First Day at Angkor Wat

2009-06-22 04:06:00-0700

Along the way to Siem Reap it began raining heavily and shortly afterwards we pulled off for a rest. Some kids were playing in the warm rain that was dripping off the roof, running back and forth under it. Some of us ate little meat filled buns. Taka ate some scorpions and grasshoppers. I told him I fully intended to try them, just not in the middle of a bus trip.

A little while later I decided to take a photograph so I could see where we were by looking at the GPS data, but after I took the photo the GPS info was missing from the file. Further investigation revealed faulting wiring in the proprietary connector on my Geomet'r. So there I was on my way to one of the largest most beautiful man made sights in the world and my GPS wasn't working. "Wonderful..." I thought.

We arrived in Siem Reap in the dark about an hour or so after I had expected to be there. It was muddy when we got out because it had been raining, and it was nearly pitch black because wherever we were dropped off had like one light. So, in that darkness Taka and I negotiated with a tuk tuk driver to take us to one of the hotels we'd found in the buide book. He wanted to take us somewhere else but we made him take us to where we wanted to go. I'm not so sure this was the best idea because after I'd checked into the hotel I realized that their free internet was not working. Internet was pretty much the only thing I had wanted from a room. They said it might be working the next day.

Taka and I agreed to meet at the gate of the hotel the following morning at 5am, and so we did. When I went to gate it was locked with me on the inside. One of the employees of the hotel happened to be sleeping under a mosquito net on the front porch and he opened the gate for me. Taka wasn't there yet, but the employee went and woke him up for me. We negotiated a day trip around Angkor with a tuk tuk driver, $10 for the day, and headed out to see the sun rise at Angkor Wat.

As a side note, Angkor Wat is only one temple among many many temples that are in the same locale, and as glorious as it is, it may not be the most beautiful and is probably not the most enchanting of the temples.

Angkor Wat lawnAngkor Wat was larger than I thought. I thought we were driving around a lake, but this lake ended up being merely the moat that surrounded the temple grounds. The driver dropped us off at one of the only two places where you can pass over the moat. There were two monkeys sitting at the waters edge preening each other. These were the first monkeys I'd seen on my trip. They were extremely cute and adorable and human like. I took a few photos of them, which seemed silly when there was the glorious sunrise behind the glorious temple.

Angkor Wat ended up being very large. I think that is really the appeal of it... it's like many of the smaller temples, just enlarged. It's not more complex, it's not more beautiful, it's simply on a larger scale. It's really awesome, and it's in better shape than a lot of the other temples too. The problem for us was that there was scaffolding on two of the towers and it didn't look good. Throughout the rest of the day we would end up seeing tons of scaffolding, some cranes, tarps, and all sorts of other temple reconstructive devices. The trick was to get as few tourists and as little construction equipment as possible in a photograph.

On the way out we were talking about breakfast just about the time we came upon some stalls. We were introduced to the familiar chants of persona that could easily be programmed as bots in an Angkor simulation. "Three bracelets, one dollar! You buy!" and "You want cold drink? I have cold drink for you! Water for one dollar! You want beer?" and "You want buy shirt? I have many colors! You buy table cloth! You give to your girlfriend or mother! Just one dollar!"

We went outside the moat and found cheaper breakfast with some nice folks. Sweet milk coffee, eggs with vegetables and bread. Yummy. A good breakfast for what would be a long day of climbing steps and exploring temples in the hot humidity and sun.

As we were leaving there was this little girl following us trying to sell us bracelets, five for one dollar. She was adorable. She was 10. She kept putting on this sad face, but I'd smile at her and she'd smile, look away and try to put her sad face back on. I didn't buy anything from her, but I took her photo and gave her 100r which she took very reluctantly. She was the first of many adorable children I encountered throughout the day who would try to pity me into buying shit that I didn't need or want.

When we got back to the tuk tuk my glasses fell apart. It just wasn't my day. My GPS broke, my hotel internet broke, and here was the right-hand lens of my glasses falling out because a tiny screw had come undone.

Never fear, our handy tuk tuk driver pulled out a crescent wrench, a pair of pliers and a nail and used the pliers to hammer the nail onto the crescent wrench like a blacksmith-to-go. Within 2 minutes I had a makeshift micro-screwdriver to use to screw my glasses back together. What a life saver he was. I ended up tipping him $2 at the end of the day partly because of this and partly because he took us to some awesome sights that we didn't ask to go to.

Setting up a shot We went on to see so many sites that I can't even describe them all unless I do so with globals like "they were made mostly of stone, they were falling apart, they were being restored, and they were pretty ƒ amazing."

At each stop, before the tuk tuk had even slowed down, people would begin shouting at you about water, shirts, flutes, postcards, scarves, table clothes, bananas, beer, and honestly just a few other things. It seemed like everybody was selling the same exact crap. Taka and I suspected that the whole show was run by one organization who only allowed these people to sell certain things.

At one stop there was a particularly beautiful girl trying to sell us water, which we did need, and numerous other things that we did not, including shirts. Taka decided to try to bargain with her by trading his shirt for the one she was selling. She said she didn't want his shirt because it smelled bad, and when I teased her about insulting my friend she gave this beautiful smile and said "oh my gaaaaaad!" We teased her some more about various things and it was nice to have some genuine interaction with these people beyond bartering for novelties. I did end up coming back to her to buy a soda and some water. Smiles and sincerity go a long way.

