Exploring Angkor

28 Mar

We left our hotel at 5am to arrive at Angkor Wat in time to watch the sun rise over the ruins, as recommended by Lonely Planet and every travel agency in Siem Reap.

As cliché as it sounds, Angkor Wat is a breathtaking sight in the misty light of early dawn.

This ancient Temple is surprisingly intact. So much so that legends of entire cities turned to stone came to mind as I wandered through Angkor Wat’s corridors with their life-size carvings of warriors, gods and dancing angels. Still largely empty of people at first light, it was easy to imagine the life that once flourished here had long ago been frozen under the curse of a powerful enemy depicted on the Temple’s walls. I flirted with the idea that at any moment the cruel spell could be broken and Angkor’s soldier-slaves would leap from the Temple’s intricate carvings with life once again pumping through their veins.

For me these intricate carvings were the highlight of the Angkor complex. Almost every possible space in Angkor Wat has been decorated. Hundreds of meters of carvings tell of Hindu legends and the histories of Khmer Kings and the bloody battles they fought. Framing the visual narratives are beautiful stone braidings and floral patterns. How many hours would it have taken so many hands to complete these complex works of art? I marveled at the thought.

Exploing Angkor is also fun. Climbing up and over the falling-down walls of the Khmer palaces of long ago reminded me of ‘exploring’ rockpools and caves on childhood excursions to the beach. After scaling the very tall pyramid-like temples in the Preah Pithu group I was very proud of myself. This sense of pride was to be short-lived. Taking a quiet moment to catch my breath and drink some water after the exertion a group of older (maybe in their 60s?) wandered past smiling and chattering and clearly non-plussed by the steep climb. Guess I need to incorporate morre exercise into this trip.

Everywhere in the Angkor complex are small Cambodian children and their mothers selling water, postcards and other souvenirs to tourists. The chorus of children ask tourists where they are from. When we reply ‘Australia’ they rattle off a series of rote-learned facts about our home Country; “Australia population 22 million, Capital Canberra, PM Kevin Rudd” or alternatively “Gday mate crikey a dingo stole my baby!”. Most kids will know similar statistics for a handful of other countries and in other languages.

One entrepreneurial young girl challenged Alex to a game of Noughts and Crosses or Tik Tak Toe. She said that Alex should buy a pack of postcards (ten for one dollar) if she won. She did, and we bought the postcards. (We now have about 5 packs of these…)

The youngest children selling to tourists at Angkor are only babies, and hard to resist. The baby boys (under three years old?) are often stark naked. I worried that families working at Angkor couldn’t afford to buy their children clothes. Boray, our tuk tuk driver, explained that this wasn’t the case. The toddlers merely dont like wearing clothes in the hot weather, and take them off. Given that all the other children were dressed this seems plausible.

At least there are several schools in the Angkor complex and most kids we spoke to told us that they either go to school in the morning or the afternoon, spending the rest of the day selling their wares. It’s not an easy life.

4 Responses to “Exploring Angkor”

  1. Mum March 31, 2010 at 1:00 am #

    Nice Photo Darling

  2. Michael March 31, 2010 at 7:52 am #

    Angkor Wat looks amazing – I’ll have to try and visit it sometime. How’s the rest of the trip been so far, and where are you off to next? Hope you’re have a mad time.

  3. Aileen March 31, 2010 at 11:47 am #

    I love living vicariously through you. I was thinking of updating my blog to talk about winning another gold medal in my Star Wars game. But, I think reading of your adventures is a better use of time. Although, if I were in an X-Wing, you know I could’ve destroyed Angkor in a heartbeat. Just sayin’. Keep having fun! 🙂

  4. Kim Flannery April 4, 2010 at 2:33 am #

    Hi Kristie,
    Good photos and well written account of your visit. Hope you are well and keeping your puffer close by for more hard climbs and high altitudes.

    Lots of Love Mum

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