Sok San Road is frightfully quiet at 4.30am. To be honest, I wasn’t really paying attention to what’s going on. All I have in mind was Farkkkkk! I couldn’t get to Public Bank!, since that’s the rendezvous. The driver (Rafin) didn’t know where Kochi-Ke is and I thought Public Bank is just nearby. Turns out I couldn’t trust my sense of direction. Thankfully another tuk-tuk driver (Tuktuk B) appeared and took me there for free, if that Rafin didn’t turn up, he’ll be my guide instead. He was insistent and I was tired of walking around in circles, so I took up his offer. True to our arrangement, I saw Rafin waiting for me right in front of the bank. I felt like I took advantage of Tuktuk B and I felt really bad about it. So, I wished him luck and shook his hand. On hindsight, I should have paid him something for his effort. Sorry.
It’s interesting to see people on the streets at an ungodly 5am. Tuktuks and motorcycles are loaded with tourists; some looked excited, some looked really sleepy. I wonder what I look like to other people? Rafin isn’t keen to start a conversation so early in the morning and I can’t blame him either. Soon we reached the ticketing counter and I bought my ticket to Angkor Wat!
Angkor Wat in the morning is gorgeous. Skies were clear and streaked with orange and pink. The grand monument reflected off the pond. Photographers lining the edge of the grass with their gears all set up, waiting for the perfect moment of sunrise. Casual tourists like myself walked around, some talking, some taking selfies, some dreary-eyed and some trying to fend off the persistent Cambodian merchants. Might be the inexperience talking, but I have never seen a more insistent bunch or merchants. Seriously, A+ for the effort.
|Angkor Wat in the morning|
I left the pond and headed towards the main temple. I wandered around the complex and leeched off a couple with a guide, trying my hardest to decipher the thick Cambodian accent. Eventually I gave up and went into the temple. The air is still in the temple, like nothing’s been changed since thousands of years ago. I remember the sudden breathlessness I felt when I entered. It was eerily quiet at that time, with the majority of tourists still basking in the magnificent sunrise outside. I strolled around, trying to make sense of carvings on the wall. There’s a line of headless statues standing by the wall in a corridor somewhere near the exit of Angkor Wat. It’s strange, I’ve never seen these statues before, but I felt the air of sadness that these statues radiated. I didn’t know what happened to them because I did no research about it (bad mistake, guys). Only later did I know that the sculptures were beheaded by the Khmer Rouge to fund the war. Angkor Wat is not my favourite, but I left feeling respect for it.
|A random outdoor corridor of Angkor Wat. I think you
can actually fall off and break a leg if you’re not careful
|Headless statues at Angkor Thom|
Bayon is my favourite. I was looking at the carvings at a wall and a Cambodian man sneaked up to me, really subtly. He started talking about the history of the temple and what the carvings meant. I was so fascinated by what he’s telling me that I didn’t realize his knowledge came with a price. He told me he worked for an orphanage and the money I gave him would be donations for that orphanage. Yeah, I’ll believe you when hell freezes over. He did a good job explaining the things to me, so I gave him $5. It’s not enough for him as he kept asking for other currency. Yeah, not gonna happen man. So, look out for yourself.
|Standing among giants|
|A shot to indulge my ‘tour guide’ who
reeeaallllyyy wants to take my picture
Temple fatigue is a bitch. I paced myself throughout the whole temple run, but still got hit pretty badly. There are 7 temples in the itinerary that Rafin wanted to bring me. By the end of Baphuon (3rd or 4th?), I was ready to throw in the towel and go home. The temples seem to merge together and lose their uniqueness. I cared less and less for the structures and the stories behind all of it. I couldn’t remember shit about the temples I’ve visited between Baphuon and Ta Prohm, which was the last temple of the day.
By 12pm, I was ready to go back to the hostel. Rafin was very reluctant to take me. I think he was afraid that I wouldn’t pay him the whole sum. I didn’t pushed him to either as I wanted to get my money’s worth. Wrong decision. Temples should be enjoyed, not skimmed through. Going through the motions but not enjoying the discovery of stories isn’t getting your money’s worth. I could just form a group at my hostel and go when I’m less burnt out. Somebody goes to Angkor Wat everyday anyway.
|The famous tomb raider temple|
Ta Prohm- the Tomb Raider temple- is a pretty sight for sore eyes, brains and body. Willow tress lined the way to the temple. Landmine victims sold their CDs in a hut by the side of the road, playing traditional Khmer music with what I assume to be traditional music instruments. They smiled and called me in hopesthat I would buy their CD. It’s a little inspiring to see, actually. Some of them are a limb or two short, but they got creative with their bodies and found a place in the band. I especially liked their sign. “We are not useless. We are trying to make our living. Please help.”
|I like to call them guardians of the temples,
I’m not really sure who they are though
I took the scenic route in Ta Phrom, which is going around the temple. Gigantic stones covered by moss laid by the side of the temple wall, stacked on top of each other. The current restoration efforts means that there are cranes in the temples. It takes the magic out of the forests, sure, but it’s nice to see efforts being made to restore Ta Prohm to it’s former glory. You know what’s really nice? To not hear people yelling at each other and to be in the way of other people’s photos. The only thing I could hear are birds chirping in a distance and an occasional click of a camera. For the first time in my life, I felt the healing powers of the colour green. While I was leisurely strolling around, I felt calm and rested, even though half an hour ago, I was hot and bothered. The famous temple entangled in the giant tree root is somewhere towards the end of the walk. That’s a different world altogether. Tourists lined up to get photos with the tree. There goes my expectation of serenity.
We passed by the countryside on the way back to Kochi-Ke. As I looked at the white fluffy clouds, blue skies and green paddy fields, I couldn’t help but wonder, what else will Cambodia show me?
|Picturesque way back home