Updated: Nov 12, 2018
We were up at dawn to ensure we were at the Bayon temple by 7:30am when it opened. There is something rather peaceful about riding in the early dawn light when it’s cool & the traffic is thin - apart from the tuktuk parade, that is. Most of the Angkor Wat temples are in the forests, so the trees provide a cool canopy over your movement between them. It is stunning at dawn with hardly any people. It evokes romance & love and care and passion & fun & lightness of spirit. I wonder if that was what was intended by the original architects. I wandered around (not always sticking to the prescribed route) & discovered beautiful gallery after gallery.
Symmetry was definitely in vogue in the 11th century, but because the temples are crumbling, each side now reveals a different aspect of itself. Much work needs to be done, but I didn’t get quite the same sense of degradation as I did with Angkor. For sure, the main tower faces have crumbled, but I have no firm recollection of them being intact when I was there before. It was cathartic.
Leaving the Bayon, we stopped off at the Elephant wall, a huge wall carved with elephants on one side & strong men on the other. We were speculating how many man years it would have taken to carve & lay such a wall. We came up with about 400... Anyone care to venture an opinion?
It makes up the front wall of a temple complex called Phimeanakas & I would guess at about 500 metres long. I was there 50 years ago, as this photo with my sister & mother shows...
We wandered down the long promenade leading to it’s neighbour, called the Baphuon, which is a fortress like structure, built in the 11th century & then added to in the 16th. We climbed all the way to the top (very high!), which wasn’t so bad & then back down again which was terrifying. The wooden overlaid steps are much wider than their ancient forbears, but they have the same steep angle!
At this point the sun was up, the tour buses were in & so we headed back to the hotel. Passing back through the entrance arch, I noticed the avenue was lined with stone strong men, all heaving on a long, thick snake. I had seen a picture of me & my sister on exactly those sculptures back in the 60’s, so got Simon to take one of me in the same place. Nostalgia was in full flow.
Having packed up & checked out, we headed due north for the Thai border. We weren’t sure if we’d be able to make it across both the Thai & then the Laos borders in one day, having started late, but that’s where we headed. The crossing from Cambodia to Thailand was a breeze - 40 minutes, all told & we were back in Thailand! Making the crossing at Choam Sa Ngam is highly recommended.
Immediately we were back in Thailand we noticed a couple of things. The place simply seemed more affluent, the roads were immeasurably better & people drove an awful lot faster. And switching phone SIMs back to my NZ SIM with a roaming pack was so much better. I got real data feeds & caught up with all my messages & emails.
Because we were attempting to make up the lost time from our Southern Thailand crossing fiasco, we decided to head hell for leather for the Laos border. That meant passing up an opportunity to visit a hill temple on the border between the countries. It’s ownership was disputed for many years, but eventually the UN ruled that it was owned by Cambodia (much to Thailand’s chagrine). Preah Vihear Temple is, apparently, stunning but I’m afraid I can’t tell you more! We swapped that experience for a 5 hour ride to the Laos border, encountering our first rainstorm while on the bikes which entailed stopping & grappling with waterproof covers & linings... it all came on rather suddenly, so we didn’t escape a good showering! We found a local hostelerie on Booking.com & navigated down dubious side streets & alleys to get there, only to be told they were full. They did, however, take us to alternative accommodation which we both rejected, so they took us to still more rooms. Very basic, but serviceable (although I think Simon has a different opinion) and as we were running out of time & options we had to take them. Then followed a farcical negotiation around price, which started (we thought) at 500Baht total & ended up 500Baht per room (we had separate rooms as they only had double beds!) We ended up paying 400Baht for each room, about NZ$20...
Dinner was also a last minute affair, so we went across the street to a local restaurant that seemed to be the only one open. Actually it was fantastic. Simon got a real dose of local spices. We had lemon pork & rice each & our mouths & especially lips were on fire. Not the disastrous kind, well for me anyway, just the makes you sweat a bit but adds to the experience kind! I’m not sure Simon wants to repeat the experience!
So we are on the Laos border & tomorrow we will attempt to cross. There is one fly in the ointment & that is that Thailand only allows you two entries visa free within a certain time span. Because of our abortive first crossing, that counts as an entry, because technically we left Thailand & came back again. The second attempt they cancelled so that doesn’t count, but then our successful crossing was our second. So, unless we can persuade the officials that our first one shouldn’t count, we may have to apply for & pay for a visa to get back in! We’ll enquire tomorrow...
You’ll find all the images from my Rovings through Thailand, Cambodia & (hopefully) Laos soon, here:
Forgive me if some of the days are late loading. For example, tonight I am not sure I’ll be able to load any from this morning as the wifi is so slow! Check back & they’ll get there!
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