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Angkor Thom ~ Siem Reap


November 1 

After a good night at the Angkor Star Hotel, we got an early 7:30 am start so as to beat the first crush of tourists traveling in packs.  

After going through the park checkpoint where we showed the passes issued yesterday, we proceeded to the South Gate.  Somba parked the van by the elephants ....

and we walked towards the South Gate to look at the many limestone faces lining the causeway.   
As with previous temples Sophy, our Trails of Indochina guide, again took the time to tell us about the history, beliefs and pageantry of this ancient civilization.  He doesn't lecture but in a pleasant manner shares his knowledge.

To appreciate face sizes, note man in white shirt in photo above far right. 

Small grey square panel (above centre) shows how Buddha carvings were defaced or carved on top ... this one with a lotus flower.  It is believed this happened during a time when the Hindu religion was prominent in the area.
Outside each temple entrance hawkers waited to tempt tourists with their low priced wares while beggars pleaded and women cooked.  The ladies pictured right were cooking frogs and fish ... the fish so fresh they still flapped against the heat.  Freshness counts in surroundings that are 35į Celsius.

Our next stop was at one of the smaller temples. Sophy explained how most temples were once surrounded by moats ... sometimes one, sometimes two. At the base of the centre tower of this temple a small moat still existed, then steep shallow stairs stretched up almost to the top.   

"There is a good view from up there," Sophy pointed. Again Sherrie declined as she had done at Angkor Wat, but Sophy directed us to the west side where a railing had been installed for those who desired a little more security. 

The operative word here was "little". Sherrie, afraid of heights, desired a lot of security, so along with holding onto the thin wobbly pipe which was clamped to the ancient rock slabs, Terry followed close behind with a strong presence and encouraging words. Hand over hand she climbed. Soon Terry's encouraging words were joined by two young boys (about 14 and 11 years old) looking down from the towers high platform. "Doing good, Madame (pronounced in the French way)," they called out.        
Sophy had said he would wait for us a the bottom, we thought it was because other than the view, there wasn't much to talk about. What we realized now was he had put us into the care of these amateur tour guides who pointed out some features at the top, including another set of stairs that climbed even steeper. Terry climbed up further while the boys ran and hopped up. Back at Sherrie's level, they pointed out the man-made lakes -- one for the king and another larger one for all his wives and concubines. The boys negotiated a fee after the tour and quickly called out encouraging words to the next climbers as we made our way down.   
Walking past the larger lake on the way back to the car, we saw a boy across the water. He was in the lake having a bath and washing the last of his clothes. His old bike was close at hand while to the right he had stretched out his shirts and pants to dry smoothly in the sun. He hung a few undergarments on the bike's handlebars and finished taking his bath. The water looked cool in the heat of the day.    
 Again we so appreciated the cold bottled water and cold damp cloths that Somba and Sophy had waiting for us in the van.   They drove us back to the hotel where we cooled down with showers and had a small snack. 

The photo on immediate right is  Terrace of the Elephants ... a 300 metre terrace built in the 12th and 13th centuries.  
Still having time before Sophy and Somba returned, we hired a tuk-tuk to give us a tour of Siem Reap. 

He took us through town.  As we had seen in Vietnam, here they also sold gas for motorcycles in one and two quart-sized bottles.

We drove passed two busy markets, one had two carts of bananas being unloaded, and out into the countryside where we observed children playing, some working in a plant covered waterway and others fishing.  Another roadside seller displayed his shoes while customers shopped.  

We arrived back in time to greet Somba and Sophy.  The white van (pictured right) is our tour van.
At a 12th century temple children were swimming in the waters of Lake of Srah Srang (Royal Bath).  Many of Cambodia's children live without parents.  Many fend for themselves.  
Entering Angkor Thom's Ta Prohm Temple the first sign of things to come were the roots of a giant tree pushing up the stone slabs of the walkway.

Of the many sights we have seen in Asia so far, few seem to give any consideration to tourist safety. This is how it is. The way it has evolved naturally. There is an awe inspiring beauty in seeing ancient sights like this without the black topped trails and guard rails; one just must keep a balance between gawking and walking.

