Friday, 22 July 2011

Exploring Angkor

A taste of temples in and around Bangkok had us yearning for more, so we bid a (temporary!) farewell to Thailand and jumped on a plane to Cambodia.

The journey itself was a bit of an adventure – our plane was of the tiny, propeller type, and we spent an hour being thrown about a bit passing through plenty of turbulence on the way. Arriving in Siem Reap, we made it out of the airport just before the skies opened and had our first taste of the Cambodian wet season, rain lashing down on our tuk tuk and flooding the roads as we struggled to get our bags inside the hostel before everything got soaked. These flash floods help to keep the temperature lower than it had been in Bangkok, but the humidity was much higher and at times quite literally breathtaking!

The following morning we were up at 4am ready to head into the Angkor temple area for sunrise. The wet season, although reducing the visitor numbers, doesn’t make for the most exciting sunrises, but it was still wonderful to see Angkor Wat emerge from the reducing gloom and cast its famous reflection on the moat in front of us. Soon after the sun had risen many of the tour groups retreated back into town for breakfast, and we were able to explore the temple in relative peace. There was some construction work taking place on the main building, and bits of scaffolding dotted around, but it didn’t detract much from the scale and grandeur of the place, and we spent time happily exploring its nooks and crannies.

We moved onto Angkor Thom, a huge area dotted with structures, with every corner bringing a new epic building or temple to gawp at. The moss and grass growing around the sites glowed emerald green and enhanced the dark, wet stone it covered, beginning to reclaim the buildings for the land. Many of the steep, narrow staircases winding through and around the complex are climbable, although the humidity, particularly in the morning, makes it hard going at times. We marvelled at the beautiful carvings along walls, and the famous faces of the Bayon smiling down upon us from every conceivable angle, hundreds of identical heads looming large and dominant yet utterly cheerful. Many of the temples look impressive at a distance but it is only once up close that the scale and intricacy can be appreciated and the layout apparent.

Although I understand the fascination with Angkor Wat, I was most looking forward to the ruins of Ta Prohm, its monuments already in the firm grasp of the surrounding jungle. It didn’t disappoint – the huge trees breaking through the crumbling walls seemed entirely natural, their long, thick roots slithering across the forest floor and reaching out. The atmospheric remains hid reliefs carved into crevices and everywhere a mossy green light fell across the stones.

We took the typical tomb raider pictures of the great stark white tree roots enfolding the wall and doorway of the inside of the eastern entrance, nipping in between tour groups and their impressively professional-looking tripod arrangements, before reluctantly moving on.

We hit a few more smaller monuments before finishing for the day, seeing some of the most well-preserved and detailed interior carvings of Vishnu and Lakshmi at Prasat Kravan before hopping back into the tuk tuk before the afternoon rain descended once more. The central buildings visited, we looked forward to exploring more of the surrounding monuments over the next couple of days.

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