Sunday, December 21, 2014

Cambodia - Day 5: Siem Reap

Vito with Naga.
The next morning, after breakfasting on our hotel’s buffet, we hired a tuk-tuk for the day to take us to a few of the temple sites. It was, maybe, 6:30AM. We wanted to do more of our sightseeing in the morning, because it was going to be too hot in the afternoon. Angela charted a course and we headed toward some of the smaller temples which were also further away. In the still cool morning air, we drove out of the city. At the entrance to the park, we stopped to purchase three-day passes, which were $40 each, and then continued into the park, which was deeper in the jungle.

We passed a group of tourists on the side of the road feeding a troop of monkeys, we passed people on bicycles, motorcycles and elephants, we passed tour buses and dozens of tuk-tuks and their drivers waiting in the dirt parking lots near Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat. We bobbled along, half in shade and half in sunlight, over lichen-encrusted bridges, under carved red and black and green and white streaked sandstone archways, past statues of deities and other figures in various states of decay and disrepair—everywhere the long body of Naga watching us with its many heads.

Approaching a temple.
We visited at least three of the smaller temple sites that morning, Neak Pean, Preah Khan and Ta Som. I had to look on a map to remember the names as I hadn't written them down. I knew it would be difficult to remember them later, but I didn't want to impede my sightseeing. If I couldn't remember, it would just be something lost to me. There were many other structures and points of interest besides the ones that we were expecting to visit. While impressive, the amount of ruins was overwhelming and, truth be told, it was difficult to distinguish among many of them. 

Vito exploring.
Our first stop was Preah Khan and we were out of our minds. The colors of the stone and the surroundings were psychadelic. Jungle had encroached on parts of many of the temples so that some were shrouded in darkness under a canopy of branch and vine, some exposed to the heavens. The sandstone passages, lined with giant weathered and crumbling columns, were mysterious. It was easy to see the complexity of construction and the attention to detail as almost every facade was carved with intricate images or designs. Giant precarious-looking trees had grown out of the rock walls in some places and seemed about to topple over at any moment. Many trees and structures were held together, in fact, by wooden scaffolding or other supporting structures.

Eerie still water outside Neak Pean.
Neak Pean stood out because it was surrounded by water, which was full of strange little long-snouted fish and various plant life. The temple itself was not very impressive and kind of small, but we had to cross a long wooden bridge over water to get to it, a distinct feature. Because of the water, some parts of the temple were inaccessible. Barren trees, branches and shrubs rose out of the still water and made for an eerie landscape. The water was almost completely overgrown with vegetation on the surface in some places and scattered with dead leaves in others.

Reclaiming the stones.
The rest of the temples that day all kind of blurred together. Some were less preserved than the others, and appeared to have been more ravaged by nature and bore many of the same characteristics as the first few. Giant piles of moss-covered stones lay about blocking passageways, and the roots of massive trees seemed to engulf entire entrances. We, perhaps, spent about one hour in each location.

After these three temples, we stopped for lunch at one of the numerous cookie-cutter restaurants across the street from Angkor Wat. It didn't seem like there were really any other nearby options. I remember being appalled at the service and at the quality of the food, but I don't remember what we ate. I do remember that Vito had a meltdown, however, and that I was chasing him around the parking lot. Surely, the travel was taking its toll on us. Anyway, following lunch, we visited, possibly, two more temples in the afternoon, notably, Ta Keo and Ta Prohm, before returning to our hotel to rest after an already long day of walking.

That evening, I couldn’t sleep. I woke up and started reading e-mail. Maybe the jet lag was finally catching up with me. I was disoriented—all the sounds were strange and the light was different. When I eventually gave in and tried to go back to sleep, I noticed a deep thudding noise that sounded like it was coming from the bowels of the earth; it was erratic but constant. From where did the noise originate? Somewhere deep in the hotel? Was it from some kind of water pressure? It sounded like some gigantic being trodding lumberously across the earth. Was it from some late night construction? Without getting out of bed to investigate, I would never know.

Then I noticed the buzzing sound of the little refrigerator in our room and the little red power eye of the television looking down at me from its perch on the wall, and I got out of bed and pressed the button to turn it off. The light faded out slowly, but the sound remained. It wasn’t the TV, it was the refrigerator. Why didn't I get out of bed to unplug the refrigerator? Eventually, my body succumbed to exhaustion and sleep took over.

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