Friday, July 21, 2017

Discovering Angkor Wat

If it was good enough for Angelina Jolie then it is good enough for us. So off we set to the Hindu/Buddhist temple complex of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Used in the first Tomb Raider movie and stretching over 400 square kilometres, this sprawling ancient city is too big to cover in a day. But then again a lot of it is very similar so you just need to focus on a few of the most well preserved or special interest temples.

Churning the ocean of milk

First up was the Angkor Wat temple itself, the most famous of the complex. Adorned with numerous bas relief sculptures, one complete wall was devoted to the 'churning of the ocean of milk' Hindu epic. Roughly the story is about the gods and devils fighting over obtaining an elixir that gives you immortality and peace (yes, very ironic). It ain't working so one of the supreme gods Vishnu tells them if they work together by churning the ocean of milk they are more likely to obtain it. You would think this is the moral of the story but no, once the elixir appears they start fighting over it again. To make a long story short the devils grab it first but the gods cheat by getting Vishnu to intervene again and they have had it ever since. The bas relief is impressive and very long.

After Angkor Wat we went to Bayon Temple. This temple is a bit like wandering into the twilight zone as everywhere you look you see the same serene and smiling face in varying sizes. The faces are thought to be of King Jayavarman VII. Probably likely since he built it and vanity is normally a king's strong suit.

We also visited the temple called Ta Prohm. My favourite, this temple was left as it was found, with nature taking over. Trees were growing through walls with roots pushing up and snaking around structures. It was actually pretty cool and eerily beautiful. Surrounded by lush forests and fields where cows chew contentedly, the atmosphere is romantic and calm as nature reclaims what we abandon.

As the area is so spread out we took a friend's advice and hired a remork (tuk tuk) for the day, basically a motorbike with a carriage. Our friendly driver Li Hong looked after us by picking us up from the hotel, taking us to the ticket office (which is not where the temples are) and going around from temple to temple. When we were all templed out (about 4pm) he took us back to the hotel for a freshen up and then we concluded the day by going to the Phare Circus.

Ordering a fresh coconut juice
means cutting the top of a coconut
and putting a straw in it
This is a show performed under the big top, without animals, and with students from a school in Battambang that caters for disadvantaged and abused youth, teaching them skills in many artistic disciplines. The show has a social message and an artistic flair to it as well as producing some great acrobatics and juggling performances. A bit of a cross between a play and Cirque du Soleil, the show had a theme of ordinary Cambodians and tourists in the street coming together to help each other when problems arise. The school runs mainly on donations and the proceeds from these shows. A great night out, a great day out, and thanks to our fabulous remork driver, safely delivered back to a comfortable bed and a good night's sleep
Dinner before the show.