Thursday, March 17, 2011

Monkey Like Banana

It is in no way an exaggeration to say that I was in awe today.  If I had a dollar for every time I said WOW today I'd be very rich. 

We met up with Suen at 8:00 and set out for the Angkor complex.  We got a quick peek at Angkor Wat driving past (this is where we go tomorrow) but proceeded on the Angkor Thom.  This was the Khmer Capital in the 12th and 13th century. The settlement is surrounded by a high wall and a wide moat - a square 3 kilometers long on each side.  Before we went inside the walls, we stopped and looked at the moat and wall from the outside.  The massive wall was built from stone cut from a mountain 60 kilometers away and dragged to this site.  Elephants did much of this work.  Speaking of elephants, there were some outside the Angkor Thom complex - I got up close and patted one of them.  That was thrill enough for the day, but we went on.

Inside Angkor Thom we looked at the terraces where the king and family would have held court in front of the 1 million people who lived inside Angkor Thom - the Terraces of the leper king and elephants.  These had giant carved walls with elephants, people, other symbolic figures carved into them.  Some of it was in alarmingly good shape for being 1,000 years old.  The homes of the royal family were made of wood and burned down by invaders a bazillion years ago, but the stone temples were still there.  There is a large temple to a snake woman - Phimeanakas - who would turn into a beautiful woman at night and the King had to sleep with her before the Queen or his Concubines or else they would all be killed by the snake god woman.  Sounds like a pretty convenient story for the King....  We were also able to see the Kings and Queens swimming pools.  The King's was about 5 times larger than the Queens.  Again, how convenient... 

We then went and took a look at The Bayon Temple - smack dab in the center of the square settlement inside the walls.  More than 54 towers make up this temple.  We took a bazillion photos, but there are four faces on each side of the towers.  The original King who built this temple was Buddhist, so these were faces of Buddah.  He built the temple to honor Buddah and the King's father.  A later King was Hindu, so he decided the faces were Hindu gods and also removed all other images of Buddah in the temple - this would have been a REALLY big job.  We did a lot of climbing up and down the three layers of this temple - it is so huge.  From way up high you are close to the Buddah faces and have a great view of all the surrounding areas.

We next took a short drive and suddenly hopped out of the van for a long walk through the jungle.  The jungle is thick and the cicada's (sp?) are as loud as the elevated train in Chicago.  We walked along a dirt path for about 10 minutes before we were standing in front of a lesser visited temple called Preah Khan.  This is a temple to the sacred sword  which is the sword held by the Khmer King that protects the Khmer Empire against all enemies.  It was built in 1191ish.  This was also very large and impressive - again realizing all the stones commuted here before they were assembled, carved, etc.  This showed how the trees overtook the temples after this area was abandoned.  In 1911, they started clearing the jungle from the temples, but when the cut down trees that had grown into the temple walls, it caused the entire temples to fall as well. 

After a little lunch we made our way over to another temple complex called Ta Prom.  This was built by the King to honor Buddah and the King's mother.  Again, all references to Buddah were wiped away a little later.  This is the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed - a movie with Angelina Jolie.  Folks are pretty excited about that around here.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped to see monkeys on the side of the road.  Jim bought some bananas from some young kids and fed the bananas to the monkeys.  It was pretty crazy.

We were dirty, hot, and tired after this.  Suen told us the story of his boyhood working under Khmer Rouge killing fields camp from the age of 8 to 11.  It was the most horrible thing I've heard told to me in a surprisingly matter of fact manner.  We got back to our room and I had a good cry.

We checked out the pool - it is 200 meters long and we swam the length of it twice.  I have a spa appointment in 20 minutes then we'll head back to town in a tuk tuk for dinner.  I think we're going to a restaurant called Meric that is supposed to be very fancy.   

Tomorrow we meet up with Suen and our driver at 5:30 AM so that we can see the sun rise over Angkor Wat - ANOTHER temple complex.  We love Siem Reap - it is a really lovely, breathtaking, heartbreaking, and awe inspiring place.

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