Monday, February 17, 2014

a trip to the past.

One of the first non-European/western sites I remember being aware of was Angkor Wat. I don’t know where I first saw or heard of it but I’m sure it must have been because of a perusal through a National Geographic magazine or something. But for some reason it’s always sort of held my imagination and was one of the few places in Asia that I’ve always wanted to visit. When I first made a bucket list back in high school it had a place on there and one of the reasons I decided to come to Thailand was because of its proximity to this wonder of the world. And this weekend I had a chance to finally see it in person.

Since we’re all trying to save money we voted to do it the cheap way and take the bus. Thursday afternoon we took a 5 hour bus ride to Kurat only to find out we’d missed the last bus of the day going to the country border. So we found a hotel, got some dinner and then hit the hay so we could get up at 4 to catch the first bus out in the morning. That journey was another 5 hours to get us to the Cambodian/Thai border. There we were met with long lines, lots of waiting and more than a little disorganization (ah, Thailand.) Several hours later we made it through and found a taxi to take us two more hours through the countryside to the city of Siem Reap.

It was a little disconcerting to be driving on the right side of the road again. But the laws in Cambodia are just as hazy as the ones in Thailand. Basically if you’ve got your blinker on or honk first you can drive wherever you want. After a while I tried to stop looking (which is hard when you’re in the front seat) as we weaved in and out of all the traffic, some moving at the speed of light, some at a snail’s pace, and dodged tuk tuks, bikes, dogs, kids and potholes the size of sofas. Miraculously we made it to the city and found a hotel that could accommodate all five of us in one room and then spent the evening wandering the market area.

We had a delicious meal of Indian food followed by some ice cream and shopping and people watching (one girl even ran into someone that she knew from home…small world!) Jen talked us all into getting a fish pedicure against everyone’s better judgment. You stick your bare feet in a tank and the fish all swarm and nibble at your feet eating the dead skin. It’s as gross as it sounds. We all squealed and laughed the entire time while making faces and pretending we were enjoying it but mostly it was disturbing and freaky. I have a hard time swimming in lakes because I’m afraid of the fish and what they will do to my feet (for some reason I don’t have this fear in the ocean where there are sharks and jellyfish and other things that could kill me…there is no logic) and here I was paying for the privilege of watching it happen! Granted I only paid a dollar and my feet looked pretty good afterwards, but still!

Bright and early the next morning (well, not so bright at that point, just early—four am should not actually exist!) we met our tuk tuk driver in front of the hotel and rode about 20 minutes in the dark to the historic park. There, with hundreds of others, we waited in the dark in anticipation of the sunrise. It was sort of a cool way to do it as the anticipation of what we would see built as we got closer but could still only make out the barest of outlines and silhouettes against the sky. It gradually lightened and lightened and then the sun rose behind the temple, a glowing orange sphere peeking through the towers and reflected in the lotus pool below.

After the sun was up we ate some of the best pancakes ever for breakfast, served to us by Tiger Woods! Each shop owner would come and solicit you while you were standing there in the crowds and had his shop named after a famous personality to make it easier to be found since the shops were all identical and situated right next to each other in a row. Some of the others were Madonna, Bill Clinton and Mickey Mouse.

After breakfast we ventured into the temple itself to wander around the grounds, up into the towers and marvel at the beauty, mystery and history found there. It was incredible to be in a place so old and revered, somewhere I’d wanted to see for such a long time and to be there with great friends. It’s up there with Stonehenge, Rome, Greece and Egypt as one of the most incredible and ancient things I’ve seen.

Originally a Hindu temple it reverted to a Buddhist one after one of the many governmental overthrows. The area is actually about 400 square km, sort of a complex or city really, the ruins of various Khmer capitals spanning the 9th to 15th centuries.  I hadn’t realized there were so many other ruins and temples nearby but we had our tuk tuk drivers for the day so they shuttled us around to a couple of the other areas including Ta Prohm where Tomb Raider was filmed (another movie I have to go home and watch now so I can say “Hey, I’ve been there!”) and Bayon Temple known for its giant heads. I think Ta Prohm was actually my favorite. It was surrounded by trees so you felt like you were in the middle of a jungle and I honestly expected Indiana Jones to come running around a corner being chased by Nazis. It was easy to imagine yourself stepping into the movie. Sometimes, too, I had the feeling I was on a Disneyland ride that was on steroids. It was so great!

We climbed and explored and channeled our inner adventurers until early afternoon. We also had a pretty fabulous lunch, fed some road-side monkeys, and basked in the scenery from the backs of our tuk tuks.

fish pedicures
exchange rates sometimes make you feel like a millionaire
sunrise at Angkor Wat

Ta Phrom

Bayon Temple

feeding the monkeys
More tomorrow!

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