Day 324 of 400: Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom – Siem Reap, Cambodia

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How do we describe architecture which is unlike anything we have ever seen?  The Angkor Archeological Park spreads over 98,800 acres and holds the remains of the former Khmer Empire capitals from the 9th to the 15th centuries.  The details in these temples were just amazing…how did they do it?  Every inch was covered in bas-relief art (carved figures/designs that stand out from the rest of the flat wall) depicting stories of Hindu Mythology and apsaras (beautiful dancing-girls) carved into the walls.  We walked through some of the property looking at the various buildings, and of course focused on the temple of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.  Our guide spent a lot of time teaching us the stories on the walls and pointing out the very specific Khmer Empire architecture.

As we walked over the bridge across the moat and through the front gate to Angkor Wat, we were blown away by such ancient buildings.  We felt like we were literally walking through the pages of a history book.  When one thinks of great historical architecture/art…both the Greek and Roman civilizations come to mind, the Angkor Wat complex built by the Khmer Empires should definitely be on that same list.  This needs to be on your “must see” list.

As we walked from building to building, our guide explained how each ruler would want their own temples built to represent their own kingdom and ruling.  Some of these Kings were Hinduism and others were Buddhist so as a new ruler took the rein…he would destroy or change the existing temples to change them into his current beliefs.  It went back and forth with buildings/sculptures being destructed but Buddhism ended up being the winner.

We stopped to take tons of pictures and touched the walls where such ancient civilizations once walked.  Out of the corner of Giff’s eye he saw what he thought were monkeys running in the back yard of the temple.  At first I didn’t believe him until we looked closer and saw what were in fact little adorable monkeys running around.  It was really cool to see them still running around the temples being we saw carvings of the monkeys in the stories depicted on the walls.  We reached into our pockets looking for food and found a couple of granola bars.  Monkeys eat bananas…but maybe they like granola too?  We broke a piece off and put our hand out…the monkey reached up with his hand and grabbed it.  He placed it in his mouth…chewed and then shoved it into the side of his cheek the way a chipmunk would.  We continued breaking pieces off and handing them to the monkeys who were quite content with granola.  Their little hands grabbed it out of ours very easily…they are very smart.  We saw the hierarchy as a big monkey would move in for the food and the younger or smaller monkey would back down.  We even saw a monkey family of three…the parents and baby.  Once we were out of food and had taken plenty of pictures…we walked back up to the temple to continue our tour.  We saw a couple of the monkeys were also sitting on the temple itself.  A tourist reached out and threw his water bottle at the monkey, was he really that rude?  As we continued to watch, the monkey reached over…grabbed the water bottle…unscrewed the cap and then took a nice long drink!  The tourist was simply giving him some water…how often do you see a monkey sitting on an ancient temple in Cambodia drinking out of a water bottle??

After we finished touring the Angkor Wat Temple and buildings around it, we went across the street where multiple vendors were lined up selling homemade lunch to order.  We were immediately approached by a handful of kids wanting to sell their bracelets and postcards for $1.  They said the money would go towards school…after much persistence, we did give $1 to one of the girls but declined all the others explaining to them if we were to give them all money…they wouldn’t finish school.  A couple of them followed us over to where we sat down for lunch.  The vendors all looked similar…everything was a little dusty with tables covered in plastic tablecloths and plastic chairs sitting on the dirt parking lot.  A local came over and we pointed on the menu to what looked good…we ordered noodles and stir-fried veggies which they cooked on their wok a few steps away.  The kids continued to push us for money and Giff proceeded to try to give them math problems to solve…thinking that would help them more than a $1 for postcards.  They were cute as they pouted realizing they were not getting another dime out of us.

Lunch was just ok…the noodles were by no means homemade, more like instant and was a bit greasy, but we ate and then got back in the tuk tuk to go check out Angkor Thom.  It was built as  King Jayavarman VII’s royal palace and consisted of several buildings built inside a large protective wall (almost a perfect square) which was surrounded by a moat (now dry but supposedly held several crocodiles).

As we approached one of the five gates leading to Angkor Thom, we saw numerous statues lined up on both sides of the entrance.  Gods were on the left and demons were on the right…we drove in the tuk tuk between them to cross the moat and entered into the gate.  The entrance itself had elephants carved into the wall and at the top of the gate were the four faces of Avalokiteshvara (Buddhist symbolism) again carved straight into the walls…we stopped just to stare at them…they were smiling peaceful huge faces looking in each direction, oh my gosh they were so cool!

Right on the other side of the gate, we saw a few monkeys hanging out in the trees by the road.  There were a few locals selling bananas and lotus flowers for tourists to feed them.  We asked the tuk tuk to pull over…we wanted to play with the monkeys again!  We bought a couple of bunches of bananas and started reaching out our hand to feed them.  They of course came right over, reached up…grabbed it…peeled it, and ate it before tossing the peel.  We were getting such a kick out of watching them eat and swing from the trees.  I was videotaping and bent down a little as I was watching one specific monkey, when all of a sudden I felt a monkey jump on my back!  I obviously stopped videotaping and calmly turned to Giff who was pointing at me as his jaw dropped open…the guide was laughing.  The monkey sat on my shoulders looking at me and then began checking my hair for lice the way monkeys do to each other.  I was calmly freaking out…was this wild monkey going to bite me?  Was it giving me its lice?  Giff offered a banana to him but it declined as he was very comfortable on my shoulders…I nicely asked Giff to try harder!  Finally the monkey jumped down to grab the banana…I had no bites and no lice but a great picture!

After we were done playing with the monkeys, we jumped back in the tuk tuk and drove over to the main building called the Bayon…which was the King’s state temple.  It is in the very center of the entire compound and as we walked through its remains, we saw the 54 towers all with the same smiling calm four faces carved into each…216 total faces!  There were also additional bass-reliefs telling stories of daily life in the kingdom.  This place was so amazing…by far one of the most memorable.  We continued walking through some of the other important buildings of the former kingdom…noting the architecture and listening to our guide give us so many details.  We continuously saw nagas (five headed snake-like creature) and elephants in various areas of the complex, everything had deep symbolism behind it.  The complex seemed to go on and on..during its prime, this city held about 1,000,000 people within its walls.  We were climbing up and down steep steps of various buildings and walking through the peaceful wooded area finding additional structures as we walked around.  Even though so much of the city didn’t survive the test of time…the remains captured our attention from our very first glimpse…there is something magical about this place.

Our long day of site-seeing had us both hungry and thirsty, we had spent hours and hours getting our fix of these ancient capitals and it was time for dinner.  The tuk tuk dropped us off in the town center of Siem Reap at a restaurant and we grabbed a table near the street so we could people watch and eat.  We ordered some local dishes…a soup, curry and rice and enjoyed the chance to get off our feet and fill our bellies with Cambodian cuisine.  Across the street from dinner was a large market full of local crafts, we were tired but walked around the block just to glimpse at what they were selling.  We bought a couple cheap pairs of comfy pants and a t-shirt and then grabbed a tuk tuk back to our hotel where we both sat back and had a nice long massage for about $20 before falling fast asleep.  We have more temples to see tomorrow!

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