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Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

October 31 continued ...

It was a short flight from Phnom Phen to Siem Reap where a gentleman from Trails of Indochina named Sophy met us at the airport.  He too was surprised by our lack of luggage. He introduced us to the driver, Somba.

Instead of going directly to the hotel he asked us if we would agree to go directly to the first sites. We agreed.
Our first stop was at a check point where park officials took our pictures and information then laminated a park pass that was good for three days (though we would only be here for two).  
The three 9th century temples of Preah Ko, Bakong and Lolei (known collectively as the “Roluos Group”) were unlike the temples we visited in Vietnam and Phnom Penh for these are no longer in active use.
Calligraphy inscriptions, still very clear on the door jambs, are of exceptional interest to historians as they provide detailed information regarding the moment chosen for consecration of the temple as well as elaborating on the division of tasks done by several hundred servants. 
 After the first three temples that charmed us with their age (9th century) and, albeit decaying, beauty and their intricate carved details in limestone; we were taken to the hotel to check in, relax and refresh for a couple of hours before venturing out into the 32 degree Celsius muggy heat again.  

The Angkor Star Hotel was a happy surprise.  Our corner room was spacious, clean and well appointed with a lovely balcony looking out to the front.

Tonight we would sleep.

A shower and a change of clothes  (other clothes sent out for laundry service) and we were ready to go again at 2:30pm.
Sophy and Somba drove us to Angkor Wat -- one of the world's most impressive ruins.  
 Sophy guided us through the gates and around the massive temple. It didn't take us long to recognize that we weren't following the route of the large tour groups. Without missing what they were taking in, Sophy was helping us explore more intimately this complex ruin. He took us to places with the best camera angles and lighting in mind.
When it came time to climb the steep steps on the centre tower Sherrie declined (the height, steepness and shallowness of steps were just too intimidating). Was Sherrie going to keep the camera to click Terry ascending and descending, or was Terry going to take it to capture views from the top. Sophy came up with a solution.   
Terry climbed up with Sherrie taking pictures. Sophy took the camera up to Terry. Terry took inside pictures of the reclining Buddha and outside views. When they were ready to come down again they avoided the 30 minute line-up to use the one set of stairs which has a side railing to hang onto and chose instead another long, steep and narrow step staircase. Sophy took the camera and came down the stairs (obviously not his first time) and handed the camera to Sherrie to capture Terry's decent.
A kilometre-plus length of mural carved in relief wraps around Angkor Wat.   Sophy walked us through the depictions of battles, both factual and spiritual, plus pictures of everyday life way back when ... pictures of fishermen and hunters, carpenters and mothers giving birth, cooks and their ingredients ... all carved in limestone. In places where it had been touched a lot the stone had taken on a smooth shiny dark patina (actually better for picture taking) but the fear of the relief's life being shortened prompted "do not touch" signs to be placed.  (We don't know if they are helping to stop the touching. We didn't, but the tactile urge was there.)  
Just as the sun was to set and shine its light on (not behind as it would in morning light) the star of the show -- Angkor Wat's recognizable front entrance and five towers, Sophy guided us to the side of a lake in front so that we could get Angkor Wat and its reflection in the soft light of sunset. To add to the ancient scene a lady was taking that time to wash some clothes as she stood knee deep in the water. If it turns out as well on a larger screen as it did on the camera's view it should be one worth sharing.  

On the way back to the hotel but still close to Angkor Wat, we saw a monkey cross the road. Somba immediately parked the van on the side of the road and Sophy explained that because they are so used to humans it would be possible to get quite close. Only once in awhile did a male get aggressive.

We got as close as we could for some pictures but didn't intrude on their social behaviour as mother was grooming baby who was nibbling on an ear of corn.

Tour guides and drivers get special privileges at tourist stops. Free meals seem to be the most common. Because of our way of traveling, these spots are seldom on our radar screen (although we have had occasions to appreciate their toilet facilities). Some guides seem to hop from one tourist shop to the next. What we appreciated most about Sophy was his honesty.  


Nearing town Sophy asked if we might like to spend ten minutes or so at a tourist souvenir shop. The shop was encouraging guides to bring their tourists in by offering a draw ticket for a brand new car each time they did.  We told him we would be pleased to stop. As with most of these shops the moment you walk through the door a personal shopper attaches to you like dust to a swiffer cloth. One personal shopper for each person ... just in case a couple splits up. The sales pressure is high. Within the first minute of meeting you they had asked where you are from. Blink at an item twice and they are pulling out a calculator and calculating the item in your country's currency ... ie: Canadian dollars. We got out without a purchase and we wished Sophy the best of luck in winning the car. 


We asked him to recommend a place for dinner. He named a couple. "If we go there will you and Somba get a free meal?" we asked.  


"Then pick out one where you would like to eat and we will be happy."  


Once we arrived, he helped us choose from the menu. They would not eat with us so we told them that when they finished they should go home and we would take a tuk-tuk back to the hotel.

When we finished, they were there waiting for us and we climbed back into the van and slowly backed out of the parking lot. It was dark and some children were going through garbage piles put out by the restaurants and shops nearby. We saw a lone boy of about four or five years old with two empty plastic bottles tucked under his arm looking for more such finds.  


"Stop the car please, Somba," Terry said and got out.


Terry went up to the youngster and gave him some money. The little fellow's eyes grew huge with awe and delight at this unexpected happening. The sparkle in his eyes must have shone like fireworks because children came from out of nowhere and mobbed Terry so that he had difficulty getting back into the van. Somba opened the door and carefully slid it shut so no little fingers would get crunched. There were some sad faces as we pulled away. A few others were looking at what the little one had received and the little one's face was alight with sunshine.  



click here to continue to November 1 and to Angkor Thom & Siem Reap ...

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