Saturday, October 21, 2006

Angkor Wat II

Angkor Wat (main temple):

Bas relief (wall carving) in Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat is a forest of temples:

Gate to the city of Angkor Thom:


Ta Prohm:

Angkor Wat was stunning, truly an ornate and lavish place of worship. It's a forested-area the size of Manhattan with many Hindu and Buddhist temples strewn throughout, with a main temple the heighth of Notre Dame, and with forest, swamp, man-made reservoirs and quiet roads.

This place is synonymous with the glory of the Khmer empire, roughly the 9th through 12th centuries. Khmer kings built temples to glorify Gods (in earlier times Hindu, in later times Buddhist) and to bring honor to their parents, families and citizenry. True devotional artistry was inspired and created here, and it's palpable.

At this point in time, because of its current administration, Angkor Wat is just a cultural relic, a religious museum, not a place of worship.

Many of the temples possess moats and academicians confirm that the many vast reservoirs have no practical, agricultural purpose (and so likely built for solely religious reasons). Many buddhas and other gods were defaced as the place was looted for many years mostly by foreigners.

The place reminds me a bit of Tikal in Guatemala, except the buildings are much, much more ornate with every square inch embellished and long walls depicting famous religious stories in bas relief. Also Antoni Gaudi came to mind, and I wonder whether he was at all influenced by Angkor Wat for his masterpiece, the still in-progress Sagrada Famalia.

Trust in the moment

We had a little adventure of a couple days...

Three of us came on the same bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, and when we arrived to SR, there was nearly a riot -- of moto and moto-remorque (motorcycle hauling a covered cart for up to 4 people) drivers and hotel touts trying to get our business. The bus let us off into a smallish pen with waist-high railing enclosing the area. The drivers and touts were yelling, pushing and making incursions into the pen, grabbing us forcefully. A security guard was "helping" us by using a long wooden stick like a whip, aiming at people who were particularly pushy, which riled up the crowd even more. We three had already decided to go together and we were slightly panicked because we had never seen anything like this in Southeast Asia (which is relatively relaxed and non-violent). We wished to re-board the bus but knew could not. So, I pointed to the calmest looking driver and we took him.

His sign read that he would charge literally pennies for the ride, and in conversation he made it clear that it was his aim to get our business to take us to, around and from Angkor Wat (which is slightly out of walking distance from Siem Reap and the place is so vast, as mentioned.)

At the hotel we agreed to go for sunset for a reasonable rate. We parted ways for about an hour then a different driver came to the hotel.

It turned out to be a bait-and-switch. This new driver was trying to charge more and trying to charge 150% of the going rate of the following day. We said no and later I learned that the driver had come back and agreed to the going rate with the guys.

On the day, he did not want to take us anywhere within Angkor Wat, just from the hotel to there and back. He acted like a real jackass, and we didn't want to deal with such negativity and deception, so we paid him for the time he had spent up to that point and we let him go. Of course that meant that we were a pied for the rest of the day (because all the drivers within the grounds of Angkor Wat generally have customers for the day).

This was delightful for us as we enjoyed walking and found the roads to be more quiet and peaceful as were no longer surrounded by the tourist-bus-crowds. We were laughing, joking, talking to people and families. We were learning Cambodian language (seus deey = hello, li hai = goodbye, aw kawn = thank you, onlee one-dahlah = please buy something because I will kept pestering until you do.)

When it came time to go (the place closes promptly at 6pm) we were several kilometers away from the main temple where we knew we could find transportation back to the hotel. And it was thundering loudly at that point and the wind began blowing, it felt like rain was imminent. A few motos passed, trying to charge ridiculous rates but we would have none of it. It looked like we would have a 2-hour walk back in the pitch black dark (there is no night lighting) in the pouring rain.

Once again, I learned that when you are in the right place doing what you are supposed to be doing what you need will come to you. When the place was very empty and our long walk back seemed mandatory, we found a family packing up to go with 2 motos willing to take us back to the main temple for a reasonable rate. The next thing you know we were racing through Angkor Wat at sunset on empty roads with the place almost to ourselves! It was so beautiful and so, so much fun!

So everything was a part of that wonderful day, even bad in the moment changing into something truly memorable.

Urgent, the time is now!

If anyone out there wants to see Angkor Wat with your own eyes, go as soon as possible! Cambodia in general and Siem Reap in particular is going through explosive tourist growth, it's already noticeably more expensive compared with Phnom Penh, and many hotels with $500 per night rooms are going up now which will surely inflate prices and increase the level of hassle.


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