We climbed up a steep temple and when we got to the top Taka started chatting up the backpacker girls like he likes to do, which is actually very useful because you end up seeing the same people over and over and you get to share info and stories and make a lot of friends.

I took some photos and found some Cambodian guy who started telling me all sorts of information about the place we were at. It ahd been struck by lightning and so it was never finished, hence no carving sin the stones. It was made from rocks brought in from Thailand on elephants and bamboo poles, hence the round holes in all of the stones. He showed me a mountain range in the distance that was the border to Thailand. He showed me how to climb up onto the roof of the temple, which was illegal, but he said you could see the tops of three of the Angkor Wat towers over the forest from up there. He showed us the library and the gallery, both of which were in ruins. He showed us very quick ways to descend incredibly steep stairwells that were more like stone ladders. He showed us some great spots to take photos. He said he'd been living in the area for 15 years and was a high school student. He spoke very good English and was really helpful so I tipped him $1 after he showed us the way back to the front.

Another one of the really notable places we went was the "tomb raider temple", which is where Tomb Raider was filmed. It was really, really cool. There were trees that had been growing for hundreds of years that had destroyed much of the place in an really beautiful way. It was so beautiful that there were about 50 people walking around and you could barely get a photo without half a dozen people in it. It was definitely one of the coolest spots we saw today and we intend to go back tomorrow morning before the crowds are there.

While we were in the tomb raider temple we found a group of three girls from Steamboat Springs who had rented bikes. They were cool and we talked with them for a while. It was nice to run into people from a tiny place near where I had once lived. We walked with them a while but split ways when they had to go back for their bikes. Every time I say goodbye to somebody I meet I wonder if I'll see them again down the road. So many of the travelers I've talked to so far say they keep bumping into people in various cities and countries that they met previously on their travels.

We went to get some food and found a nice spot with a few women managing an empty shop. We got coffee and ramen and ate some really really spicy peppers. They had a really strange bird that sounded like a trained parrot with its vocal sounds and very beautiful calls, but was black and yellow with some weird flaps on the back of its neck. It didn't like me and tried to attack me, but I loved it anyway.

One of the girls was turning this wheel that was attached to a glass cylendar with a golden liquid in it, which I thought was juice or beer. She was filling 1 liter bottles with the liquid, then she'd turn the wheel and fill the glass cylendar again. I nearly ordered one just to try it. Taka asked her what it was and she said it was gasoline.

At one point in the afternoon we were walking around a mostly flat temple with hallways and small courtyards. It began to thunder, then it began to rain lightly, then it began to rain heavily. We happened to step into a pile of ants and were being bitten by the ants as we ran to take cover in one of the hallways of the temple. We were trapped by the rain with a couple from the Czeck Republic, so we found a dry spot for us all to sit and we talked a while about their trip to Phnom Penh and back to Thailand. When it cleared up they headed out ahead of Taka and I, who were both taking photos like mad. The rain had increased the contrast of the stones and the saturation of all of the colors and the grass in the courtyards was more beautiful than before.

From the top of the temple The threat of rain lingered as we saw a few more temples, and then as we were on top of a very tall one it began to actually rain some more. This made the stones slippery so we took shelter and had some beer at a local shop. There were several women and children around trying to sell us flutes and shirts and things. Taka and I talked for a while and one 10 year old girl kept showing me these horribly photoshopped postcards of Cambodian life. I had discovered earlier that if you start asking questions they quit trying to sell you things, so I asked her the normal things and then began teaching her english words for things found in the photos on the postcards. It seemed like out of nowhere, all the sudden I had like 6 girls trying to get me to buy them stuff. One woman was saying she wanted me to buy here a beer, a deaf kid a coke, and a flute for myself for $4. I agreed to do it for $3 and we all had a good time making jokes and sparring in this sell/buy situation. Taka had bought a mouth harp and was trying to talk to them through it while he tried to make noise on it. I was trying to get a girl who was trying to sell me a mouth harp to twang it while I played the flute while blowing out of my nose. The deaf kid was just laughing at everything and enjoying his coke, and the young girls were were just frustrated that we wouldn't give them a dollar for little bamboo stars and flowers and crummy post cards. It was a really fun time and we took some funny photos, ate some bananas and then headed out into the rain. It was nice to have some fun with the locals... I find them incredibly frustrating when they're selling me things, but when we drop that whole thing and let me buy what I feel like buying and just have fun everything is a lot more enjoyable.

It was getting late and the gates were closing soon so we had our tuk tuk driver take us to the last big temple. This last temple ended up being one of the coolest temples we'd seen, but we didn't have time to explore it. It was really really large, it was raining and it was late. Taka and I went in a ways expecting it to be small, but after finding several large intersections of hallways into really cool looking places we decided to give up and go home, then come back tomorrow.

We left that temple in the pouring rain walking on stones, in puddles and in the mud, all underneath the trees that reached out to each other above. The whole scene was really beautiful, the kind of thing from a great movie, and it was a really great way to finish the day.

It rained all the way back to the hotel. When we got there I asked about the internet and they said that it was broken. They said it might be working the next day.

It was too late to check out, so I went to my room and took a much needed shower and washed my clothes in the sink and hung them to dry on whatever I could find to hang them on. I need to get a clothes line type thing.

I decided to take a nap, but it began raining really heavy and I couldn't sleep so I wrote this instead, and if only I had internet I could post it right now.

By Daniel , Category: blog

Tags: journal / life / photography / travel / angkor wat / cambodia / temples / tourism /