Wednesday, 25 May 2016

321 ADVENTURE THRU THAILAND, LAOS AND CAMBODIA (4-16 January 2016), Day 10 - Angkor Wat


Cupcake at The Bayon
Gallery at Angkor Wat
One of the four bathing pools
Steep, narrow stairs to "Heaven"
Beautiful ceilings in Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat walking back to the Gateway. Note the Reflecting Pond and North Library on the right; Angkor Basin and South Library on the left.
One of the 54 Asuras
Another moat surrounding Angkor Thom
Tree lined boulevard
The Bayon
The view from the Terrace of the Elephants. Note the 12 series of towers
Baphoun
Baphoun, the view from the top
Part of the walled enclosure separating Baphoun from Phimeanakas
Spean Thma, a Khmer stone bridge
Ta Phrom crowded at noon
Ta Phrom
Ta Phrom
Children bathing in the moat, Angkor Wat
The Route


At Auberg Mont Royale, the sound of footsteps and doors closing were evident in the wee hours of the morning! Watching the sun rise over the Angkor Wat is a "must do" event. This brought the Howards, the Meadows, Frank and KC up even before the roosters start to crow! They were whisked to the temple complex via tuk-tuks that were pre-booked the day before.

As for The Choongs, visiting the world's largest religious site will be their second homecoming. Sleep and a proper breakfast were tops on their lists!

The couple went down for breakfast just as daylight broke. They were a little too early and had to wait a bit for the kitchen to fire up.



Breakfast was an unlimited flow of croissant and bread rolls, unlimited flow of fruits, choice of eggs or vegetarian noodles and choice of coffee or tea. The bread roll served with good Elle & Vire butter made up for the mediocre main course.



When breakfast was done, they set off for Angkor Wat on their bikes. The trick was to find their way to Charles De Gaulle road, which was pretty easy considering the location of Auberg. Beyond that, it was a perpetual straight road leading all the way to Angkor Wat.



It took them only 20 minutes to get to the Angkor Wat ticketing booth. Directions to the tickets counter which was just off the road were clear. The queue for 1 day passes were the shortest. Within minutes, their photos were taken and tickets issued!



After securing their tickets, they continued on Charles De Gaulle road, then circled the perimeters of the moat, before arriving at the West entrance of Angkor Wat....

Angkor Wat was built as a temple not for the congregation of the devouts but as the palatial dwellings of the Gods. King Suryavarman ll had the notion that great blessings will be bestowed on him if he built a grand temple in honour of Vishnu. Hence, no expense were spared during its construction, culminating into the largest religious site in the world.

The Choongs began their journey to "Heaven" by travelling down the sandstone causeway that spanned the moat. The causeway is symbolic of the Rainbow Bridge that connects the material world and the spiritual world, whilst the water in the moat represents the turbulent ocean.


The view from the North Library

When they reached the end of the causeway, they stepped through the Gateway, which led to an open field. In the center is the famed Angkor Wat temple with its five quincunx of towers. 2 small structures on either side of the walkway is the North and South Libraries, arguably a shrine or a repository of sacred palm leafed manuscripts.



Walking beyond the libraries are 2 ponds that decked either side of the walkway. One is famously known as the Reflecting Pond that has graced many photos. The other is known as the Angkor Wat basin.



Stepping into the temple itself, they first entered the 1000 Buddha gallery. There were four bathing pools in the area, each representing the four elements of fire, water, air and earth.



Designed after the mythical Mount Meru with its 5 quincunx of towers, the center pyramid is supposed to represent the pinnacle of heaven. The original stairs to the top are steep and narrow, thus they are not accessible. However, safer wooden stairs were built for a long line of curious visitors. Let's just say, even on her second visit to Angkor Wat, Claudine never made it to heaven!



Failing to obtain divine guidance, VT and Claudine retrieved their parked bicycles and rode to the Southgate of Angkor Thom instead. Getting through, they had to cross yet another causeway which spanned yet another moat. This causeway was guarded by a slew of giant sculptures, all with different expressions. On the right is a line up of 54 asuras (demons) while on the left is a line up of 54 devas (Gods).



The Southgate itself is a sculpture of 4 giant faces, facing the 4 cardinal directions. Entering Angkor Thom which was once the capital city of the Khmer empire, a tree lined boulevard greeted them. As they rode further in, The Bayon beckoned them with its beauty.



Also called the Face Towers, The Bayon was built by King Jayavarman VII as his state temple. Located in the very center of Angkor Thom, it was dedicated to Avalokitesvara, the universal god of compassion. Its most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and smiling stone faces.

It is said that Bayon is a testament to King Jayavarman VII’s deep spirituality and his inflated ego. Although the faces with enigmatic smiles were supposed to represent Avelokitesvara, the faces were said to be modeled after the king’s own.



Leaving the smiling faces of the dead King, VT and Claudine proceeded to the Terrace of the Elephants. Before taking their walk, they first made a stop for coconut juice sold from a scooter with a side car.

