Matt wrote this post in normal font and Joylani added in italics.
We awoke at 4:45am this morning. At 5am, our driver picked us up and we drove to Angkor Wat (the most famous of the Angkor temples; the iconic triple-spired temple that graces the Cambodia flag, Angkor Beer (not to be confused with the only other widely-sold beer in Cambodia, Anchor Beer), and a gazillion touristy souvenir items) to catch the sunrise. At 5am a driver, not the one we hired the night before, was there to pick us up. Apparently he was the [business] uncle of the other driver whose moto had broken down. Likely story. Luckily it didn’t matter too much to us, a moto is a moto, and off we putt-putted in the morning darkness. Even at that early hour, hordes of people joined us to watch the sunrise. We sat on a ledge on one the gate’s walls and waited for the sun to spill light across the sky and onto the ruins. The sunrise never came, as it was overcast, and so we settled for a slow illumination of the morning. We walked around a bit, long enough to realize Angkor Wat is huge and we should save our exploration for tomorrow. The plan was to do a circuit of some of the outer, less touristed sights today and see the major attractions tomorrow. Quite literally throwing a damper on our plans though was the rain. Rain began to pour down as we ran across the bridge over the moat from the temple to our waiting driver. It was around 7:30 or so by this time and the rain was heavy, but we decided to continue according to plan. Only we hadn’t planned on the rain, so we had to buy something to help keep us dry. Two ponchos would suffice. Matt’s was blue, “So this is what it feels like to wear a dress,” he said as he pulled the plastic down over his shorts. The poncho I wore was pink, and made for someone whose arms are 6” shorter than mine. We looked hot. Our driver zipped up the rain shields on our carriage and off we went to the most distant of our destination, Kbal Spean: the river of 1000 lingas.
After two hours of muddy unpaved roads, we parked at Kbal Spean. “Ready to hike?” Joylani asked me. “Hike? What are you talking about?” “Yea, we have to hike 30 minutes to the temples here,” she replied. I had not researched the temples beforehand (as Joylani had), so this hiking business was news to me. Still raining, and cold after two hours in the tuk-tuk, I wasn’t inclined to do any hiking. I wasn’t inclined to contract any more leeches, but the ranger assured us there were none. But we’d driven all the way out here, so we set off up a forested hill. I could feel and hear the water dripping off the trees the entire 30 minutes up the hill. But when we finally arrived at a clearing, I realized the rain had stopped, even though water was still dripping from the canopy above. Matt was sad that he no longer had a legitimate reason to wear his blue poncho. A stream ran though the clearing and Joylani noticed some of the stones had carvings on them. We made it to a little river place. It was still early, and the rain had just stopped. Only one other pair of tourists was there when we arrived. The rocks in the water were carved! It was beautiful. A thin layer of water flowed smoothly over the carvings. We hadn’t known what to expect; it was a deserted moment of discovery. Nature had really taken over here, as the stream ran over beautiful reliefs and religious artwork. The stream flowed over the ruins and eventually became a waterfall dropping off an old artistic wall. We wandered around all the visible paths for a while, expecting to find a large structure hidden in the jungle somewhere. Apparently the riverbed carvings and lingas were it. Even without a larger structure, we were satisfied. Without the rain to distract, we noticed all the lingas on the hike down. For the uninformed, lingas are phallic symbols. You may have noticed all the pillars in our photos from Champasak- yup, lingas. On the hike down here, the lingas were represented as large boulders placed on top of smaller rocks, making them look more like mushrooms than their intended figure. Anyways, after a hike down linga lane, and a few jokes about Hawaii’s governor, we hopped back in our carriage and set off again. Luckily our driver had flaps he could roll down for us to keep us dry, since it began raining again.
After an hour’s drive, we came to Bantereay Srey, a small cluster of temples with some of the best preserved intricate artwork in all of Angkor. We got there and began exploring. The rain clouds were moving south, and we had driven back into the showers. Despite making it tough for Matt to take photos (each shot had to be taken from under an accessible doorway or window overhang which was hard to find in the midst of the ruins), the rain darkened the stones and the grey sky added a mournful gloominess as we marveled at the work of a past civilization. It was amazing, but I was kind of bummed because the rain was preventing me from taking any photos. We decided to look for an umbrella so that Matt could take more shots, or at least have a bite to eat at one of the numerous restaurants in the parking lot and wait to see if the storm would pass. But just when I was about to buy an umbrella, the rain stopped. So we reentered and I happily began snapping away.
Bantereay Srey and raingeared tourists
Poncho’d Joylani and some awesome carvings
Joylani looking over the railing of an ancient bridge
After lunch, we visited: Mebon, Ta Som, and Neak Pean. I’ll spare you descriptions of all these, but try to include some interesting photos. The last temple we saw today was Preah Khan, which was my favorite. Both of our favorite. King Jayavarman VII built it for his father and it eventually became a Buddhist university. It was a large complex, with inticately designed outer walls as well as inner passageways. It was awesome because it was large and contained a lot to explore, plus it has a good balance of being in good condition and “ruins.” By this I mean that its neither restored to perfection, nor totally ruined that the only attraction is to see fallen walls and trees growing out of it. Carved details were everywhere—dancers above the doorways, flowers and trees along the walls, and delicate borders around just about everything. It is a good-sized structure, with surprises down each passageway as we didn’t know which one would lead to seemingly untouched carvings, restored areas, or jenga-like boulders that had toppled over. There were few other tourist making it a more 1-on-1 adventure as we silently explored the ruins. Perhaps the most stunning feature of Preah Khan was a large tree growing over one of the outer walls. It was actually kind of magical when we looked to the left of the path and saw it in front of us. One of the trunks had been damaged in a storm, but it was still a sight that filled us with wonder. After exploring for a couple hours and taking some great photos in the evening light, we stopped at Angkor Wat on our way back for the sunset. We finally arrived back at our guesthouse at 6pm, 13 hours after we’d left. It was a long day. And the ruins had surpassed our expectations.
all the following photos are from Preah Khan
And these last two are from Angkor Wat: