China and Cambodia: Part 9

After our wanderings through Angkor Wat, we moved on to another archaeological site in the Angkor Wat area known as Angkor Thom. There’s a series of several temples and the Elephant terrace. We spent several hours wandering around the area. It’s really impressive. I have to saw that i liked even better than Angkor Wat. But let’s get to that in a minute.

Bapoun was our first stop. This temple has an interesting history. Archaeologists were trying to restore it through a method of taking the entire temple apart and putting it back together. They kept plans of the pieces but the plans were destroyed when the Khmer Rouge came to power. Our guidebook calls it the biggest jigsaw puzzle in the world as archaeologists are trying to piece it back together. We climbed the steep stairways to get a magnificent view of the surrounding area.

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Our next stop was Phimean Akas, another tall temple surrounded by a moat. We couldn’t wander around this one like we had Bapoun. It was kinda like a series of increasingly smaller squares stacked on top of each other. One source says that “According to legend there was a gold tower (Phimeanakas ) inside the royal palace of Angkor the Great where a serpent-spirit with nine heads lived. The spirit appeared to the Khmer king disguised as a woman and the king had to sleep with her every night in the tower before he joined his wives and concubines in another part of the palace. If the king missed even one night it was believed he would die. In this way the royal lineage of the Khmer was perpetuated.” (http://www.tourismcambodia.com/attractions/angkor/phimean-akas.htm)

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Then we got a bit lost looking for the next temples. We ended up on the Elephant Terrace with amazing carvings of elephants (my favorite). We also stumbled into the Terrace of the Leper King as well.

We eventually figured out where we were and found Preah Palilay, a temple that the jungle has taken over. It has trees and other plants growing out of the temple. There were fewer people around so it felt more peaceful to see how nature was taking over.

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Then we made it back to the biggest temple in the area: Bayon. The guidebook described this as one of the most curious buildings in the area. It’s my favorite. There’s a series of hallways and courtyards at the base where you can really just get lost in. We got turned around. There’s amazing carvings and lingas found all over. Throughout Bayon, there are these carved smiling faces, as you get higher they get bigger. Some estimates put the number over 2000 with 54 towers. Like Angkor Wat, there are active shrines within the temple complex so be respectful. You can visit if you take off your shoes and hat.

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I think Bayon matched my mind’s idea of what Angkor Wat would be like. The large faces are really astonishing. I also loved getting lost below. It honestly felt otherworldly.

One thing I will say about Angkor Thom: it is hot and humid in July. We were definitely keen to get back to the car after our wanderings and enjoyed the air conditioning and the wonder of cold water that our driver gave us. You can go to Angkor Wat area in a lot of different ways: tuk tuk, car, bus, even walking. But hiring a car for the day was a great idea.

We decided to take a lunch break to recoup and enjoy a little air conditioning. We had our first encounter with Cambodian cuisine. We ordered some curry dishes and it was heaven. The food is made from very fresh materials with simple but incredibly good sauces. It was the perfect pick me up after our wanderings in the heat.

Then it was Ta Prohm. It’s a temple complex in the jungle. It’s best known as the Tomb Raider temple but it deserves more than that. This was where the jungle has fought back. All over the area, giant trees grow out of temple buildings. It’s really astonishing. It felt a little like this is what an explorer would have found encountering for the first time (yes, I know it would have been a lot harder to walk around safely and easily if it had really been found recently. Clearly, they’ve removed stones, supported roofs and whatnot to make it safe for tourists). It was another temple where you can easily get lost at, wandering hallways and courtyards.  And like other temples, it is still in use. We met a man who lived in the temple area. I’m sorry we didn’t find out more about him.

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After Ta Prohm, we decided to head back to the hotel. THere are more sites in the area but we were content with the three major sites we had seen. At the hotel, I saw by the pool and read while we had our evening rain shower. I had a cool drink and enjoyed the cold towelettes that the hotel gave me.

Then it was time to explore Siem Reap. We walked to the touristy section of the city. Our hotel was well situated to the Night Market and Pub Street. There aren’t a lot of sidewalks so you have to be cautious about traffic but it was generally slow. The Night Market was a tourist market where vendors sell t-shirts, scarves, wooden objects, and more. It reminded me a little bit of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. You could also get a foot rub, back rub, or have small fish nibble the skin of our feet as a “fish massage.” It was fun wandering around the area.

After some shopping, we decided to find some dinner and headed towards Pub Street. On the way, we saw more vendors including folks selling fried insects (I wanted to try) and durian. One of the few regrets of this trip was not stopping to get durian. I love durian but I had never tried it in a place that actually grew it. I’ve only had it in the States. Boo urns.

We eventually found a little place off the main drag with lots of people. We once again were delighted by the freshness of the food. I ordered a fried fish that wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. But my friend’s dish was phenomenal. We did have these egg rolls as an appetizer that were out of this world. I had wintermoon soda; it was a little smoky for my taste.

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Before heading back to the hotel, we wandered through Pub Street, where there are lots of bars, restaurants, and clubs. It reminded me a little of Bourbon Street but less raunchy and less obnoxious.

That’s all for now!

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