Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cambodia Trip '08 – Day 05: Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm & Bayon

We started Day 5 of our trip quite early as not only it was our last full day in Cambodia but we also had a full itinerary to get through for the day. Breakfast that day was at the hotel’s restaurant which offered an respectable morning buffet spread of both local and Western options. The van that was chartered for us for the duration of our stay in Siem Reap came at about 8am to ferry the group to the Angkor Wat Temple complex for a guided tour. Of all the sights and scene in our Cambodian adventure, this excursion was the one that I was looking forward to most. Suffice to say that I was not a very happy camper when I first learnt that the group would only be there for half the day but eventually I accepted that at least I got to go see it at this occasion.

The van proceeded through the well travelled road and shortly deposited us at the Visitor’s Center of the Angkor Wat Temple complex. Everyone had to go to the ticket office to pay for our entrance fee as well as to take a mug shot to be printed on the ticket. The ticket queue were fairly organized with different areas for the 1 day entry ticket, 3 day entry ticket and 5 days entry ticket queues. The 1 day entry ticket area had the most counters and soon enough we were able to pay our USD20 entrance fee, take our mug shot using a webcam and have it printed on the ticket given to us. We were told to keep our individual ticket on our person at all times as it would be asked for whenever entering the temple complexes. Once everyone in the group got their day pass, we boarded the chartered van to head towards Angkor Wat via a dirt road that seemed worse for wear thanks to the recent rains.

(Going to queue up for tickets at the Visitor's Center)

(L: Taking picture using the webcam to be printed on ticket, R: Road heading into Angkor Wat temple)

We soon arrived at Angkor Wat temple complex that was surrounded by a moat filled up to the brim with water. Our guide gave us the historical background of the area before we proceeded across the stone causeway into the temple complex. We entered the magnificent complex via the Western entrance where I assume everyone else did as well. The day was not too hot yet at the time and we had a leisurely walk through the area. At certain locations, our guide would stop the group to explain the reliefs and the structures that we were seeing. It was a personal fulfillment for me to finally be able to walk through this historical site and see what I have only seen on TV or in books before.

(L: Western entrace at Angkor Wat, R: Part of moat that we crossed)

(L: Buildings near the entrance into Angkor Wat, R: Stone causeway to Angkor Wat)

(Angkor Wat reflected in a nearby pool)

I am not sure if we came during a restoration period but there were scaffoldings and cordoned off areas while we were there. Visitors who were with us that day were only allowed to walk around the main courtyard and not climb up to the higher levels via the infamously steep stone steps. The steps leading to the higher levels all had signs that there were closed which was unfortunate for me as I really wanted to see as much of the complex as I could within the 2 hours allocated for this stop. I also noticed that a lot of the steep steps now have recent additions of properly spaced timber steps placed on top of them. I guessed that these recent additions were made to allow tourist easier access to the higher levels of Angkor Wat and reduce the risk of falls which occasionally happens due to the steep steps.

We eventually came out the opposite end and left Angkor Wat temple through the Eastern entrance. We had to walk down a path to where our chartered van was waiting for us. I imagined that the walk that we took went through what would have been places of residences, shops and artisan’s workshops as I remembered from my History channel viewing that Angkor Wat was actually a full fledged capital and not just a collection of remote temples. None of non-temple structures remained today so I only had my imagination to conjure out an image of how it might have looked like back when people lived there.

(L: Original steep steps heading to upper levels, R: New timber steps placed on top of the originals)

(L: Interior buildings at Angkor Wat, R: Lone monkey surveying kingdom at Angkor Wat)

(Leaving Angkor Wat via the Eastern entrance)

Our van took us a short distance away to our next destination in the complex which was the Ta Prohm temple. Also known as the “Jungle Temple”, Ta Prohm was famous for picturesque blending of the natural jungle growing amidst the ruins. Roots of huge trees snaked over the walls and through stone portals which gave it the atmospheric feel of walking through a freshly discovered ruin. By this point, our guide had already given up his running commentary of our surrounding as it was not being appreciated by some of the group who prefered to breeze through the sights. I felt that it was a shame really since I would definitely like to know more about the ruins that I was looking at. With little signage on site, a knowledgeable tour guide would be indispensible if one wanted to get more from the walk through the ruins.

(L: Traditional music played by disabled musicians at Ta Prohm, R: Their signage place for tourist)

(L: Eastern entrance at Ta Prohm temple, R: Roots taking hold of the temple)

(Ta Prohm temple)

After Ta Prohm, our van whisked us away to the Bayon temple which was our last stop on this whirlwind trip through temple complex. Quite a few people from out group decided to stay in the van at this point as they felt that they already had enough temples for the day. Those of us who did venture forth were told that we only had 20 minutes to snap a few photos at the Bayon before we had to return to the van. To say that the allotted time given was criminally short to admire the beauty of the site was an understatement. Still in the spirit of making do with what little time we had there, I dragged my travel companion up the steep steps, which incidentally did not have the new timber stair additions yet, to the highest point that we could go up at to survey as much of the temple as possible. Even then, there were still a lot of things to see there that I had to missed as it was already time for us to scale back down and return to our group which was waiting at the parking area.

(L: Approaching Bayon temple complex, R: Guardian statue with latter addition for the temple name)

(L: Interior of the Bayon temple complex, R: Faces at Bayon)

My trip through the Angkor Wat Temple complex that day was filled with equal measure of awe and disappointments. Awe at finally seeing for myself one of the majestic wonders in the region and disappointed that I had so little time to savor the experience. Still, I can at least say that I have been there and walked the path of history that thousands flocked to from all over the world. I’m fairly certain that I will return to Angkor Wat again fairly soon to properly do this historically significant wonder justice.

No comments: