Our next destination in Cambodia was Siem Reap. This is probably my favourite Khmer (the official way of saying Cambodian) city so far. This might have had something to do with the fact we were unconsciously missing our—in comparison with the Khmer life—luxurious way of living. Getting a room with air conditioning is almost impossible and hot water is only available if you are willing to pay 50% extra on top of your bill. However, a fan will be more or less a substitute and hot water is not really a necessity in this kind of heat. Rather, there are other things which we normally take for granted that make me appreciate my more comfortable life back home in Norway. For example, brushing your teeth with water from the tap, normal western toilets, not having to share your bedroom with millions of free riders/bugs, being able to breathe in the air without feeling like a cigarette filter, not dealing with malaria pills, having rules and regulations that everyone has to follow and not just use as guidelines, and toilet paper (!) are all things I have taken for granted. Being a backpacker has increased drastically my antibac budget, as soap is another luxury product around here. So getting to a city where there were actually relatively clean facilities was a refreshing break. This place is the main hub for what Cambodia is known for: Angkor. Google Cambodia and the temples of Angkor are the first thing you will find. Our Lonely Planet guide recommended spending at least 3 days at the temple of temples. However, for two backpackers with the taste for a multi-flavored, fast-food jamming style of travel, 3 full days was just too much. We gave the whole park a day. Well, actually we only gave it half a day… Which was more than enough! Unless you are extremely fascinated (and then I really mean extremely) by temples you will not need more than 1-2 hours per temple. After a lot of research we decided to focus on Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and the Ta Prohm. Because of our efficient inner drive, we actually managed to jam in a few more temples. This was probably caused by having only 5 dollars to spare for both of us for the whole day! That is a seemingly impossible mission right there even for the Cambodian lifestyle.
By getting up at 4 am we did not only escape the tourist masses but also witnessed the breathtaking sunrise at Angkor Wat. A glowing hand stretched its fingers slowly over Angkor’s temple tops. Magical golden light kissed our skin and jungle birds were singing their greeting for the new day. Angkor Wat is the beating heart of Cambodia and their biggest national pride.
After a 1 dollar breakfast of bananas we headed to Angkor Thom. This place was a wealth of temples, and it was the home of the world famous Bayon, the temple of faces. An aura of ancient history was flowing through the walls at this place. The whispers of prayers led us to a peaceful Buddha. A monk beside the golden figure welcomed us. He gave us incense sticks that we had to light and place in front of the graceful Buddha. Before we did this we made it very clear that we did not have any money to ‘sacrifice’. The monk took Toby’s right arm and placed a red braided bracelet around his wrist. A beautiful and warming prayer ended the bracelet ritual and the monk asked for my hand. Again, I stressed the fact that we did not have any money to spare, but he insisted on taking my hand. I gave him my right arm, but this time it was the left arm he wanted. I understood then the blessing of my family, friends, present and future was not an exchange for money, but rather a pure gesture. This bracelet meant more to me than any of my expensive, fancy bracelets back home. Because I loved it so much I have decided to wear my blessing until it falls off.
The Terrace of the Elephants was another temple within Angkor Thom. This was the only place I was asked to cover my shoulders. I wonder why this place was so much more holy than the others. The 350 meter long catwalk was, according to the Lonely Planet, a historic site that was used as a giant viewing stand for public ceremonies.
We actually managed to negotiate a trip to one of the temples far out in Angkor. We both have a business degree after all. It took us about an hour with tuk-tuk each way. The mighty temple we were going to visit was ‘The Lady Temple’, Banteay Srei. This feministic temple got its name after the extremely detailed stone carving; it was just too detailed for a man’s hand, so it’s believed women must have built this huge temple by themselves back in AD 967. This is supposed to be one of the finest stone carvings in the whole world!
Our last stop was the Tomb Raider temple, Ta Prohm. The first time I saw this temple was in one of my favourite movies of all time, Indiana Jones. Back then I thought the amazing temple scenery was just a Hollywood creation, but Angkor proved my childish skepticism wrong. This place actually exists! In my personal opinion this was, hands down, the best temple in Angkor.
If you ever find yourself in Cambodia, Angkor is one of those places you just have to visit. I’m so happy that we got to see this world treasure, however, I feel like I’ve seen enough temples for a while.
Quote Of The Day:
“The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance.”
– Benjamin Franklin