Today we enter Cambodia. After a quick flight into Siem Reap, followed by a slight frisson of anxiety caused by agents disappearing with our passports for a few minutes to attach visas, we traveled on to our next residence, an elegant Khmer-styled hotel. And, my first WTDGAP moment on this journey.
For those not familiar, I began using this acronym in 2014 to describe one of the curious aspects of travel – often things go astray, and dealing with these missteps can spur not only personal growth, but some very funny stories. For this latest episode my friend Peggy and I enter our lovely room and are somewhat surprised that it doesn’t appear to look like the one I had selected. You see, Peggy is an intermittent sleeper, while I am a very light sleeper who needs silence and darkness to get my few hours of rest, so we try to secure rooms that have a separate seating area so we can each do our thing. While the room on the hotel’s website showed a sofa area, our actual room did not.
No worries – one short conversation with management and et voilà!
Thus refreshed, we are ready for our exploration of the archaeological wonder of Angkor Temple complex. Angkor Wat, the seat of the Angkor Empire and the largest monument in the Angkor group occupies a rectangular area of about 500 acres. The South Gate, Angkor Thom (“Great City”) is accessed by a long sandstone causeway (length 820 feet; width 39 feet) crossing a moat 3.4 miles long and 656 feet wide .
Three face towers adorn the top of the entrance, with the central tower facing both out and in.
My favorite features of the entrance are the gods on the left side and demons on the right side of the causeway. Although some are either headless or have had recent head transplants, the remaining facial expressions are nevertheless powerful.
The gods and demons seem to be supporting the body of a giant serpent, a seven headed known as Naga:
My research turned up a Hindu myth called the “Churnings of the Ocean” that says the 54 gods or devas on the left are pulling the head of the snake while the 54 demons or asuras are pulling the tail in the opposite direction. The snake itself is wrapped around the sacred mountain Mt. Meru, the center of the universe. The constant back and forth of the snake causes the ocean to churn, creating earth and the heavens.
The mystical atmosphere of the Angkor Temple complex definitely encourages the belief in the myth.
Once through the gates there are a never-ending maze of stairs, towers, galleries and windows:
If my photos seems a bit fuzzy in places, please don’t be alarmed – my photographic skills have not deteriorated. I had to spend a considerable amount of time photoshopping as sadly there was not one area in this complex that did not have a horde of selfie stick marauders who thought nothing of taking their sweet time posing in every key vantage point. In fact, to help keep my serenity in this most holy place, I cut short my exploration of the upper levels before an argument ensued. This is my PSA: if you are visiting any area of interest and there are others waiting to enjoy the view – please be respectful – TAKE YOUR PICTURE AND MOVE ON.
Deep cleansing breath.
The lower level galleries fortunately provided plenty of eye candy, including bas-relief images. Themes for the bas-reliefs come from Indian epics, sacred books, stories of warfare and simple daily life of the Angkor Period. See if you can guess what it being depicted:
In case this is not fantastical enough, we now head on to Ta Prohm temple which is instantly recognizable to any Lara Croft fan. Winding, ghostly Banyon tree roots encompass spooky stone tunnels and towers and in some places the trees have taken over completely:
Here is my Lara Croft impression:
We stayed at the Angkor complex until sunset but unfortunately were not in the best position to get the money shot . Still, these were lovely views:
And, our Cambodian guide, Sokun, who will be forever in my gratitude for gently making the selfie stick horde queue properly, did take a magnificent photo on another recent visit:
Oh my Buddha!