Vietnam 2009 Travelogue

06 November 2009 – day 21 – Friday – Siem Reap, Cambodia – Angkor Wat

My traveling companions worried about rain again today. There were thick threatening clouds in the sky. As I got on the bus, a few light raindrops hit the ground and the windshield of the bus. Once again, I assured them that, due to the fact that I brought my Frogg Toggs, it would not dare to rain. It would clear up before we got out of the bus, guaranteed. And it did.

Today is the big day, the day I've been waiting for. It's the day we visited Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is a huge, ancient Hindu temple dedicated to the god Shiva. It was built by the Khmer people in the 1100s.

As the bus drove to the site, I wondered about the rumors I had heard, that there were still active landmines in the woods surrounding the various sites, including Angkor Wat.

We went to Angkor Wat early to avoid the crowds, which turned out to be a very good decision. We were all anxious to get in, and staring in awe and wonder.

One of my companions, Jack, was so enamored that he wasn't watching his footing, lost his balance at a set of stairs and fell. He wasn't badly hurt but his camera was destroyed. Everyone felt bad.

There were several out-buildings that led up to the main temple.

The temple was wonderful, with lots of beautiful carvings in the rock. Unfortunately, we couldn't climb up to see the inner sanctuary because of restoration efforts, and I wanted very badly to climb up there.

As I walked toward the temple, I remembered some lyrics from the song “Angkor Wat” by Yes. “Starpoint to signal our endlessness, Star-point to signal this evermore, Star-point to compass: we look to the north. To return to the center, to return to the center, to return to the center: Angkor Wat.” The song played in my mind and it send shivers down my spine. At the end of the song, a poem is read, but the poem is in the Cambodian language. I thought about asking Chantha to translate it for me, but I didn't want to bother him.

(I found this translation on the Internet when I got home:

I am a child of the universe.

I deserve total recognition of this in the light of God.

Being a child of the universe,
I want to live in a world without war
I want to live in a world without starvation
I want to live in a world without pestilence
I want to live in a world of love, peace and harmony

Because I am a child of the universe.)

As in many Buddhist temples, the staircases were flanked by Nagas, the multi-headed cobras.

Once inside the main structure, I was amazed at how big it was. Inside the temple there were long hallways

some of which surrounded beautiful courtyards.

Large statues of Shiva stood near the entrance.

At some point, the people were converted from Hinduism to Buddhism, so some of the shrines were Buddhist.

Inside the temple the walls were adorned with stone carvings, many of which were of curvy women! My kind of temple!

Some of the carvings were purely decorative,

but others represented epic battles and history of the Hindu people, like the story of the war that is the backdrop for the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad Gita.

We walked inside and outside a few times to get different perspectives of the place. The place was so beautiful. We took an incredible number of photos.

The place was so big it wouldn't all fit in my wide-angle lens.

We walked out the back door of the complex, which actually gave us the best view of the temple. We stopped and took photos every few steps. Incredible.

which is surrounded by a huge forest, or jungle. This forest had a pervading peaceful and quiet atmosphere, and it was refreshing, unlike the disturbed forest of the Cu Chi tunnels.

After Angkor Wat, we had a quick “happy room” break and then we visited another school to see how Cambodian children learn. Supposedly, school is not compulsory in Cambodia, but a high percentage of children still attend. I forget the exact number, but I think he said 93% or something like that. The children sang us a song. They were very cute.

One strange thing about Cambodian school is that any given classroom has children from all ages. In this particular classroom we visited, there was a girl who just had a special party to welcome womanhood. Part of the celebration is that she had to shave her head partly, which I found a bit odd.

Next, we visited another temple of the Khmer people. Our guide called it the “Jungle Temple” because when the French rediscovered it, it was completely overrun by the jungle. The temple was completely in ruins and still had a large number of huge trees covering the place. It was really amazing to see. I almost liked this temple better than Angkor Wat. Even though it was actually more modern than Angkor Wat, it was more ruined, so it had a really ancient feel to it. What was really cool is that this was the temple where part of the film “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” was filmed.

After that, we had a home-hosted lunch. The bus drove us to a nearby village and one family took us into their homes and served us dinner. Actually, our group was broken into two groups of seven, so two families served half of us.

Our food was very good. Our hosts were a very nice family that included a pleasant, smiley sixteen-year-old girl. I forgot her name.

After lunch, we got a free lesson on how to make and cook the dessert dish, which was a ball of sticky rice with a sweet sugar drop inside.

After lunch, we sat outside and waited for the second group to finish their lunch. As we sat, we were accosted by a group of children trying to sell trinkets. Some of them were so young I felt really sorry for them. Barely old enough to talk.

Since Jack sat closest to the sidewalk, the children pressed closer and closer to him, making him a bit nervous I'm sure.

Kathy bought some trinkets from a girl named Pie.

We walked back through the village and got on the bus, which took us to another nearby Khmer temple, called Angkor Thom. The way our guide pronounced it, it sounded like “Uncle Tom” and some of us found that amusing.

Angkor Thom was also an extraordinary temple. It was big and beautiful.

Leading up to the main temple was a row of stone statues

that had interesting faces.

We took lots of photos.

This temple also had detailed carvings on several of the walls.

Unlike Angkor Wat, we could climb up all the way to the top and see the inner sanctuary. It was really beautiful. I just kept taking photo after photo of everything I saw.

The Khmer people were eventually converted from Hinduism to Buddhism, there were multiple giant Buddhist faces adorning all the temples.

After we left the main complex, we stopped a few more times at various walls and statues. One of the walls had a bunch of elephants carved into it. Another had garudas like the ones we saw in Thailand.

One of the statues was called the Leper King. Actually, he wasn't a leper. The fingers of the statue apparently broke off at some point, so the people called it that.

By then it was nearly sunset, so we hurried back to the bus which took us back to Angkor Wat. We were amazed to see ruins all over the area.

From there, we sipped Cambodian red wine and watched Angkor Wat with the glow of the sunset on it. It was beautiful.

Afterward, we went back to the hotel for dinner. After dinner, Kathy and I went with Marty and Marianne to the Siem Reap night market where we bought some trinkets. I bought an embroidered t-shirt, as is my custom. We also bought our obligatory “representation of God” for Cambodia, which was a carved wooden Buddha face that looked like the ones we saw at the temples today.

All in all, a very busy day. We are so tired.