(written by Dave)
We were all up on time (too early by unanimous agreement), meeting our guide and tuk-tuk driver at 5AM in front of the hotel. Except for the yellow glow of other tuk-tuks it was completely dark riding out to the temples (as you would expect). We needed a torch to walk to the sunrise viewing area – which our guide had – and we made it there in the dark, well before sunrise. The best viewing was at a pond in front of the main temples and people were already 4 or 5 deep when we arrived. Our guide knew that the far corner would have fewer folks and was actually the best place for photos. Gretchen and I settled in started snapping. We ended up taking over 150 photos between us, of just sunrise. Nancy did not have a camera so she got to bond with our guide (Pisith).
After sunrise we had a coffee and the boxed brekkies packed by our hotel at one of the on-site hawker stalls. In spite of Nancy’s words about not buying from children in yesterday’s post, she succumbed to the charms of a couple cute girls/young women (more Christmas gifts for the family no doubt). She was then mobbed by other sellers claiming that she was being unkind for buying from first ones and not from them. Eventually I had to extract her from the rugby scrum that she had worked herself into so that we could start our tour. [Editor’s note – they were not children though so I didn’t violate the rules. They sat and chatted with us while we ate breakfast and were very funny – went so far as to tell Gretchen they could find her a husband – so I felt like we should buy something from them. I didn’t mean from each one of them though, but that is clearly what they wanted!]
Ankor Wat is an amazing place to visit. Sunrise was only a teaser for our walk around and through the temple. The temple was built over a 40 year span for king Suryavarman II. Every king had their own burial temple built in Angkor times and Suryavarman II was one of the most successful kings, thus his temple was massive. Through an ironic twist, at the insistence of his second wife, he was not buried there. Though all the workers who built Angkor Wat were reportedly volunteers, I’m not sure how popular this made the king. However Angkor Wat was built, it is a treasure for us now. There are three levels and extensive carvings telling the stories/history of the time. We took so many photos here that Gretchen ran out of battery and I got a low battery warning – having to be very selective the rest of the day. I’ll probably overdo it on photos posted today but it really is hard to cull them back. But they will also give you some idea how awestruck we found ourselves.
In 1177, approximately 27 years after the death of Suryavarman II, the Angkor kingdom was sacked by the Chams (Muslim), the traditional enemies of the Khmer. The next king to come along was king Jayavarman VII. He is viewed by many as the strongest Khmer king. He established a new capital and state temple (Angkor Thom and the Bayon respectively) a few kilometres to the north of Angkor Wat. This was out next stop.
To put the success of Jayavarman VII in perspective, around 1200, Angkor Thom had 1 million people living inside the city walls and another 2 million living outside in the surrounding province. At the same period in time, London had about 800,000 people. The whole site of Angkor Thom is massive so we concentrated on the Bayon temple and Elephant terrace. I nursed my camera around both, only snapping when something really merited. Nancy and Gretchen spent more time listening to Pisith. The commentary was intense at times, he knew more than you can imagine about the temples and Buddhism. He was 46 years old and lived through the Khmer Rouge as well so he had lots of recent history to share. Most interesting were his thoughts on the current situation in Cambodia. He works in the government but is not a big fan of how things are currently working here. His English was good enough and his honesty refreshing. It was great getting a candid view of things, rather than the typical sugar-coated tourist version.
It’s been a long day and I have to get the photos sorted to post so I’ll stop there. Due to camera battery issues, we only finished ½ of our planned tour today so we are heading back to the temples tomorrow. Tomorrow we visit temples that have been left more to the jungle so the photos should be completely different. I hope that they are not all starting to look the same and readers aren’t getting wat fatigue..