One Day in Angkor
Is Not Enough...
Faces of Balon.
A monk taking a picture of a monk.
View from the top of Angkor Wat.
November 1, 2006
I have to admit that I was a bit disillusioned before coming to Angkor. I hired a motorbike driven by Nemo to drive me from my
guesthouse to the site and then to give me a ride home. He had implied that he was going to be with me the whole day. Since I knew I was
going to stay to see the sunset, I told him there was no need to stay the whole time. We could figure out a place and he could meet me. He
told me he was there to drive me from temple to temple.
I automatically thought he was like most others in these parts of the world. They seem to think a twenty minute walk is a) ‘too far’; b)
pointless since there are thousands of motorbikes and tuk tuks ready and willing to give you a ride; or c) just plain insane. When he told
me he could drive me to each temple I told him that it was a kind offer but it was not necessary as I could walk.
And then he informed me Angkor was over 300 square kilometers.
Umm, Nemo…I think I am going to take you up on that previous offer…
I first have to put it out there about how incredibly comfortable I have become riding on a motorbike. My very first time on one of these
things, I had my arms thrown around the guy’s waist. The second time, I have both hands on the driver’s shoulders. When Nemo first
picked me up, I felt comfortable only having one hand on his shoulder. By the time we were cruising around Angkor, I didn’t have to hold
on at all. I realized that it’s not necessary to do anything with your hands. This worked out in my favor as I accumulated a couple new
Lonely Planet books from vendors along the way and had to worry about holding onto the bag.
Before I knew about the mass size of Angkor, I thought I wouldn’t even need a full day there. Boy, was I wrong! Nemo knew the three
places he was going to take me to – Angkor Thom, Ta Promh and Angkor Wat (in time for the sunset).
First stop: Angkor Thom.
When I first saw this on a map (a very not-drawn-to-scale map, I might add), I thought I would stroll through this area in maybe one
hour. Silly, silly me.
I first went to Bayon – I am not going to do it justice talking about it so I won’t even try. I will say that from the outside, it is safe to say
that it is impossible to know how impressive this is actually going to be. I will also say that it was incredible seeing the many, many faces
from up close. I recommend that people not read up too much on sites like this before coming because it is always best to either not expect
much or not know what to expect.
I learned a few things from my visit. If someone offers an incense to you…even if they practically force it into your hand after you turn it
down…you will be obliged to give money. I ended up considering it a small price to pay if my prayer ends up being answered. I also learned
how much I like bas reliefs. And I also learned that the religious people lurking within the Balon begging for food appreciate being given a
piece of pineapple. And most importantly, I learned here than Angkor has the best public bathrooms I have ever seen at a tourist site.
Five hours later, I was finally ready to head on to the next temple…
Second stop: Ta Promh.
It is unfortunate because this was one of the temples that some people really built up to me before I came to Cambodia. For this reason I
knew what to expect. Actually…for this reason, I was expecting a bit more. All of that aside, it was an incredible sight. This is a temple that
is being overtaken by the jungle. When it comes to the trees versus the temple, the massive tree roots seem to have come out the victor.
On a side note, this temple got its claim-to-fame from being featured in Tomb Raider. I might be wrong but I think it was while Angelina
Jolie was out in Cambodia that time that she adopted little Maddox. Definitely a bit more of ‘US Weekly trivia’ as opposed to
‘important Cambodian facts’.
Last stop: Angkor Wat.
This is by far the most popular temple in the Angkor area. Before coming here, when I heard ‘Angkor’ I immediately thought of ‘Angkor
Wat’. Because I had seen in hundreds of times before in photographs, I had a similar feeling when I saw it for the first time that I had
when I saw the Taj Mahal for the first time. From afar, nothing was shocking or unexpected about either of them. Both of them had long
walkways which led up to them. Both of them are extremely symmetrical lending to a very aesthetical appearance from the outside. There
was one difference – unlike the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat didn’t do anything to impress me from the inside. I know that many would
disagree with me. But this is my journal so I am entitled to say exactly how I felt. Yes, it is big. It is actually known to be the largest
religious structure in the world. And there are many carvings and reliefs – all that are in excellent condition. All I am saying is that there
was nothing that made my jaw drop.
One of the other disappointments I experienced while I was here was not being able to see a sunset. I climbed the stairs to the top for a
good view. Maybe I should have paid attention to all of the clouds before doing so. That would have been a pretty good indicator that there
wasn’t going to be much to see. So sad. But I can’t see a good sunset everywhere I go, now can I?
A bunch of us got kicked out of Angkor Wat. I guess that is common when you’re still in a place after closing time. In retrospect, it was a
good thing because by the time I exited the temple it was close to pitch black outside. I made it to the area where the motorbikes were and
could barely see a thing. Every motorbike and every driver looked the exact same. Finding Nemo was proving to be a challenge. Luckily he
found me and we were on our way.
All in all, my Angkor experience was great. I would say that my favorite part was Balon (no matter how unattractive it is from afar) and
the rest of Angkor Thom.
I now realize I would have highly benefited from the 3-day pass that they offer. But I only have two days here so that didn’t make much
sense. Plus I wanted to be able to relax a bit on my last day in Siem Reap.