Ta Prohn had nearly disappeared into the jungle. French explorers stumbled upon it in the 1860s. Still today the magnificent roots of trees push between and over huge stone blocks embracing the temple in a haunting and exotic scene. Pictures tell part of the story but it is one of those places on earth which really must be experienced in person to fully appreciate the human sensations it creates.
  Sophy guided us around to the echo chamber ~ a tiny "room" (6'x10') between two open passageways. With our backs against one wall, we thumped our chests with our fists and deep sounds resonated.  

With each turn a new wonderful sight appeared before us. One could get lost in this temple ... both physically and emotionally. It's quiet eeriness was oddly soothing.

He guided us further between fallen stone blocks to what was to become a favourite of Sherrie's. The roots had crept over and through a wall that had been carved with figures. As the roots spread this way and that, they had left an opening and from behind the opening peeked the face of one of the images. It has a Mona Lisa style smile as though it knows the secrets hidden deeper behind the roots.  


Sophy had suggested it might be nice to take in a traditional buffet complete with traditional dancing. The price was right ($12 per person). We told him we would like to do that tonight and if it would be beneficial to him, we would like him to make the arrangements.

Getting back into the van, Sophy told us about the last three temples on our agenda. "Not important temples. Two are small."  We explained that we were "templed out" and would prefer to freshen up at our hotel before going to dinner.

A young girl (about 10 years old) and her younger brother (about 6 or 7) sat on one of the ancient blocks writing on paper they held against their knees, perhaps homework if they were among the lucky who get to go to school. They weren't begging, they weren't selling. They were just being quiet within this silent history. We left them with some money and balloons (this time Sherrie had them in her pocket) and walked away from a haunting part of Cambodia's past which held within its walls the youth of Cambodia's future.   Closer to the gate, a family sat upon the ancient stones while they watched their cow freely graze on grass. 

 Surrounding grounds around a number of Cambodian temples are dotted with building stones which came from collapsed parts of the ruins or from purposeful dismantling work.  At Baphuon [photo below right] the position and numbering system for each stone was recorded in graphic archives which disappeared in 1975.   In order to renew the restoration process, the first task must be to identify the original position of each stone of the temple (not an easy task on large multi-tiered sites) and create a data base.  
At Ta Prohm there is a fine balance between saving the heritage site and keeping it's tourism value by allowing the forest roots to continue  their awesome destruction in its attempt to reclaim the land. 

 On the drive back we watched elephants returning to the South Gate entrance of Angkor Thom.  Each had a driver and a passenger platform but no passengers. They were on their way to carry tourist to watch the sunset atop Phnom Bakheng.  Somba stopped for us to take photos of these large agile animals moving through the forest.  

At the hotel Sophy suggested Sherrie go to the room while he and Terry crossed the street to the restaurant and made arrangements for a table.    


At 7:00pm Sophy returned, walked us across the street and saw us settled into the reserved table (even though it meant up-seating a couple who had claimed it for their own) and then bid us "Good night." He had just enough time to have some dinner (his payment for bringing us) before he was due at his Spanish class.                                                

 The buffet was large and varied. With our stomachs full, the length and excitement of the day caught up to us and we left early after only seeing a few of the dances. Tuk-tuk drivers waited outside to take tourists back to their hotels ... we just pointed across the street to ours and said "good night".  


Even though our flight was not expected to leave Siem Reap, Cambodia until 11am, we had to be at the airport much earlier since we were departing the country. Upon our arrival in Cambodia we had to fill out arrival and departure papers, provide them with a visa application and passport pictures. 

Terry didnít expect the arrival Customs Officers to keep our departure papers, which we thought we would turn in upon our departure, but they did. Today it all made sense. On the forms we had listed the date, place and flight number of our leaving Cambodia  


As we waited for the paperwork today, Terry glanced down and recognized his own hand writing. The paperwork was there -- the date, place and flight number. It is supposed that if we hadn't shown up as stated, they would come looking for us.  

click here to continue November 2 and to Bangkok, Thailand ... 

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