Saturday, October 22, 2005
Brief on Angkor
I'm back. Apologies to those of you bored at work who kept opening my blog looking for a distraction and had to resort to the smh or equivalent! I have been pretty busy since my last post a month ago. A week of orientation in Phnom Penh (mostly very frustrating house hunting - but with a very happy ending), then a week in Siem Reap over P'chum Ben - a buddhist festival and finally starting work. By the time I started work two weeks ago, I'd almost forgotten that's what I was here for. More about our gorgeous house (and doggies) later.
The week in Siem Reap was fantastic! Jono had organised it all... partly for our 4 year anniversary... We arrived around 6pm in the pouring rain at the bus station where you hop off the bus into a sea of moto and tuk tuk drivers all yelling at you to go with them. Fortunately, we could happily wave away the hordes because were greeted by a smiling driver holding a large sign with "The Golden Banana Welcomes...Jonathan" - with the name written inside a massive yellow banana. Our tuk tuk had heart shaped plastic windows protecting us from the driving rain.
The rain had stopped by the morning so we hired bikes, bought our one week pass and headed off for Angkor Wat! We only ended up using 4 days of the pass but could have a day off also which helped prevent the common Siem Reap disease of Temple Fatigue or being 'Templed out'. Cycling was an excellent way to get around - as long as we avoided riding back when ALL the tour buses made the trip - before sunrise and after sunset in particular. The first day we climbed all around Angkor and tried to decipher the bas reliefs with the help of our guide books. We also rode to Ta Phrom (the 'tomb raider' one with all the overgrown trees). Both temples were amazing and different. If you know the old lonely planet with an old man at Ta Phrom on the cover, you can still find him there - selling copies of 'his' LP. We didn't have the heart to tell him that he's been superseded by monks walking through lotus.
After our first day - sore bums and all from riding - we decided to take a day off. We went to lunch at a butterfly garden and happened to arrive just as a new intake of butterflies were about to be released. The English guy who owns the place pays local kids to catch the insects. Big butterflies are worth 100 riel (2.5 cents), dead butterflies are worth nothing but torn wings are fine. He told us that the kids are from a really poor village and this bug catching is paying for school. It took way over an hour for all 38 kids to have their catch counted and released and to be paid. It was a very colourful and amusing if not a bit laborious.
I never knew butterflies could be held like that!
Back to the temples. Day two we left the Golden Banana at 5am by tuk tuk to see Angkor silhouetted by sunrise. We took dozens of photos but felt envious of Cindy (another ayad and professional photographer) who came with us with her 1000 Mega pixel (or whatever) camera and tripod. Straight after sunrise we went to catch the 'good light' on the faces at the Bayon. This temple was again so amazing and different to the others. I think what struck me the most was the scale and the variety in the designs and details at all the temples. However there are so many that you do get a bit confused with some of the more similar ones at the end of four days. We went back to Bayon the last day but got distracted watching monkeys outside the temple and never made it back in. The young monkeys were climbing up a tree and jumping from a high branch into a small lake for fun then swimming back to the shore and doing it all over again. They were just like human children - but better and faster at climbing trees. I had never seen monkeys even swim before - they were so cute.
Another great thing was Jono being able to have conversations in Khmer. It meant we could chat with the little kids selling bracelets and stuff and randoms monks and other people around the temples. I think we were shown some great things that we would have missed otherwise. I start Khmer classes on Monday!
After SR we caught the boat to Battambang which was also fantastic, particularly seeing all the floating villages on the Tonle Sap lake. These people literally live on water - with their dogs, cats, chickens, sometimes even cows and crocodiles. The boat trip did feel a bit long and crowded after a while though. There was a small amusing interlude when my empty water bottle was commandeered by furious hand signals as an emergency toilet for a little boy.
I only stayed in Battambang one night as I had to come back to PP to move into my new house! More on that later!