Cambodia Day 2
Day began with an 8.30 pick up at the hotel by my guide & driver! Seemed excessive that one person requires two people & a car to be a tourist but I would soon learn the benefits of being the luxury tourist. Big distances covered in short times. Access to areas the public don’t get, and avoiding the hassles of dealing with transport systems and bureaucrats.
Meas, my guide decided today would be dedicated to exploring Angkor Thom (“great city”) which should in no way be confused with Angkor Wat (“great temple”). Angkor is the most important UNESCO-marked site in SE Asia and covers an area of approx 400 sq km (20 km x 20 km). At the heart of this area is Angkor Thom, a walled city of 9 sq km and in the 1100s it was the largest populated city in the world with nearly a million people. It is a perfect square (3 x 3) surrounded by a 100m wide moat and 8m high stone walls (see map). There are 4 entrances with bridges over the moat and large towers covered in 4 faces watching over all who enter. At the precise centre is the Bayon temple (Golden Tower, b. 12-13th century). Beside it is the palace ruins of Phimean Akas (Aerial Palace, b. 10-11th century). Being wooden all that remains are the bases of the buildings and the Baphoun temple. In front of the palace is the 350m-long Terrace of Elephants was used as a giant reviewing stand for public ceremonies. At one end is the Terrace of the Leper King. While many theories debate the name of this terrace, one popular one is that this is where a king with leprosy reviewed his troops from. In short, the area is huge and included all a city needed including hospitals & banks. The sheer size of everything is overwhelming and thanks to the French it was rediscovered after being claimed by the jungle in the 1800s.
From Angkor Thom we headed some 25 kms to the north-east most corner of Angkor to Prasat Banteay Srei, a 10th-century temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and women. It is built of red sandstone that lends itself to the elaborate decorative wall carvings. The buildings themselves are miniature in scale allowing one to experience the full effect of being able to see an entire Khmer temple in one view instead of just massive parts. On the way back we stopped in on the roadside to see the making of palm sugar, a toffee tasting sugar! Yum!
After all this templing in the morning it was time for lunch. I was glad to get a chance to sit down, rest the leg and sample some more Cambodian cuisine, namely a cold beer and some pork with lemongrass & basil. 😛
Lunch was followed by what we all come to see! Angkor Wat! The big temple! It is the largest religious building in the world covering 6 sq km (2.3 x 2.6). Built between the 9th & 12th centuries, it was first Hindu and later Buddhist before being conquered in 1430. It lay abandoned and forgotten for almost 400 years before being rediscovered by the French and since then it has been retrieved from the jungle and slowly restored. The 5 central towers in perfect symmetry pay homage to the architectural achievements and perfection the Khmer people achieved nearly a millennium ago, and the quality of construction that has left it so intact after 4 centuries of neglect. Something modern builders should learn a lesson from. Crossing the moat and arriving at the west gate (accessed only by private tours), Meas & I wandered the 2.6 km through the temple area, visiting the centre and climbing to the highest point, before continuing on to the east gate, and across the giant causeway. The impact of Angkor Wat can only be experienced by being there and I am sure it is unique for each and everyone of us. For me, it was simply – big & beautiful! That may sound so little, but my words just simply cannot match its size and impact it had on me! Meas then proceeded to say, “if your love it in the daylight, wait until tomorrow, when I bring you to watch the sunrise above it!”
Suitably overwhelmed, it was time to head back to the hotel for a swim, a cold beer & some rest after intensive day of being a tourist. Good to get the leg up and an early night in time for my 5.15 pick-up in the morning.