Thursday, December 12, 2013

Angkor Thom Again

After visiting Angkor Wat this morning for sunrise, knowing this would be our final day in the park, we wanted to do all the things we haven't done yet and take the iconic pictures we hadn't taken yet (basically, the pictures you see on the postcards).

The first thing we hadn't done yet is climb the small hill next to Angkor Wat to Phnom Bakheng (phnom means mountain or hill in Cambodian). The path up to the top is wide and gradual because it's used as an elephant path.

You can easily jog up it in 5 minutes, unless you run into Chinese tour groups taking up the entire width of the path, they slow you down. The ruins were under construction - they're putting it all back together. But you still have access to the viewpoint off to the north of it that gives you sweet views of Angkor.

Eventually I found a staircase that leads up to the top of the wat. The temple itself is nothing spectacular, but it was cool to see all the workers putting everything back together.

On the way down, we spotted the happiest dragonfly we've ever met. Just look at its face!

We continued our bike ride toward Angkor Thom. After passing through the gate, we stopped off to watch the monkeys for a bit (you can see lots of monkey pics here) but then continued up to Baphuon. We felt rushed here last night because it was sunset so we pretty much just sat up top to watch it set and then we bolted fast to get out while we still had some light. So we wanted to come back and explore more.

This temple is fun because it's the only one (we know of) where the main entryway is on pillars and you can walk under it! It makes for a fun game of hide-and-go-seek.

After Baphuon, we rode back to Bayon to take some pictures in front of the temple...

...and of the temple with its reflection. We also stopped in one of the pagodas adjacent to the temple.

We said goodbye to Angkor Thom for the final time and rode down toward Angkor Wat. Just west of Angkor Wat is a giant lily pond. The sun was hitting the flowers just right, so we stopped for a while to take some pictures and play around with aperture on the dSLR.

On our way out of the park, we finally got the last picture we have been wanting to get.

And with that picture, we have done everything we wanted to do within Angkor. We've seen all the temples we wanted to see, we've done lots of exploring, we saw sunrise and sunsets, and took lots of cool pictures. We're ready to go to Phnom Penh now.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Today was our last day in the park, so we wanted to do all the things that we haven't had a chance to do yet. First things first, sunrise.

Sunrise is early. Like, crazy early. Even earlier considering we rode our bikes up there. Sunrise was at 6:15am, so we left our hotel room at 5:30. We knew it only takes 20 minutes to get to Angkor Wat, so that would give us plenty of time to get there.

Unfortunately, we didn't know that the coolest part of sunrise happens 20 minutes before the actual sunrise. So we were just getting to the entryway across the moat when we saw this:

By the time we got inside a few minutes later, the sky was a little tamer but still pretty.

It's funny, because you see pictures like that and it seems so serene and calm and almost spiritual. But if you back up a few steps and take the same picture (or if you're short), it's a much different scene.

The best pictures are from the near side of the pond on the north side, so you can see the reflection of the temple and capture the sunrise directly behind it. But as you can see, it's no secret. There are hundreds of other tourists doing the exact same thing.

The sun rose above the horizon, but it still wasn't visible above the temple for another 10 or 15 minutes. Here's a picture of its first appearance:

As you move around the pond, you can put the sun in different positions relative to the temple.

The sun continued to rise, as it does, and the amount of tourists around the pond dwindled as they went in to explore Angkor Wat and the other temples in the area. Isa and I stayed around for a while, partly because we didn't want to get back on our bikes (we were tired!), and partly because as tourists left, it was quieter and more relaxing. Except when you get near the people trying to woo you to their stalls for breakfast or coffee.

Right now, in December, the lily pond is actually really pretty. You can't really see it when looking straight at the sun, but looking back from the temple, you can see all the colors.

So at about 7am, we headed in to Angkor Wat for the third time on this trip, still in search of the smiling Apsara.

We had read about her in one of our apps, it's the only Apsara (or devata, basically a royal dancer) of almost 2000 carved throughout Angkor to be showing her teeth. Traditionally, that's naughty, although nowadays it has lost its negative connotation.

We finally found her, behind and to the right of the multi-armed statue of Vishnu.

That was the last part of Angkor Wat that we wanted to explore, so we walked back out to our bikes and headed back up to Angkor Thom to see a few things we didn't have time for yesterday. But that's for another post.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Angkor Thom

We spent the entire day today in Angkor Thom. This is a walled city just north of Angkor Wat. ("Angkor" is the name of the ancient Capitol city. "Wat" means temple, so Angkor Wat was the main temple for the city of Angkor. "Thom" is Cambodian for big. Angkor Thom was the actual city where people lived.) There are several gates into the city, mainly in the cardinal directions. Inside the walls are numerous temples and ancient structures, the most famous of which is Bayon.

But before you even get there, you pass by these guys, and they're super fun to watch.

Isa was in love with the little baby monkeys. And honestly, can you blame her?

We were on our bikes again today, so we stopped several times when we saw animals on the side of the road. Eventually, we made it up to the first temple: Bayon.

Bayon is famous for two reasons. Probably the most obvious one is all the faces on the towers. Each tower has four faces, all totaled there are more than 200 faces on the temple towers. It's supposedly the face of the king, Jayavarman VII. Kind of like an all seeing big brother is watching you always feeling.

