We’ve arrived in Siem Reap. Angkor Temples – pretty impressive. We’ve decided to do the one week pass so we’re going to take it easy here. No reason to rush some of the best sites we’ll probably see while in Southeast Asia.
The first day here (two days ago) we did what I will call the northeast main temple loop – Preah Khan, Neak Poan, Ta Som, Eastern Mabon, Pre Rup, and Sra Srang. Obviously very impressive temple sites. Some of the temples which barely garner a mention in my Lonely Planet Guidebook (Easten Mabon and Pre Rup, e.g.) are simply awesome.
As an aside, I haven’t been all that impressed with the LP guidebook – I know it has lots of mainstream rave reviews but I’ve found it lacking in several respects, particularly with how to handle necessity situations such as border crossing and navigating near crucial spots. You can recommend all the restaurants and bars you want, but if you don’t give a backpacker a more specific lowdown on how to do the critical stuff that everyone needs to do, you aren’t doing your job well enough.
Our hotel (Parklane Hotel) is pretty great – $28 a night includes breakfast, and every day we are able to walk out and get Hon, our trusty Tuk Tuk driver to take us everywhere we want to go – $15 buys Hon’s services for the day and he is always grateful for our business. I don’t think I’ve looked at him once in the past two days when he didn’t have a big smile on his face. He drives us to every temple and even throws in recommendations for us.
The rides to and from the temples are almost as interesting as the temples themselves. Hundreds and hundreds of motos – I’d say the moto-car ratio here is as high as 50:1. Because cars use way more gas and cost way more to maintain, everyone motos.
You will often see entire families (ordered dad, daughter, mom, son) + a bag of fertilizer + the two pigs they killed that morning all on one small moto. These precarious moto-balancing acts are an everyday practical necessity for these people but I still am impressed every time I see it, especially when there is a string of 20 motos all pulling a different variation on the act.
One thing I’ve been surprised with is how many aggressive kids there are in and around each temple. The LP warned me there would be pushy children near each temple who have been taught by their parents to hustle – their phrases are all generally the same, in somewhat broken English:
“Where you from? Sir! Sir! You need coke! You need banana! You buy scarf from me! 1 is $1, 3 for $2! You buy for your mother! You hungry! I give special discount for you! You don’t need now (on our way in the temple) – then you buy from me later (on our way out of the temple – and they do remember)!”
The phrases which would ordinarily be worded as questions, “you hungry?” “you need a coke?” are instead phrased as absolute statements, “You (are) hungry!”, “You (do) need (a) coke!”
The kids are relentless – no usually doesn’t do the trick – they will follow you for up to 5 minutes and if you sit down, they sit down with you. I can’t blame these kids one bit – they are only doing what their parents have taught them to do, and I usually see a puppet master anywhere from 30-40 meters from the kids doing the pushing. And while the focus of my thought here is the kids, there are usually adults here too – many times they are the parents of the nearby kids – but there are not as many adults because they know deep down they cannot be as effective as any teary-eyed kid.
I am surprised the government continues to condone this pushing – allowing it to happen both in and around (mostly around, less inside) the temples. While I feel for these kids, I have to be honest – it really is a bother to continually be saying “NO” to children while you are trying to see the temples. For the most part they are outside the temples but many of them are inside and either way, a trip to the temples necessarily involves saying “No” to less fortunate Cambodian children at least 50 times a day, which is something no one in good conscience wants to do.
Aside from my above comments, the temples have been awesome. Impressive that they’ve lasted all these years and impressive that they were able to throw these together – HUGE stones and intricate design patterns on many of the stone faces. All the temples generally have the same repetitive statue figures and imagery, which I will try to showcase in the gallery below. The staircases on the temples seem to rise nearly vertically (and dangerously so) and all the temples demonstrate the same uniform symmetry – rectangle walls with statues on the corners and rising temples and towers in the middle. Bridges lead to the entrances of the temples and have serpent style “Naga” statues, which symbolize the bridge between heaven and earth. All of these (Buddhist) temples face Buddha was said to have been facing east beneath the Bodhi tree when he attained enlightenment – Angkor Wat, the mother of all of these temples which we have not seen yet, is the only one that faces west.
While the former Khemer kings (Jayavarman I-VII) are the ones accredited with building these temples, methinks it was the engineers, architects and builders working for the kings who really deserve the credit.