Updated: Nov 12, 2018
OK, all the negative stuff first to get it out the way. Angkor Wat has been touristified. There are chains, no entry signs, go this way signs, plenty of ticket checkers, tour leaders waving their little flags for their flocks to follow them to the next preaching point (not a great fan of walking tours... can you tell?). Worse, Angkor was quite badly damaged during the war years. An official guide when asked said that all the damage was simple nature taking its course when it was neglected for a couple of decades. I don’t buy that. I remember more than I thought & although as a young kid I wouldn’t have been paying close attention to all the detail, I remember all the walls & most of the ceilings being decorated, but there is now a lot of blank spaces. There are a lot of no go areas & not just for some of the conservation work that is being done. Most damning of all, from the upper levels you can look down & see a huge amount of damage that simply wasn’t there 50 years ago. Back then, I remember roaming wide & free over the entire complex & none of that damage was present. All of the famous steep steps have been wooded over, so you cannot walk on the original paths, you have to mount temporary wooden steps instead. (But the angle is still as steep!) The main causeway entrance, missing its balustrades, is being rebuilt, so visitors pass over the moat on a parallel plastic floating walkway. So it has changed a huge amount, more than most people would realise. At some point I’ll scan in some of my father’s photos of Angkor in the 60’s & compare then to now - it won’t look good.
That’s the bad stuff out the way. Even in a far worse condition than I remember, it impresses. I can’t quite get to a recreation of the feelings I had as a child, but when you see the detail & work that has gone into it... There was not a block of stone that was not carved intricately, and beautifully. It’s sheer presence is dominating & the original processionway entrance, across the moat, all the way through from the outer walls to the main building, (perhaps over a kilometre?) would have been outstanding & awe inspiring at the time. The central building at the third (top level) is an astonishing feat of architecture & peaceful to walk around, despite the masses of people. I wish I could tell you what it was like in the waning sun, but as we returned at 5:30pm to catch the sunset from the top, we were told the complex was closed. We will have to get up before 5am tomorrow to catch the sunrise.
Getting to the complex this morning was a joy, not! We rode the relatively short distance towards Angkor’s entrance, fighting through Monday morning traffic, only to be told we had to go back into town to buy our tickets. So we backtracked to find the ticket office, only to discover we had to have photos. The passport photos we brought with us were back at the hotel, so we went back to the hotel to get them. Back to the ticket office, we discovered we didn’t need the photos, they took them for you. So, eventually armed with a 3 day pass & US$124 poorer each, we made our way back to the entrance. Luckily, we had decided not to get up for dawn on the first day, but plan it more for the second day! There were a lot of people. I didn’t take too many overall wide shots, primarily because of the damage, but also because trying to get decent images with not too many people in them was extremely hard. When we first entered, we literally couldn’t see the promenade because of bodies.
Angkor is the centre of what was a truly amazing city. All of the many other temples around were part of the same city. Only the wooden structures have disappeared. It is mind boggling to think of the wealth and power that built the city, and the craftsmen toiling away chiselling into stone with their rudimentary tools to create something so beautiful. A bit like today really, the wealth & power invested in the few & the masses controlled & downtrodden & taken advantage of! Pausing in front of one of the many carved reliefs of dancers, I tried to put myself in the mind of the man (presumably) who had been given the task to carve out this beauty. Where did he live, what did he eat? How much was he paid? But, more interestingly, did he love his work, did he enjoy his days, did he look forward to chiselling something different? Perhaps he daydreamed about a time, many hundreds of years in the future, when someone might come across his work, long after the city had been abandoned, and think about him...
We’re going to try & climb to the central tower early tomorrow to catch the sunrise. It promises to be a magical experience & maybe it will bring a bit of magic back for me, especially if there are fewer people.
An evening in Siem Reap is a fun one. We discovered the real town tonight - lively, interesting & full of a whole spectrum of restaurants, tastes & prices. We browsed around the local market, then almost by chance ended up in a local eatery. Not quite on the street, because it had tables inside, but the front entrance was completely open. It was happy hour, but because we fancied a large gin & tonic rather than a cocktail, Simon spent the first ten minutes teaching them how to make one. Due to some strange happy hour negotiations, we ended up with three. Add to those a plate of fried prawns & rice (freshly done), plus a beef lik lok for Simon, we shelled out US$12 for the lot... Now this is a place I can eat out in!
The image galleries have got so large now, that I have stopped adding to the first one & have created a second one. You can find them here: