Siam Reap, Cambodia

(an extra adventure will appear here sometime...)

 
Sunday July 9th

 
      I've gone to to see some huge ancient temples in Cambodia for a few days, where they filmed Tomb Raider.
      I arrived in Cambodia today and like Laos it's even more relaxed than Thailand. It's probably the same temperature and has the same rain storm in the afternoon but I'm sure it is less humid than in Chiang Mai so I feel more comfortable, except for having to get up early this morning. The big roads are tarmac but the residential lanes all seem to be sandy mud tracks. Wherever you walk people with motorbikes offer you a lift to where you want to go, I got a ride from the airport for US $1 and half a day already at the Siam Reap temple for another $3. US dollars are the main currency here, the riel takes second place. In fact you get a better deal with dollars now that the currency has just gone down so much.
      Things seem to cost about the same as in Thailand but here is a very touristy town, the most popular part of Cambodia by far because of Angkor Wat. The wat is a massive ancient Khmer temple, with a moat that is about the same length but at least ten times wider than Chiang Mai's. The wat takes a long time to walk around because it covers about a square kilometer! There are rings of huge carved stone corridors around the wat, the outer one is just inside the moat so it must be four kilometers long. The main building in the middle of the inner encirling corridor is the largest religeous building in the world apparently. There are very steep steps to walk up into the central building, a bit like climbing a cliff. Inside and around the wat are many long corridors with stone carvings and there are some empty bathing pools inside. Right in the middle are some Buddha statues but it was originally a Hindu mausoleum apparently.
      I'm off to bed soon because we start at 7am tomorrow, the best time for pictures, and there are many many other temples to find within the forest around the main wat. My pass lasts for the next two days.

 
Monday July 10th

 
      I got up early and rode off with the motorbike driver to see more temples at Angkor Wat.
      Even more impressive than yesterday, first we went all the way out to a faraway temple, 40km north of Angkor Wat. This was good with false doors and cool stone carvings, and then we decided to go another 15km on an ok but muddy track to the 'river of a thousand linguas'. The road is good fun with loads of children saying 'hello', a few wooden bridges, one with a huge hole, and lots of pairs of buffalo pulling little carts on the roads and ploughs in the rice fields. After the 2 hours of riding we had already done it was another 30 minute walk up a steep hillside to reach the river. More of a stream and more like a hundred linguas (stone carvings) but still very good. The rocks that the stream flows over and around are mostly carved with images of people and animals and mixtures of the two! Very good, and a waterfall there as well.
      I decided not to go to the mountain with more temples on it as there are apparently bandits lurking who charge $20 protection money to go up the mountain and could be worse. There are mines all over the place there too, like at the river.
      We came back the same way. The road had dried out a lot in just a couple of hours so was easier this time, the same buffalo, pigs and young children as before and with a big truck painfully making it's way along the holed road, sometimes at huge angles while driving over the holes, and making a constant sparking sound like a nasty robot in a film. I had a look at more temples around Angkor Wat, they are all very imressive in their own right, almost all of them far better than the Accropolis in Athens. Loads of stone carvings of Hindu goddesses and loads of other people, and some stories carved onto the walls as well. There are nearly 100 temples in the whole area and most of them are worth a day trip on their own, I have no idea where they got all the stone from, most of these temples are enormous.
      The best temple was the one still in it's rainforest setting, how they were all discovered a while ago. There are many huge over 100 year old trees with huge butressed roots curling their way around the walls.
      Early to bed again, for a morning around a Vietmanese-style floating village in the giant lake south of here.
      But before that this evening is fun, there seem to be no street lights at all, makes the place even more unusual, and everyone is riding up to me on motorbikes asking me if I want any grass to smoke. I did say this was a relaxing place. It seems just like the Angkor or old, almost the only thing that has changed is the motorbikes, everything else is just like in the stone carvings, like the carts pulled by the buffalo and the stone masons, still at work at Angkor Wat, a line of them chipping away slowly at a big column. It's like that all over the place, everyone does their little bit for society, same for the line of people processing the visas at the airport and the gang of men thrashing away harvisting a rice field. Apparently, according to the carvings there were 80,000 people working just at one temple (the one with the trees growing on it).



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