Saturday, December 31, 2011

Angkor Wat

I slept better last night, with my sore neck bothering me the least in over two weeks. After a filling breakfast, we got on the "green" bus, but found that the couple that few in the "yellow" team liked have switched to us.

The weather was much hotter today and more humid (I'd say Washington, D.C. mid-July). We took the now-familiar road to Angkor Wat, but got off in front of the entrance to the temple. We had to wear long pants as a sign of respect, but that also made things a little stickier.

The temple is surrounded by a wide (200 yards) and long moat, which was originally filled with crocodiles. Spanning the moat is a stone causeway, flanked by nagas and lions. The naga is a sacred symbol. It consists of a cobra with multiple heads (always an odd number for good luck) and it wards off evil spirits. At Angkor Thom, the gods and demons were holding the naga, but here it was on its own.

Around the first gate were numerous intricate carvings of apsaras (dancing divine figures) and nagas. Inside was a wide expanse with only a few structures, ending in some ornamental pools. These structures were libraries holding records on stone tablets and banana leaves. I got a nice shot of the temple complex reflected in the lily pond.

I should add, in light of yesterday's comments on the sparseness of the trees, that the complex is surrounded by a hedge of jungle. Elsewhere in the region, though, the jungle has been cut down for rice paddies.

From there we ascended to the first level of the temple. Here we so long narrow corridors with point stone ceilings (the original wood ceiling deteriorated centuries ago). The walls were adorned with bas reliefs depicting scenes from the Bhagavad Gita, such as Rama battling demons, along with monkey warriors.

The next stop was the second level. Here there were elaborate stone basins to collect and channel rain water and prevent flooding. There were also several elaborate carvings of aspsaras.

We were supposed to climb to the third, final, and holiest level, but the parks authority put up signs saying it was closed for cleaning (if they don't remove the various seedlings growing on the temple, they will grow as large as the ones in Ta Prohm that destroyed parts of the temple.

We went back down to the first level, and he showed us another gallery where the guide taught us how to distinguish "star commanders." What he meant was how to tell a 1 start general from a five-star general from the king: count the number of parasols in the drawing. The larger the number, the higher the rank.

From there, the group turned back toward the main gate. I had seen a buddhist shrine inside the first level and asked the guide if I could go off on my own. Sure, he said, but be back at the meeting point at the right time.

I hurried back into the temple and found the shrine. I saw several people paying to have their fortune read. Here's how it went: on one side of the shrine sat an old male fortune teller. The person desiring to have her fortune read sat on the mat and put money in his box. He the handed her a stack of long, thing, narrow wooden cards, all bound together. She took the cards and held them on her head and marked one, which he then read to her. I watched several of these, though the last one I heard apparently wasn't a good fortune, and there were audible reactions. After watching people burn incense and make offerings, I hurried back. I hoped to see one of the saffron-robed monks I saw earlier but none were around.

I made it back to the meeting point in time, but our group had been moved down a block so I scurried after them, catching up just before they reached and boarded the bus. We got back to the bus around 11:20 and it was a short trip back to the hotel. They announced that anyone wishing for a free bus ride to the old market in Siem Reap should be back on the bus in 15 minutes. We hurried back to the room, dropped off our stuff, and I changed into shorts. I also grabbed my guide book.

We went to the Khmer Kitchen restaurant and ordered almost the same thing: khmer curry (me we chicken, dad with mixed vegetables), and Cambodian beer. The meal was very good and the total bill came to $10.

After that we walked across the street to the old market. It is reminiscent of mahaneh yehuda, though more touristy. In the center is the food market, where we found bowls of shellfish, squid, octopus, etc., could wash fish being butchered, and saw plucked chickens out for sale. There were also many food vendors catering to exclusively Cambodian clientele. While there were a few stores for locals, including a beauty salon in one small shop, where one woman was getting her hair blown out, most everything else was directed to tourists.

I was looking at some very intricate and elaborate linens. I don't remember how big my table is (and I certainly don't know its measurements in centimeters), but they had bed coverings for king sized beds. I looked at several and asked how much a gold one with intricate patterns was. "$25." "Oh, I don't know if I can do that," I replied, "how about $15?" "For $15 you can buy table runner," she answered. "Oh, you mean $15 final price for bedcover? No, then I lose all my profit." She fiddled with her calculator. "How about $22," she said, and showed me 22 on the calculator. "How about $20," I replied and she agreed. I realized after I left, that I had never asked her what the cover was made out of. We circled back later and she said silk and cotton, not 100% silk.

We explored the length of the market and ended as far south as the Terrasse des Elephants hotel and cafe, a colonial yellow covered building that looks as if it came right out of French Indochine. We walked back to the Blue Pumpkin, where I got a mango sorbet and then got a tuk-tuk cab back to the hotel. Dad is now napping; I'm considering going swimming (if there's a pool).

Tomorrow morning we leave at 8 am for the boat. As in Hanoi, we need to have our check-in luggage outside our room at 7 for pick up. Because the water level is low, we will need to be bused 4.5 hours until we can embark. Our welcome lunch is scheduled for 1:30 pm. We were also told we will have two stops en route in order to visit the "happy room."

Apparently wifi can be someone spotty on the ship, so I'm not sure how often I will be able to make postings on the cruise.

1 comment:

Steve said...

glad you two connected and as I suspected it looks like you are chasing each other across IndoChina. Oh well. The blog entries are allowing my to vicariously experience your trip. Thanks! Happy 2012 officially from Cali.