"One coconut for USD2"

"No, I will only pay USD1 for a coconut"

The deal is sealed!

Sitting down on a wooden bench under a tree, a group of Indian tourists soon join them. They all appeared to be retirees; the men, in their long pants and long sleeved shirts and the women, in flowing sarees. They adopted the couple but soon more came. VT and Claudine found themselves engulfed in coconut oil perfume. Politely, they vacated the seats for them.



This time, they walked along the Terrace of the Elephants, pretending to be the Khmer King as he watched his returning army. Then, they receeded into the walled enclosure of the Royal Palace. While the King had spent great expense on temples dedicated to the Gods, his own palace within the walls were built of organic materials and had since crumbled to ruins.



Within the walls, Claudine and VT took a quick look at Phimeanakas, the 3 tiered pyramid temple. Stories were told that every night, the King will climb up to the top of this temple to lie with a Naga princess, a serpent with 9 heads that takes the form of a woman. If the Naga does not appear, then the King's days are numbered!


Still within the confines of the walls was Baphuon. A massive Hindu temple with 10 chambers at its base, it was later converted into a Buddhist temple with an added reclining Buddha. Baphuon was built on a land filled with sand, and due to its immense size the site was unstable throughout history. The temple has since been restored.



Returning to retrieve their locked bikes, VT and Claudine checked out one of the series of 12 towers that faced the Terrace of the Elephants. Known as Prasat Suor Prat, little is known about their purpose. However, in his journal, Zhou Daguan had stated that the towers were used to settle disputes.

Leaving the complex, Claudine and VT made a short detour to answer the call of nature. Sitting in one corner by a shaded bush was a land mine victim begging for alms.

Coming from a country where beggars are usually part of bigger syndicates, Claudine gave him an apologetic smile and walked away. She was chided by VT.



Next they rode on to Ta Phrom, crossing over a wooden bridge. On the left is the remains of Spean Thma, a Khmer era stone bridge. Along this route, the road is shaded by the canopy of a forested area.
 
They skipped Ta Keo.

Arriving at Ta Phrom, a little girl selling postcards approached Claudine. When she refused to buy, the girl's words melted her resolve. Claudine gave her USD1 but refused to take her wares.

"You buy postcards, I got money go school!" Those were the melting words.

Walking the 50 meters to the entrance of Ta Phrom, a big gigantic billboard warned tourists against giving alms or buying any kind of souveniers from the children. It will only encourage them to beg and stay away from school!!!

Overwhelmed with guilt and ...... hunger, they went through the enclosing walls. They secretly munched on a few biscuits to stave off hunger pangs, unsure if they were breaking the law!



At noon time, the whole complex was cool under the canopy of the Tetrameles Nudiflora trees. These trees lent a mysterious and hypnotic look to Ta Phrom. Hence the chosen location for the movie, Tomb Raider.

When they went outside again, the lady guard who had shared the shades with their bikes under the tree had left. She was there during her lunch break to breastfeed her toddler. They sneaked their bikes out, escaping the watchful eye of the girl who had come with menu in hand, asking them to dine at her stall numbered 11.

It was time to leave. They rode out, skipping Banteay Kdei. They passed Tropical Rohal Village, which promises free charging ports. The place looked well kept but quiet after lunch hour.

Coming to a T-junction with a guard post, they stopped to ask for the directions to Angkor Wat. They were told to turn right. Next was a long ride of a few kilometers through a forested area.

Soon, they hit Siem Reap river and saw some cars parked by the roadside with a few food peddlers. Peering through, they saw a water wheel and local bathers in the river.



Crossing the river, they came back to the east side of Angkor Wat. They followed the perimeter of the moat and saw a few school kids enjoying a cool dip in the moat. When Claudine approached them to take their photos, they asked for USD1.

Claudine and VT returned to the main entrance of Angkor Wat to take one last breathtaking look of the majestic temple complex. Then, they said goodbye and left for good.


Siem Reap, past noon

By the time they got to Blue Pumpkin Cafe, it was 3.30 pm. Checking in with the group, an earlier batch of LTF members were also seen photographed at the very same place!

They had a light lunch of cakes and sandwiches which still does not really agree with Claudine. She could not understand the hype of Blue Pumpkin!

The group met again for dinner at Khmer Restaurant. Anne was suffering from food poisoning and settled on some vegetable soup. Papa Mike egged by VT ordered a minced pork and prahok egg omelette. They managed to get Ian to savour a tiny bit of the offensive fermented fish.

Meanwhile, Alvin was suffering from Celia withdrawal syndrome. Celia had taken the bus to Phnom Penh earlier that day to start her work. Feeling lost, he ate very little!

After dinner, everyone dispersed to fuel their own interests. Back at the hotel, there was a huge pile up of bicycles mostly in bike bags at the lobby. As for the Ozzie couples, their bikes were neatly wrapped in blue and red fly sheets, an upgrade from the earlier translucent laundry bags!

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