Monday, April 11, 2011

Angkor Wat What?!

Graham and I just got back from the most amazing (/most tiring!) day touring the famous Angkor Wat temple complexes. This is one of the sights that we were most excited about on our trip (right up there with Halong Bay, the Forbidden City and the Taj Mahal) and we have fast internet, so I figured we should do an entire blog post for it! Gasp :) We do love keeping this baby updated, but it's difficult with all of the travel-we are going and seeing so fast it's difficult to stop for the hour or so that a post requires. Well, mine take maybe half and hour and Graham's take two, so we'll average it at one. But that is beside the point. Today we saw the world's largest religious buildings and the remains of one of the largest pre-industrial civilizations ever. Pretty incredible!

Our day started early, so that we could see the sun rise over Angkor Wat. Our incredibly kind tuk-tuk driver woke up at 4 am to pick us up. Oh, which reminds me. As far as we can tell, Cambodian people are perhaps a bit more courageous in interactions with strangers, but everyone here has been so overwhelmingly kind, gentle and sweet, just like people were in Laos. We had heard that people were a bit more aggressive, and to be careful of being taken advantage of etc, but everyone has just been so nice it makes my heart melt on an hourly basis. It's also difficult on our pocket books, relatively speaking of course since everything here is so incredibly cheap! Anyways, our tour guide for the day was really, really great. He drove us to the wat, and at first I was like "Why in the world am I up this early by choice?" and I felt kinda dumb being one of hundreds of tourists taking photo after photo (what does everyone do with all of those photos taken with their big fancy cameras and tripods? Plaster their walls floor to ceiling with them after blowing them up at Costco? Must just be facebook.) but the colors of the sky and the actual sunrise and the excitement of the whole thing was quite fantastic. It was also nice to get an early start because in midday it was pretty hot.

After the sunrise we checked out the complex, which was just amazing. Check out the pictures, words just cannot do it justice. At least my words. Perhaps I should write a poem? Sorry-maybe next time! But it was enormous and elaborate and is religiously symbolic in a myriad of different ways, since the wat has been a Hindu and Buddhist temple and was reworked numerous times under different kings and rulers. The carvings on all of the walls were particularly spectacular.

For the rest of the day we toured over 10 temple complexes, each of which was fantastic and notable in its own way. I loved the Bayon Temple, which is a Buddhist temple that represents the intersection of heaven and earth. I loved the huge faces carved on the towers, each of which had four faces of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. I also loved a temple complex that had not been restored or maintained, so there were enormous trees growing in, on, over and through the stones in the most amazing ways. Sadly, I kept thinking how similar it was to the temple the orangutans lived in in the Disney version of "The Jungle Book". But it really did. I always love to think about what might have happened "in the very spot I am standing" nearly 1,000 years ago when the city of Angkor was still buzzing. Maybe I should stop while I am ahead and not reveal any more of my elementary/deep thoughts. :)

After 12 long hours of temple scoping we headed home. It was the most incredible day. We are so lucky to be here, and to have had our awesome tuk-tuk driver.  We are also loving the town of Siem Reap. The town reminds me a bit of New Orleans meets Luong Probang meets Boston, which are 3 of my favorite cities. There is a great nightlife and so many cute little cafes and a river with parks lining it, as well as a relatively strong alternative community (2nd hand stores, yoga studios, cooperatives etc) that all combine in a great way. Tomorrow more exploring and catching up with friends and family online. We sure do miss you guys.

Love to you all!

Natalie and Graham 

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