This morning began with a wake up call at 4:30am! Our guide met us at 5:10am and we made our way through the darkness back to Angkor Wat. Walking along the stone bridge and through the gate (which involves steps) was interesting by flashlight, but we were certainly not alone. We, as well as at least 100 other people had gathered at the site to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat, which faces west (which is different from nearly all other Angkor temples that face east).
We settled ourselves at a row of rocks a short bit in front of the outer wall, which gave us an obstructed view of the darkened temple. As light began to appear directly behind it, the 5 lotus-shaped towers came into silhouette. Slowly but steadily, the sky behind the temple began to fill with color. Nearly an hour and a half after we got there, the sun finally rose above the horizon, which made for some stunning images of reflections of the temple in a pool in front of it, as well as the sun peeking around the tower and the glimpse of the first light hitting the 2 libraries which stand before the great temple.
At 7am we returned to the hotel for breakfast and were off again at 8:15. Our first stop of the morning was the well known (at least well photographed) temple of Ta Prot. This seemingly ordinary temple was more or less left in the state it was in when it was “discovered” by European archaeologists around the turn of the 20th century. Unlike at all other temples at Angkor, there were enormous trees that were growing on, and sometimes through, the structures! Sections of the stone walls had large roots draped along them and even dropping down in front of them. Also, sections of the movie Tomb Raider (which we now have to see) were filmed there.
Our second stop was at Beay Srei (I’m probably totally butchering these spellings here), a very small, but incredibly well preserved and absolutely stunning temple which is located quite a ways from the main temples. Our guide explained that a different type or rock had been used to construct it, and because of that, brilliant carvings had survived almost the way it was back at the height of the Khmer Empire. Exquisite detail work adorned nearly every inch of the exterior of the some of the buildings. Detailed carvings above the doors, particularly on those of the libraries depicted beautiful images from the Ramayana and other stories (my mother, who is a librarian, was thrilled about this).
After Beay Srei we visited one more temple in morning (whose name slips my mind, though I believe it started with Beay as well). It wasn’t outrageously impressive, but it did provide something that is hard to find at other temples, a quiet environment, as there were very few people there.
After a quick lunch, we headed back out visiting 3 more temples, the first of which was similar to Ta Prom (even started with Ta as well), though minus the trees. One of the gates though did have these fantastic tree roots winding around the door. Another, which we visited last, utilized a great style of supports and had halls protruding out from the center point (which all temples have) in the four cardinal directions.
The highlight of the afternoon, though, was this one temple, the name of which completely slips my mind. The Cambodian Lonely Planet book, which was definitely written by someone with a sense of humor, noted that when the inevitable Angkor casino is built in Las Vegas, this temple could serve as the basis of one of the most fantastic pools ever! It consisted of a large center pool, at the center of which was a large tower. It was surrounded by four smaller pools, which pumped in water from the big pool, which was fed into each of the small pools by shaped faucets, resembling animal heads: a horse, a lion, an elephant, and a human, which also represented the four elements.
We were supposed to watch the sunset and were running a little tight on time. The location was at the top of a pyramid temple which was on top of a mountain (one had to walk the whole way). My grandmother and mother opted to wait in the car while my father, myself, and the guide hurried up the mountain for the sunset. It’s a 20 minute walk up via this easy path that wraps around the mountain. We didn’t have that time though, so our guide took us through this short cut, which went straight up the mountain which was so steep that it was probably a 70-75 degree angle!
After I’d reached the top and almost died of exhaustion from racing up this steep climb, we again had to climb to the top of the pyramid. There were so many people there it was ridiculous! Lonely Planet nailed it on describing it as a circus, which it was. It even had elephants (which people could ride to the top)! The view was rewarding though, with the sun setting off to the right and Angkor Wat off to the left.
Incidentally, our guide was explaining that up until 1989, the government troops held a stronghold on top of the mountain and clashed with Khmer Rouge forces who continually tried to take it. Many shots were fired and bombs exploded. The area was only recently cleared of land mines.
After a brief time at the hotel to clean up and put on clean clothes, we went to dinner, which was this pretty terrible buffet. It did have live entertainment in traditional dancing, which was nice.
Tomorrow is our last day in Cambodia and in the morning we’re going to the Tonle Sap Lake, one of the largest in Asia. Then we have a leisurely afternoon before our evening flight back. I’ll be sad to see this end, as its been absolutely wonderful! I said it before and I’ll say it again…if you can make it here, do it…it’s incredible!