feeling for the place.
What a place it is! Angkor Wat is the largest religious structure ever built. While it now contains just a temple inside its border fence, it once was a bustling town. Presumably all the homes, etc., were constructed in wood while the temple and walls were sandstone…
The detail of the carving is amazing, too, especially to think that it survived for over 8 centuries now. There has been some destruction wrought by punishing rains and looters, but it’s fairly minimal. We read that all Khmer factions during the civil war respected Angkor, so it was not destroyed at that time (although many other religious structures were).
Angkor Wat is also the closest temple to Siem Reap, and it is stuffed with tourists every minute of every day. We found we couldn’t spend long there.
Continuing the circuit, we stopped at several other temples throughout the Bayon complex and just scattered around. One temple is called, coloquially, “Tomb Raider”, because archaeologists haven’t yet tried to reconstruct it; today you find it in a state of disarray, with trees growing over, in, and through it necessitating clambering over stones in some places. It’s wild and beautiful.
After our circle, to head home we found a smaller path that led through the countryside. It was a nice counterpoint to biking along Charles De Gaulle, the park’s major thoroughfare. We passed by rural houses, along a trail scarcely large enough for our bicycles. It might be the closest we will get to real life in Cambodia… children ran around, chickens milled about, the houses were simple but clean and happy. Evan hit a chicken on his bicycle, trapping its leg in his mud guard. This led to some screaming on the chicken’s part, but a local boy quickly ran up to free it and let these clueless white people get on their way.
We spent, all in all, about 6 hours biking and hiking up and down temples. We’re tired. We’re also bummed that we didn’t really learn much in the process… fortunately, in our new hostel they “get it”, and they lent us a book about the Angkor complex temples and their history. Tomorrow we’ll take a more in-depth bike tour where we actually learn stuff! Yaaaaaay! For now we’re too tired to even go to the night markets for souvenirs, so we’re tapping away on our laptops instead. :)