I’m on my way back to China. I’ve spent the last couple weeks back in the US with my mother and siblings. My dad died a couple weeks ago and this last Saturday we held a ‘celebration of life’ that was really lovely. Although the reason for the gathering was very sad, it was a wonderful reunion for my mom and a confirmation of how loved my dad was. I leave with a sad heart, but knowing that I will be back in six weeks for the Christmas holiday.
So, today, sitting here in the Seattle, Washington airport, I thought I would finally post the fun I had over a month ago in Cambodia…
What a breath of fresh air; Cambodia. It is filled with vibrant greens, awe-inspiring ancient architecture and reminders of hell. I only had four and half days, but I felt the beauty and history so exquisitely that I did not want to leave.
I arrived in the dark and a gentle man with a bright smile held a sign with my name. As we walked out into the night a warm rush of liquid air surrounded me. I hopped into the back of his Tuk Tuk and off we ambled (about 25 mph) to my lovely hotel (The Claremont) in downtown Siem Reap.
I woke to sunshine and walked to the top terrace for breakfast. A beautiful spot that overlooked the town. At 8:30am I met with Mr. Kong, my Tuk Tuk driver and off we went to spend the day amongst the ruins. First stop Ta Prohm. This crumbling magnificence was built in the 12th century by Jayavarman VII. It was a royal monastary and had lots of additions added on into the 13th century by Indravarman II. The intricacy of the roots clinging to the stones as well as forcing them to give space kept me glued often to just one spot. Of course the carvings were dramatic, often gruesome, some whimsical. The lintels that were left in situ (meaning not refurbished, but the originals), were extraordinary. The details that have remained unprotected for over 800 years were still often so crisp, as if created only months before. The majority of the ruins at Angkor Wat were built with sandstone. This type of stone is created from compacted sand aggregate over long periods of time and is extremely strong and weather resistant. The stone pieces were huge. Most had hole divots from where the slaves would insert wood poles to carry them. One of the site guides told me that some of those holes were then filled with jewels in the King’s halls.
Next stop was Bayon – my favorite of all the temples. It is filled with gigantic heads which although unproven by experts – they looked to be of women. Loved it. Besides the heads, it had a feeling of calm, mystery (mostly due to the fact that you couldn’t see around corners) and with such large heads it made it feel like it was a place of learning, wisdom, intelligence. I toyed so long at this site that two large Chinese two groups came and went while I was immersed.
Sweating so profusely (as was everyone) in the intense humidity, I slowly wandered down the tree-lined lane to the Terrace of the Elephants and then once again re-joined Mr. Kong and had lunch at a nearby stand. I had my first Angkor Beer there. But it was the wrong move. I was so hot, so soaked with sweat that the semi-cool beer nearly put me to sleep. But rally I did and off we went to Prah Khaan, Neak Pean, and Srah Srang (the emperor’s swimming pool).
Then my camera battery decided to die. Thank goodness Siem Reap caters to the tourist. Mr. Kong whisked me (in a slow way) back into town, I bought a new, fully charged battery and back we went to the coup de gras of the day: Angkor Wat itself.
But of course I wasn’t the only one who had read the guide book stating that the best time to see Angkor Wat is in the afternoon as the light is the best for photographs. So, I was amongst the throngs of Chinese, Koreans, Taiwanese, Europeans and I suppose a few from the good ‘ole USA. Together, en masse we explored the refurbished paintings, climbed into the spires and took our requisite photos. I didn’t stay long. I’m not much of a crowd (or loud loving) person as you now know. I couldn’t feel it’s awe with so many people around me. But I did finally see a monkey. I had been wondering where they were. Very few birds tweeting and not much rustling of branches above. It was crazy hot, so perhaps only in the early mornings and late evenings do the sane animals venture out. Anyway, this one Macaque (I think) male came ambling down the side of the temple as I was heading down as well. He cared no heed to all the homo-sapiens surrounding him and slowly noticing him, gaping. Then he sat down right in front of me, scratched is privates and stared at us.
My day was over. Nine hours of temple traipsing and I was beat. Mr. Kong dropped me off at my hotel and asked me if I wanted to do some site-seeing around the town that night. I laughed. I was so tired, I was thinking a massage, dinner, glass of wine, sleep. We confirmed a 5:00am pick-up time for the morning and I said good night. After a cool shower, I did make it upstairs for a light dinner and glass of wine, but I couldn’t muster the energy for a massage.
The next morning it was cool. So wonderfully lovely that the short 15 minute Tuk Tuk ride to Phnom Bakheng for the sunrise, I had to wrap myself in my scarf. I climbed, all alone in the dark, the 20 minutes up to the top of the “mountain” and then up the steep steps of the temple. There were five couples at the top. Perfect. Everyone respectful of the quiet, anticipating the awakening of the jungle. The sunrise felt very distant but my great little camera zoomed out and captured some beautiful moments – these are NOT touched up, but really what my camera captured.
Just after the sun had gone into the clouds we all were extracted from our rapture by loud, cackling women coming up the path, up the temple steps and proceeded to stand in front of us and do their morning exercises laughing and yelling at each other. The reverence was gone. Down I climbed to an awaiting Mr. Kong and to breakfast.
I have to catch my plane so I will leave it here and continue when I am back in Guangzhou.
Until then… Gretchen