The second reason it's famous is for it's bas reliefs that tell important stories of ancient Khmer history and Hindu mythology.

Next, we rode up to the center of Angkor Thom and had lunch at one of the restaurant stalls. I worked my language skills and the lady gave us the local discount on our meals and our pineapple shake. Yum.

Straight over from the restaurants, we wandered into the Terrace of the Leper King.

I don't know anything about this. If you want to know more, google it. It's an ancient wall with lots of carvings along its zigzagging path.

From here, we entered the inner wall and checked out Phimeanakas ("PEE-mian-aa-KAH"). This is a decent sized mountain temple. I'm not sure why they put new stairs on this on at all. They're almost more difficult to climb than the original stone stairs.

We played around at the top for a while, I talked to the lady at the very top, who prayed for me and Isa to have a long life of prosperity and happiness and good health. I gave her 500 riel, which is about 12.5 cents, and she was very happy.

We left Phimeanakas and wandered north toward Preah Palilay. We came to a river with this awesome bridge we had to cross.

Preah Palilay was almost completely in ruins... we explored for a bit and then went back to the bikes...

...and rode down to the Elephant Terrace.

We walked along the Elephant Terrace for a while until we came upon Baphuon ("Ba-poo-in"). It was getting close to sunset at this point, so most people were heading back to Angkor Wat or Phnom Bakeng (another popular sunset point that we'll go to tomorrow), so they left Baphuon pretty much to us alone.

We sat up top and waited for sunset from there.

When the sun set, we made our way back to the bikes, but it was already dark before we got to Bayon, let alone out of Angkor Thom or the park. It was extremely dark in the park, since there are no street lights or anything. Isa turned on her flashlight on the iPhone and put it in her front basket so she could see/people could see us. We rode back on Charles de Gaulle because there are some lights along that road. It was a nice, pleasant, cool ride back into town.

When we got back to Siem Reap, we stopped by the corner market for some ice cream. It's become almost a nightly tradition to get some ice cream to cap the night. Different countries have had very different options. Here in Cambodia, this is our new favorite.

They're like Bonbons. Vanilla ice cream in delicious chocolate. Very yummy.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Banteay Srei, Ta Prohm, and Ta Keo

Banteay Srei

I'm so torn about Banteay Srei. It takes over an hour to get to by tuk tuk, it costs a lot (admission is included with the Angkor Pass, but the tuk tuk costs $25 for the day because it's far away), and it's relatively small. And especially now that you can't walk in and through everything, it's harder to justify. In the end, I think you have to suck it up and just go, and be a little upset and a little glad you did.

Of all the things that have changed in the last decade, this has changed the most. It used to be a small temple in the middle of nothing that hardly anyone visited because it was so far away. Now, it's a major complex and a must-see temple for all the big tourist buses. There's a huge parking lot and welcome center, an interpretation center explaining reliefs and carvings and various scenes, and gift shops, bathrooms, and other amenities. It's definitely lost its "quaint and forgotten temple" feel.

Banteay Srei is a small complex with very short doorways and small towers. Srei means "woman" in Cambodian, which may be why it's smaller. The main draw for the temple is it's intricate carvings and reliefs.

The inner part of the complex is completely roped off and off limits now, which makes getting pictures without people easy, but it also makes it much less fun to explore.

We took the hour long bumpy ride back to Angkor, passing through cute little villages with houses on stilts and kids walking cows.

Ta Prohm

After being a little disappointed by Banteay Srei, we were happy to get to Ta Prohm, the jungle temple. 

This is the famous temple that has the giant tree growing right out of the corner of the building. Except now it's roped off and the closest you can get is a viewing platform in front of it.

The main complex was actually under construction. It appears that they're putting it back together. Cranes were lifting stones and teams of workers were putting them into place. For the missing pieces, they're carving new stone to fit, complete with new reliefs to match the old ones. Again, I'm torn. Yes, Of course I've wondered what this would have looked like before it was in ruins. And I'm sure it will be magnificent once they finish the reconstruction and restoration work. And it's putting a lot of locals to work, which is truly great. But I feel like it makes the temple less real. If part of it was made in the 11th century, but other parts were built in 2013, it feels like it's no longer an ancient ruin. It makes it fake, like an imitation of the real thing.

Luckily, Ta Prohm is a huge complex, and once you get through the first part under construction, it's back to normal.

Other famous trees are blocked off by ropes as well...

...but others are open.

We explored for over two hours, grabbed a bag of fresh pineapple...

...and then hopped on the tuk tuk to go to the next temple on the list.

Ta Keo

This is a smaller mountain temple that is pretty quick to explore. I was really happy that they didn't have new staircases here, and we got to climb the steep stone original stairs. Only when we got to the top, we realized that wasn't the right way up.

We ended up spending a half hour here, most of which was spent trying to get pictures like these.

It's funny because from the ground, the people couldn't see Isa, so all they saw was me balancing on one foot on a staircase for about ten minutes.

We stopped at Angkor Wat for sunset but left (by mistake) before the sky really lit up. We caught this on the drive home.


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