Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Revisiting history at the Angkor Archaeological site

Most hotels are able to organise a tour and guide for you at US$20 for a group of 8. To maximise the time spent there, you can consider hiring your own personal guide for US$30 and tuk tuk for the whole day at US$17. US$15 will suffice for tuk tuk should you only visit the 3 main temples. Outlying temples like those of Bantrey Srei will cost more as it’s much further away. The ride is approx 25mins from city centre to the Angkor park.

A 1-day pass into Angkor is US$20 and there are also 3 days and 1 week passes available. Most tourists arrive at 530am for the sunrise, 11am-1230pm are the hottest hours and the next wave of tourists is around 3pm. Japanese, Italian, French and English speaking guides are available on request and my god, these Cambodians speak fantastic Japanese. Kids selling photocopied Lonely Planet guides are everywhere.

How to spot a tourist:
Japanese – many layers worn with long sleeve cardigans, carrying fans with full makeup on. Runny eyeliner/mascara CHECK.
Taiwanese – big group with umbrellas opened
Caucasians – all hiding under the shade while the guide speaks, bottle of ice water in hand
Mainland Chinese – holding umbrellas and speaking very loudly
Budget travellers – HUGE SLR cameras slung over their neck, towels on their heads, shorts and sandals
Luxury travellers – full on safari suit in long sleeve khakis and sweltering in the heat

6am: Ta Phrom
Hello Tomb Raider, I have arrived. Short 5min walk into the Ta Phrom temple and you’re greeted by these majestic trees which have overrun the temples. The French and Japanese are in the process of rebuilding the temples but seeing how these are sandstone sculptures, work is tedious. Visitors are not allowed to be Angelina Jolies as the area where filming for the movie took place is cordoned off for fear of the stone crumbling under the weight of the trees. The carvings are amazing and makes you wonder how such a huge temple could be built by hand. It’s truly mind-boggling and you can only stand in awe.

Entering Ta Phrom

Tomb Raider!

830am: Breakfast
Typically, the guide will not encourage you to go back to the hotel for breakfast as it’s a distance back and you’d waste time. Well, I suggest packing breakfast instead as the guide will suggest this tourist trap for breakfast outside Preah Khan. Pancake is going for US$3 and coffee is US$1.50 and this really ewwwwwww chicken sandwich also costs US$3.50. This ain’t a restaurant ladies and gentlemen but a thatched roof rest stop.

9am: Preah Khan
Preah Khan has many Buddhist and Hindu structures and is not as famous as Angkor Wat or Ta Phrom but is well structured and remnants of Brahmin and Hindu influences are abound.

Light show inside Preah Khan and tree wreckage

Hindu carvings and Roman influences

1030am: Angkor Thom
The biggest of the temples houses the Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper Kings, Phimeanakas and Bayon. Bayon is by far the most amazing of the temples; what with the 49(?) 4-faced buddhas. There are alot of tourists at these popular temples so getting that perfect shot without people in the background requires some patience and alot of sunblock. Temperature in the afternoon is approx 36c.

Terrace of the Elephants and entering Angkor Thom + Phimeanakas

Outside Bayon and its 4-face buddhas

Intricate wall carvings and towers of Bayon

1230pm: Lunch break back in town (sans grumbling from the guide)

130pm: Angkor Wat
Now for the main act: Angkor Wat. This temple is surrounded by a man-made moat. Locals can be seen fishing for kelp on the waters. French and the Japanese are actively restoring this UNESCO World Heritage site and scaffolding and tarpalins can be seen on some towers. The long walk in allows you to marvel at the fine carvings, buildings, Buddhist sculptures and Khmer beliefs that define Cambodian history. The 3 towers of Angkor Wat (same as their national flag) are of course widely photographed but amazing to see in person.

Angkor Wat - a UNESCO World Heritage site

Climbing not permitted

Interesting fact to note that is not in Wikipedia was that Khmer people lived in these temples during the war. Bullet holes can be seen on the sandstone columns and one can only wonder who the hell would want to shoot at stone buildings.

330pm: end of Angkor tour

Word of advice: Try to do 3 temples per day as there is alot of walking involved and not for the faint-hearted or heat-weary. The only reason we managed 4 temples is because we walked fast, asked little questions and badgered the guide into showing us 1 more temple prior to breaking for lunch. Bring lots of water!
Posted by fongie on 3/18/2009 09:04:00 PM in , , , , , ,