Wednesday, April 7, 2010

CAMBODIA TRAVEL PART 3: The Temples of Angkor

To be honest, I was ready to be underwhelmed by the Temples of Angkor. I'm generally interested in modern history and anything before 1900 puts me to sleep. But Angkor Wat is one of the main prides of Cambodia and it seemed silly and embarrassing to skip it. Ultimately, I'm so glad I went. It was really, really magical. Straight from Wikipedia and condensed for your reading pleasure: the Angkor area was the seat of Khmer power from roughly the 9th century through the 13th century. Many kings oversaw the building of the temples over time, but the Donald Trump of them all was King Jayavarman VII, who created a ton of temples, and most of the cooler ones.

There are a couple ways to make your way through all the temples, some of which are spaced out pretty far apart. The first day, I walked from temple to temple, which was long and sweaty, but peaceful. The second day, I biked, which is by far the best way to do it. It's simple and breezy and good exercise. The third day, I hired a tuk-tuk to take me around.

Angkor Wat (the biggest and most famous temple) was my least favorite. It's set apart by a moat, I didn't think it was that beautiful, and part of it was under construction. Nothing takes you out of historical reverie like bright blue scaffolding. However, all the temples had fascinating and intricate carvings to look at while wandering around.

The next day I saw temples that I loved, most notably Bayon and Ta Prohm. Bayon is a temple filled with over two hundred large, smiling faces. The rumor is that they are representations of King Jayavarman himself. I can understand that. If I were Queen, I'd probably erect tons of sculptures of my likeness as well.

Then I biked over to Ta Prohm, which is amazing because they've left it pretty much in its original state. Huge tree trunks and vines have grown over the ruins and, aside from the crowds, it's possible to feel like an old-fashioned explorer who has stumbled upon an ancient city. Like I said, magical.

Even if the temples were a bit crowded, my bike rides and walks were really peaceful. Traveling alone from temple to temple was probably my favorite part. There were different routes to take, but no way to get lost - which is my ideal situation.

The last day in Siem Reap, I shared a tuk-tuk back to town with a Chinese woman. Like almost all Chinese people, she complimented me on my Chinese after I said two words to her. (可以? Keyi? Meaning "Can I?") And like almost all American people, I thought she was much younger than she was. I asked, "Where are you studying?" and she said, "I'm an oncologist." Anyway, she mentioned that she had gotten up before dawn to see the sun rise at Angkor Wat, and while I am not an early bird by nature, I sort of wish I had done it. She showed me some really beautiful photos - but admitted that she was jostled by hundreds and hundreds of people who joined her at 4 a.m. to see the sun rise.

Overall, it's a pretty special historical site and I'm very glad I went. I wish my dad had been there with me, because I know he would have found it really fascinating. But I was happy to be myself, walking, thinking, listening to music. As Jessica says, it's important to have Tunes to Keep You Alone and Wandering.

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