On Monday, August 17 we arrived in Cambodia. There was some hangup so our flight from Singapore left late. Then at the airport in Siem Reap we had to fill out 6 customs forms, each of which was 3 pages long. On top of that we had to pay $34/adult for some sort of entry fee, plus $2/person fee for not having extra passport photos with us. Of two flights that came in around the same time, we were the very last people to escape the terminal.
We were supposed to have a taxi from the hotel come to pick us up, and no surprise–no taxi. But it was not hard to get one at the airport. By the time we got to our hotel it was raining buckets. It was hard to form any impression of the hotel as we were quickly escorted with umbrellas into an open-air reception area. The moment we got to our rooms, though, I knew we would love this place. They were big, airy white rooms with glossy hardwood floors, four-poster beds, and a wall of windows opening to a small porch facing the garden and pool. Each porch even had a narrow fish pond.
Worn out, that night we decided to stay in. We dined in the hotel restaurant–also open-air–sampling fish amok for the first time. We were also introduced to peanuts with sugar, salt, and lemongrass slices. Wow–I’ve always been a peanut-lover, but this took peanuts to a new level.
The next morning, the hotel arranged a tuk-tuk and a tour guide for us, and off we went to buy temple passes.
The temple passes give you entry to all of the main temple ruins in and around Siem Reap, and there are many. Then we went straight to Angkor Wat. The first thing that struck me about the temple is its moat. The moat is 190 meters wide and forms a rectangle around the temple complex. It’s like a lake.
When researching Angkor Wat in preparation for our visit, I read over and over that the place is simply crawling with tourists. But in most of the pictures that people had taken, there seemed to be very few people around. Now I understood why. Angkor Wat is absolutely enormous. Sure, there are areas where you’ll be rubbing shoulders with other people, especially if you can’t get there at the crack of dawn, as is highly-recommended. But for the most part, there is so much space in the complex that there are only crowds of people around the best photo-ops.
Ben and I waited in line to go to the third level, the part that is still in use as a temple. There is a strict dress code enforced, but we knew ahead of time and had worn pants and short sleeves (we were required to be covered past our knees and shoulders–we saw other tourists being turned away, many of whom had brought scarves or wraps to cover their shoulders when they got in line, but that wasn’t good enough). In the broiling heat, this seemed like a real sacrifice to make for the day. But when we got up there, we were glad we had done it. The view was breathtaking.
1. It was built as a Hindu temple and burial site for the king.
2. It is the only Hindu temple facing west instead of east. No one knows why.
3. It later underwent a Buddhist conversion, and is still in use to this day as a Buddhist temple.
4. The Buddhists dress the idols in different clothes to make them Buddhist instead of Hindu.
We had a quick lunch at a nearby restaurant then drove to Ta Prohm, aka “Tomb-Raider Temple.” This is the temple that is being overtaken by trees. The roots curl over and grasp entire walls,
reminding me of a favorite poem by Kipling:
Cities and Thrones and Powers,
Stand in Time’s eye,
Almost as long as flowers,
Which daily die:
But, as new buds put forth,
To glad new men,
Out of the spent and unconsidered Earth,
The Cities rise again.
This season’s Daffodil,
She never hears
What change, what chance, what chill,
Cut down last year’s:
But with bold countenance,
And knowledge small,
Esteems her seven days’ continuance
To be perpetual.
So time that is o’er kind,
To all that be,
Ordains us e’en as blind,
As bold as she:
That in our very death,
And burial sure,
Shadow to shadow, well-persuaded, saith,
“See how our works endure!”
More pictures, taken at Ta Prohm: