Thursday, January 12, 2012

Angkor Watever

Wake up at 4:30am and meet the tuktuk driver outside the hotel at 5am. Rattle along through the quiet streets all groggy and squinty-eyed. Get to the entrance gate, smile for the camera and hand over a wad of cash ($20pp and FYI, day passes are on the backside of the building). Buy a cup of coffee (surprisingly good for $1.25) at the roadside stand. Make your way across the road dodging tour vans to cross the moat into Angkor Wat as the rising sun lightens the sky.
And so begins your day of sightseeing at the vast temple complex that was built to worship the Hindu god Vishnu.

It seems that everyone knows to go to Angkor Wat super early to see the sunrise over the temple so I should not have been surprised to see a crowd of a couple thousand around the best vantage points to get the photo that you can easily download off Google (I checked last night). Yet go early to beat the crowds and more importantly beat the heat. By 10am it's freakin' hot. And the Asian tour buses have arrived.
The temple itself is downright amazing. The incredible detail and the volume of it is enough to render you speechless. Phenomenal. But then you walk into a corridor and it is suddenly apparent that something/somebody peed in it. We didn't see all of it and didn't try to get to the upper levels, but we'd seen enough after an hour and a half,  plus I was hungry.
Earlier on our way in, Angelina Jolie (not her real name I'm sure) spotted us and gave us some hints where we should go for the best views, provided we went to stall #3 for "brekfah". She was cute and Julie says she was hitting on me and thus we went to eat there. I should mention now that on the way to the strip of food stalls to the north of the main walkway, the girls snuck off to use the toilet. Leah said it was just slightly better than the one on the bus. The chicken & pineapple fried rice at Jolie's stall was good, but it's likely the same as one would have received if you sat 4ft away at the Batman cafe. After eating our noodles, Blaine, Leah & I thought we should hit the toilet before going to the next site. Seems that by this time the "orphan" kid had taken his post at the gate to the toilet and demanded 1000 Riel to use the sh*tty facilities. When Leah tried to walk past him the kid quickly brandished a stick and started trying to herd Leah away from the door. Not feeling like being caned by a 6yr old, we walked to the next toilet area. Same thing, except no stick. Blaine & I hung back (we balked at the price to pee) while Leah and another lady tried to get in to the outhouses with this scrawny kid trying to block the door all the while yelling "one thousand!". With the other lady taking the kid's attention Leah managed to get in. When she exited I gave a sign to go to the right, anticipating the the kid will be expecting her to return to us. Eye contact was made and she was off! Running past the palm tree, around the flower garden meeting us on the path back to the cafes, with screams of "one thousand! One thousand!!" fading into the distance. For some reason I was expecting the kid to put some sort of Khmer curse on us, or at least spread the word and have a coconut conveniently fall onto us.
Crossing the moat back to the road, it was surprisingly easy to find our tuktuk driver Mooney inthe sea of tuktuks and mini buses. Next stop, Angkor Thom. (Reminder to Julie: we've left Angkor Wat. It is but one temple of the many Temples of Angkor.)
Angkor Thom is perhaps more impressive since it is so large, once housing nearly one million people within its walls (at a time when London was merely a large town). Bayon is super cool with its many faces staring down at you. Baphuon is big and grand and you can climb up it for a great view back across the raised walkway. The Terrace of the Elephants is also impressive but the "possibility of visit" signs don't let you see it. You can walk on it, but not see the carvings of elephants that stretch 100 metres along its side.
By this time it's hot and we're getting a big tired. Many guides and online postings will say that you need a week to take it all in. We say different - 8hrs is plenty to get the gist of it. The lunch area at Thom is good and busy. Each tuktuk driver has a friend who operates a cantina so the decision of where to eat has been made for you. No matter since it's all the same. While Blaine & I were waiting for the girls we had a couple beers and a dragon fruit shake to cool off. Not to be outdone, the girls showed up with 6 beers and a T-shirt for $6. It all depends on how hard you barter.

I'll wrap this up with some final comments. The toilets at the lunch area are free to use when you show your park pass and they're quite nice. It's beyond us why such decrepid facilities exist at the famous Wat, and it's also beyond me how you'd get in this far without having a park pass.
Before leaving the lunch area, we bartered once again for beers for the road and a shirt for Blaine.
Our final stop was Ta Prom - the Tomb Raider temple if you've seen the movie. Apparently lots of people have since there's a built-up photo-op stage in front of it.
Oh, and if we're energetic when we get home we might try to calculate our carbon footprint of this trip. Today I'm sure was bad: tuktuk motorbike around all day and then each of the 40 food stalls has a generator a few yards away out back providing power for stoves and blenders.