Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Tomb Raiding at Angkor Wat 2007

It had been raining since we landed at Siem Reap's airport and I was getting worried that this trip would be spent in the hotel instead of traipsing around Angkor's famous ruins. However, my prayers were answered by nightfall coz it stopped pouring. We had decided to start early, i.e. see the sunrise over Angkor so we woke up at 5:00am and was ready and waiting for our guide and driver by 5:30am. We arrived at Angkor Wat at 5:45am and I realized that there were already many people at the site.

The splendour of Angkor Wat intensified by the colors of the rising sun

As excited as I was to finally set eyes (and feet!) on this amazing monument, I was soon running along the walkway to get to our spot near the small lake. There were already a hive of activity there - people were looking for the best spot and setting up their cameras. We waited quite a while in anticipation for the sun to rise but it was well worth the wait. Angkor Wat awashed in hues of purple, then yellow was a sight to behold. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

The Gods lining up one side of Angkor Thom

The famous smiling Buddha of Bayon

Once the sun rose, the crowds started leaving. We wanted to take advantage of the cool morning air to visit the other sites before the mid-morning crowds start streaming in. It was a good decision coz when we arrived at Angkor Thom and Bayon, we were practically the only tourists there. We took our time looking at the bas-reliefs, exploring and of course, took lots of photos.

The landmine survivors at Ta Phrom
Then, it's off to Ta Phrom where Tomb Raider was filmed. Along the way into Ta Phrom there were musicians who were landmine victims. It's such a sad sight, but I am proud of them for making an honest life for themselves. Ta Phrom is a wonder of nature, to say the least. Where else could you see nature co-existing with the structures? It's almost surreal.

Tomb Raider's film site

Visiting Ta Phrom made me feel like Lara Croft. I just had to take a picture of the famous tree!

Our journey continued to other sites such as Ta Keo, Banteay Kdey, Sra Srang, Banteay Srei. Banteay Srei was exquisite. It's smaller than I imagine, however. Banteay Srei is located quite a distance from the main Angkor sites and to get there we had to pass through many villages. One thing I noticed is that there were signboards outside each property stating the donor's name. According to our guide, the tourists donated wells to these homes which explains their names and country of origin on the signboards. The Cambodian villagers are very poor. Apparently it costs about USD80 per well. It is always heart-rending to know that there are people in the world who could not afford the very basic of necessities. So those of you who are planning to visit Angkor, perhaps you could donate a well and make life a little easier for them. A well would also help them be self-sufficient as its water could be used to irrigate the farms (that's what the guide told us).

We went back to Angkor Wat in the afternoon. It was a very steep climb to the top and I really did feel as adventurous as Lara Croft (I kinda idolise her if you don't realize that already). The view from atop Angkor were breathtaking. Exhilirating even, after such a steep climb! I could see hot-air balloons in the distance amidst the lush foliage surrounding Angkor Wat. There were many apsaras (celestial beings) carved into the columns and walls within Angkor. After we are done exploring Angkor Wat we paid our respects to Lord Shiva before leaving back to our hotel for a shower and well-deserved rest.

In hindsight, Angkor is truly well-deserving of its Unesco World Heritage status. It's almost hard to believe that these were ruins from an old kingdom. I think it should be preserved for the future generations coz nothing else even comes close to describing it. You need to see it with your own eyes.

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