Up before the birds fart and off we go. In the dark all cats are grey, and the stupid people with no light on their bikes live dangerously. We’re off to see the sunrise.
Since we didn’t buy tickets last night that its first stop. It’s incredible, again, what technology they have implemented here. Buying tickets include getting your picture taken at the booth and getting a laminated identification card. All done in matter of minutes, if your not Humongen. “Please sir, one more time”, says the lady outside the booth that organizes our transaction. “To tall for picture!” Right.
So there I am, bending the knees like I’m squatting to fit my huge face inside the picture. At least I’m smiling on my ticket.
We drive on and immediately get stopped for ticket control. This is absolutely more manual as they punch a hole in the ticket for today’s date. Seven days within on month it’s the rule. We sped up to get to the the temple called Phnom Bakheng in time for the sunrise. It’s still dark and we struggle a little regarding parking until we disregard the no parking signs and leave the motorcycle behind. We power walk up the hill and get to use our flashlights again. Up up up and away. “We need to beware of elephants”, Katja says. I think I might have looked at her like she’s crazy, ’cause I know the look SHE’s giving me. I laugh it off and say there are no elephants here.
On the top we find the temple and a few other people.
The temple is the first of the Angkor’s old structures we see and it’s quite nice. It’s broken in lots and lots off places, but still a nice and big temple. The sunrise, on the other hand, is nothing special. To cloudy and not the big bright colors as we’d hoped for.
On our way down we find a warning sign against elephants. I laugh it off, again, but just later down the trail it turns out we’re walking on the elephant trail. You can hire and elephant presumably with a driver, to take you to some of these temples. Turns out Katja was right, but hush, don’t tell her or I’ll never hear the end of it.
We drive back to the hotel and have breakfast. Anther nice morning with very nice and attentive staff. The food is good, especially the homemade yogurt and fresh fruits. We pack up and check out and our pickup service is right on time. Katja rides in the tuk-tuk while I try to keep up with the motorcycle.
We leave the bags in the new hotel and head out for our first daytime visit to the Angkor heritage park.
We follow the tip from Lonely Planet for the first day. Take in some of the outer temples and not start with the most overwhelming and grandiose temples. By that idea we drive to the Rolous group.
This group holds the first capital of the Khmer empire. We’re talking about a culture that had their capital right here that held one million inhabitants when London held fifty thousand. Read that again: 1.000.000 vs 50.000!
There is a lot of information about the old kings and their building frenzies. I can’t dish all that out here, this post would never end, but a few bullets I’ll manage to squeeze in.
– The first temples are from the ninth century. Somewhere in the 890’s these temples where erected in tribute to Hindu gods.
– Hindu’s worship three gods in Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. In increasing strength and power. Brahma is the creator of the universe. Vishnu the janitor and Shiva the destroyer. With no destruction there can be no new beginnings.
– The kings here were mostly into Vishnu and Shiva and today’s visited temples were made for Shiva.
– The biggest of today’s the temples are a representation of Mount Meru. The easiest way to describe Meru is to compare it to mount Olympus in the old Greek mythology. Alas, the home of the gods.
– At one point there was a switch to Buddhism and the old temples were a bit big to rebuild so they kept on using them. At the museum yesterday they said one king had slaughtered ten thousand people in an unnecessary war and felt so bad he converted to Buddhism to repent. Guess that helped the ten thousand a lot.
You’re not alone when visiting here. Large buses spew out big groups who follow the classic image of a tour guide with the umbrellas or stick with a small piece of cloth on it. Their loud, take up a “lot of mental space” and we try to avoid them when possible. Sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes you’re not. We landed on two out of three today. On the stop in the middle a bus load of Koreans came streaming into the area. Between the selfie sticks, smoking and a blatant disregard for common behaviour we got to take some pictures and reflect a little over the symbols. The seven headed Naga (Lord of the snakes) are present everywhere, and not necessarily in a bad way. There are a very common depicting of Buddha sitting on a coiled snake with the snakes head(s) behind and over him. This is from the time Naga felt sorry for Buddah in a storm during his six years meditation under the tree. He therefore used his own body to shelter Buddha.
All right, enough with the mythological history lessons. On the third temple a monk struck up a conversation with us, and that usually ends with them wanting a donation to their monastery. This one was very fluent in English and are the English teacher at the school the have there. Eighty pupils learn to read and write on both Khmer and English. We visited the library just next door. When you read that you might think of your local library from your youth or one you used during studies or now in grown age. Well, it’s not like that. It was one room, ten computers, and some books in English and Italian. It was still the pride of the monastery and was proudly presented for us. There were young people there writing up their assignments on the pc’s. We did donate a few dollars and I got to say, should I ever get involved in anything it would be something like this. Helping kids getting the possibility to learn by sending books, writing material etc. There’s something intriguing by that.
We went into town for lunch and I got to drive on National Highway 6. It’s utterly chaotic. There are no rules except “don’t get hit”. Mamma Mia! Still, it’s moving so slow that it’s mostly ok to drive here, but you need good reflexes and a keen eye.
After lunch we decided to go back to the hotel, it was already two in the evening. We got our new and very nice room, and just spun around and down to the pool. We spent a couple of hours there until domestic chores took precedence.
We took the motorcycle back to the owner, got my passport back and went for dinner in Pub Street. The night life in Siem Reap leaves nothing behind. There is every imaginable type of restaurant and you can go clubbing afterwards if that’s your thing.
We ate good, walked around and looked at life happening to other people and got a banana pancake. My pancake chef was whole of fourteen years old.
From the center we took a tuk-tuk home and are now wrapping up the day. Tomorrow will bring new and scary elements. We’re going on zip lines inside the park about 45 meters above ground. Did I ever tell you I’m a bit afraid of heights? Well, I’m still doing one thing every day that scares me. Tomorrow I guess I will load up for a month or two.
We can easily forgive a child that is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.