At 05:00 in the morning, I got my pass to my birthday wish–A Visit To Angkor Wat!
It’s just a bit sad that my wish was granted without my brother, John. We were supposedly traveling together here on our birthday but time and budget only allowed us to celebrate our birthday on a 2-day road trip on his motorbike, that took us as far as Pagudpud Beach in Ilocos Norte from Baguio City (Philippines) and back.
With a cup of brewed coffee and cheese croissant we bought from an early opened coffee stand outside the complex , we sat on one corner just after the entrance to Angkor Wat. It was still dark yet people started flocking in. Everyone was hoping to see the sunrise as there was none the morning before. I was crossing my fingers that the Lao Cai sun dance will still be effective and the Philippine sunshine in our backpacks is still luminous as a grand sunrise is a must-see when here.
By 05:40, the horizon back-dropping Angkor Wat was a shade of blue. Five minutes later, with a faint tinge of orange. Five minutes more, turned red-orange. A minute after, it was muffled then became blue gray and that was the end of it. Like in Halong Bay, a grand sunrise never arrived.
The sky cleared up around 08:00. By that time we covered half of Angkor already, scrutinizing the detailed engravings on the walls that kept us wondering how the Cambodian forebears did it. It’s mind-boggling how they deftly engraved each stone slab and put them precisely together just as the King wanted. Wasn’t it easier or more practical to engrave after setting up the whole wall first? But I guess it wouldn’t be as exciting as it is now if that was the case.
The Angkor region borders the Great Lake which boasts off valuable supply of water, fish and fertile soil. Anthropologists say human settlement dates back to the Neolithic Age based on stone tools and ceramics found here and aerial photos showing circular habitation sites. Between the 8th and 13th centuries, Angkor was the hub of one of South East Asia’s most remarkable civilization– the Khmer Civilization.
History has it that Angkor used to be small independent states that occasionally merge into a larger empire. It was only by the 9th century that the empire began when King Jayavarman II reigned supreme over the region. Twenty-five rulers came in succession after him, with some ending in bloody revolts.
During that period, a string of Hindu and Buddhist rulers built stone temples, shifting the capital from one place to the other as they pleased, building new ones, improving or rebuilding some and even destroying others that were not in sync with their religious faith. Faith—Hinduism and Buddhism—that was introduced to them through trades with India.
Despite the fierce events that the temples endured in the past, the elaborate carvings and intricate architectural designs continue to enthrall, attracting hundreds of people across the globe every day since it re-opened after years of political turmoil in the Kingdom.
Restoration and conservation efforts are underway hence existence of scaffolding in many parts of the complex is pretty much visible. There are also areas of the complex that are closed to the public due to ongoing restoration works.
Theft-related incidents of artifacts declined in recent years due to improved efforts of the governments of Cambodia and Thailand to stop such from happening. Every one is advised not to buy khmer artifacts anywhere in the world so as not to encourage more incidents of stealing. Take note, the Angkor is a World Heritage so it is everyone’s responsibility to take care of it in any way possible.
Half of our one day stay in Siem Reap was spent at Angkor Wat. The place is so vast to tour around. If you are very much into history or interested in the detailed engravings, a day here is not enough. The temperature though could be quite warm by mid-day so make sure to bring plenty of water and if possible an extra shirt.
After lunch, we drove to the South Gate of Angkor Thom where the Temple of Bayon is located. Here you will find many stone faces engraved on the towers on the upper terrace. It was built during the time of King Jayavarman VII.
We later drove further where we saw in passing the Elephant Terrace that is already severely damaged, the Sur Prat Towers, the Ta Keo Temple and other smaller temples.
Capping my one-day tour of Angkor, I visited one temple nestled in a forested area a few meters from the road. I unfortunately deleted the photo I took of the signage now I am unable to identify it. Should any of you reading my blog entry or browsing through my photos have been to Angkor, maybe you could help me name the temple. I would be very thankful for the help.
The temple area was about to close when I got there. Thankfully the guard was kind enough to give me 10 minutes to wander inside. A large part of the structure has been reclaimed by the forest already. It felt creepy in there with those huge roots of the very tall banyan trees engulfing the walls and the roofs, encircling the beams and upturning the stone slabs. My heart was beating fast. It’s always best to visit here with someone…and not before the clock strikes 5:00 P.M.
One can visit most of the important sites nearby in a day. It all depends on one’s interest I guess and how much time you plan to stay in Siem Reap. We were not able to visit Banteay Srei, a must-see suggested by a lovely couple in their 60’s from down under —Bam and Karen, whom we met on the bus journey from Halong Bay to Hanoi. The monument is an hour drive North of Angkor. Ancient Angkor Book Guide says its name means “Citadel of Beauty”, probably referring to its size and its delicate decorations. Another interesting monument which I am keeping for a second trip to the Kingdom is the Kbal Spean for its sculptures carved in a river-bed. A hike to here makes it more exciting.
The weather in Cambodia was unpredictable during our stay. We were here in September. It was gloomy in the morning then bright and warm until late afternoon. Heavy downpour ensued in the evening, marring our plan of finding a restaurant serving authentic Cambodian cuisine.
The spicy beef curry we had for lunch at the hostel’s restaurant was not as we expected. But since we cannot go out in the evening with the heavy rain, we settled for a meal by the hostel again. After our meal, I was just glad having devoured a huge coconut from a local earlier. Of all the coconuts I had in the last 10 days of our Indo-China trip, that was the biggest, cheapest and tastiest!
With so much more to see and experience here, the Kingdom of Cambodia definitely remains on my travel bucket list. And next time, I’ll make sure to feast on real Khmer cuisine.