Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

Siem Reap means literally ‘Flat defeat of Siam’. This name was given somewhere between 1515 and 1566 and you might think that it’s crowing a bit, especially seeing as how Siam took it back until the French moved in, in 1907. Siem Reap is hotter than the surface of the sun, it seems. Today is forecast to reach 36 but that’s just a number, I could say 34, or 38 and it would mean little to you. To us it means little. Sitting drinking iced tea with lime, moving nothing but your drinking arm and your eyeballs is the least physical exertion necessary to bring on a sweat. Walking to the coffee shop will mean that by the time you get there, you will need to drink more iced tea with lime to replace the body fluids which have leaked by the gallon from each and every one of your pores, and will be puddling under the seat that you’re sitting on, and there will be watery footsteps all the way. One thing that will cause you to connect a two litre bottle of water to your arm intravenously is going to Angkor Wat to see the temples. Yesterday, our tuk tuk driver, whose name is Monet, or maybe Manny, or something like that, came to collect us at 5.15. The night before we’d eaten in town and sat talking to a couple of great Russians, Kyril, or something, and his girlfriend, whose name is Ykaterina, or something. We left early because we had to be up early. They were still trying to come to terms with the idea of having an early night in order to get up to go see the temples. Kyril just chuckled when we put forward the idea, as I might were you to suggest that tomorrow would be a nice day to swim the channel. As though to say ‘well, I know that it’s possible, but I don’t think I’m ready for it just yet.’ The sun comes up at around ten past six and we were at Angkor Wat at about quarter to. Apparently Angkor Wat isn’t the best place to see the sun up, there are many thousands of tourists there with you, shoulder to shoulder almost. Reverential anticipation, as though we’re expecting god himself to appear. Just the sound of the jungle like a thousand powertool insects, and whooping monkeys and birds.

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But still, we saw the sun come up over Angkor Wat! And that’s pretty cool. There is no point in trying to describe Angkor Wat, or the six or seven other temples we saw yesterday, or the ones we saw today. Astounding, magnificent, beautiful beyond description, a feat of such mindblowing devotion as to be almost beyond belief. Today we went to do the big circuit, which was only five temples and took far less time than yesterday’s expedition but this morning, at about half past eight we were the only ones there and we sat, in the collapse of it all, listening to the sounds of insects and monkeys and birds. There’s no point trying to photograph the whole of Europe from on top of Ben Nevis, it’s just too big to get it all in your camera in the same way that the temples are too big for your eyes. Many men have spent lifetimes studying them and have written lengthy and scholarly texts so go and buy one if you’re interested, or go to Angkor yourself and buy one from a one armed man at a temple.

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A really, really big face

There are many people trying to sell you a guide book, and the one we bought is a good one because Evan and Bjela gave us their copy to borrow. The one armed man at the temple offered us a good price, which he said was the morning price. I suspect the afternoon price is equally as good. I got into a conversation with him, a schoolboy error. He wanted 15 dollars for the book and showed me the cover price, 28 dollars and I agreed its a good price but told him I didn’t have 15 dollars so he asked me how much I would pay. I told him again that I didn’t have enough dollars, and that we had just enough to pay the tuk tuk driver and get something for dinner. He asked me again how much I would pay and so I pointed out, that I didn’t have any dollars, things were just the same as I’d explained them a few seconds ago. He said twelve dollars, I explained again, he said ten, I said no, he said eight and I said ok. I suspect I still got done but I really wasn’t going to buy it at all, or I wouldn’t have got into a conversation with him. It is a very good book though. There are many people who want to sell you the same book at more or less all of the temples. I can now say with sincerity that I already have it, which I did later on to another man who wanted me to buy one. It didn’t really help though, he asked if I’d like to buy another one to give to my friend, he was grinning stupidly. They do like to make you laugh, these Cambodians, they’re great people, the kind of people you’d have a laugh with in the pub. There are also some quite horrible scams. The milk scam is particularly low, employing a young girl and a small baby. The young girl, who looked far too young to be a mother anyway, came up to Nel saying she needs mill for her baby, and saying I don want money, all the while looking very distressed, wan mill don wan your mah knee. And all the time steering you towards the supermarket. If you buy milk, she’ll take it back soon as you’re round the corner, feeling good ” you’ve done the right thing, and she shares the money with the checkout girl. Evan the Aussie told us about this one but even so it’s quite heart wrenching, a twelve year old girl with her sister, or maybe a neighbours baby, held like a doll in the 38 degree heat all day. When Nel, kindly as she could, said no for two or three minutes, this little girl jabbed her in the ribs. Not nice. You can’t walk for ten seconds without some tuk tuk driver calling ‘tuk tuk sir!’ but you say no, and smile and they say ‘tomorrow?’, and you say maybe and you both laugh cos even if you did want a tuk tuk tomorrow you’d never find him in amongst the hundreds of the other tuk tuks. Also today I bought a book from a man with arms missing from both elbows. It’s a book about Pol Pot, which I wanted to read. Not only did he have most of both arms missing, he’d also lost an eye and was scarred heavily all over his torso. God only knows how he survived it. You see them everywhere, there are bands of musicians who’re landmine victims, a man today with no legs pushing himself down the road on a trolley, another man with an arm missing, and even some wretched bloke using an old upright set of weighing scales with wheels as a walking frame. I wonder what the average number of arms per person is in Cambodia. Far lower than it should be. And the Khmer Rouge was disbanded officially as late as ’93. Pol Pot died at home. Many others of the top Brothers are still alive and living free. And they’re Buddhists! I hope they live in terror every day for their karma.

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You think brambles are bad, this plant has dinosaur teeth

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Apsara dancers

Siem Reap is expensive, as you’d expect, it being where you come if you want to visit Angkor. It’s a lively town, full of French architecture and baguettes. I’ve found a good way to gauge the cost of a place to eat is to go straight to the drinks at the back. If they’re selling beer for $1.50 or more you know the food is too expensive without having to check all way through it. At some places beer’s only 50 cents, or 2000 Riel. Like the place we went to eat the other night. The food was cheap too. Cheap and horrible, so we won’t be going back there because I don’t like eating the stalks of vegetables and gristle, and neither does Nel. In an astounding nod to Western culture, there is a massive neon sign that is lit up red that reads PUB STREET. Because that’s what westerners like. Once upon a time not so long ago I imagine, it probably had a Khmer name.

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A bar on PUB STREET

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One thought on “Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

  1. Always wanted to visit Angkor till my mate Jim told me how,although it isvery beautiful indeed, it is also very very commercialised with all the things yove just mentioned. Maybe one day though.

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