Sunday, October 01, 2006

KP conquers Angkor

KP Does Angkor, originally uploaded by kathrynparry41.

The picture above shows me on arrival at Angkor, the tower in the middle is the one that I climbed to watch the sun set.

On arrival at Siem Riep's bus station after a grueling 6 hour ride on a karaoke bus that blared non stop Cambodia music videos, I was scarred to get off the bus.

Surrounding me and the 20 other passengers were approximately 150 touts, scouts, motto drivers and tuk tuk's. The police had formed a human shield to protect the passengers getting off the bus, armed with batons and stun guns they cleared a path for us to jump off.

With my arms getting pulled every which way- I faced a difficult decision, with no pre booked accommodation I had to choose a scout and quickly.... I chose a sign that read- 'free tuk tuk into town- Shadow of Angkor Hotel' ignoring the sign that read my name fearing a scam that involves your hotel in Phnom Penh selling your name to a tout so they get a commission.

The driver got me out of the scrum that had viciously formed around me and we were off into his bright blue tuk. Within minutes on our approach into the town itself a young boy with a dirty t- shirt and no shoes riding his bicycle hitched a ride onto my tuk tuk; precariously he grabbed onto the side and got a free ride into town too.

I decided not to stay at the hotel as the room they were trying to get me to take had no window and involved a precarious walk up some stairs on a 60 degree angle.

Instead, I settled for a large hostel called Smiley’s (where people come up with these names beats me). Mustard in color and set a little out of town down in a neighborhood that turns into a prostitute and gangster ghetto at sundown. I checked into my room and set about arranging to get a driver to take me to the mythical Angkor to watch sunset.

On arrival at the gates of Angkor, the excitement started to build and I was hoping that I wouldn't be disappointed, given the hype that surrounds the tombs and temples, and I thought I was bound to be disappointed. I feared that the legend would be lost on me.

At 4:30 pm I approached the gates of Angkor and paid 20USD for a one day pass that allows you to enter the night before to watch sunset. My tuk tuk winded its way down a lush long drive littered with palm trees and the occasional monkey.

We turned the corner and I caught my first glimpse of Angkor. I saw the top of one of the temples, a single head staring right back at me. Soon we rounded the bend and suddenly it came into full view.

At first sight at a distance of 500 meters the place is AMAZING and only gets better on closer inspection. The enormity of the temples ensures that any attempt to describe or photograph it can do the place no justice.

The temple built in the 12th century is breathtaking and I don’t think anything can prepare you for the goose pimples that form on the back of your neck. It certainly is the highlight of my trip so far. It is grand beyond belief and older than you can ever image. At once I was certain that this had to be the centre of the world and home to the most sophisticated culture known to man.

Quickly I walked down a long drive until I was inside the temple itself, eager to see more I worked my way through a labyrinth of temples and on reaching the core I decided to climb Angkor itself (no mean feat). Up I went- ascending into the heavens via a 70 degree narrow staircase approximately 30 meters in height... Half way up my nerves almost got the better of me and I was coached and cajoled by a sweet Aussie guy who showed off his agility by holding onto me and seeming to float up the stairs at the same time when each and every step felt like a precursor to imminent death. He even managed to hold my camera for me and said ‘well at least if you fall, someone will get some great photos’.

When I reached the top, it was then that my heart skipped a beat and the breathlessness associated with seeing and appreciating one of the true wonders of the world sinks in.

The sunset combined streaks of purple and hazes of blue. I stayed on top of the temple until the light faded and slowly climbed down the other side- assisted by a small hand rail, unwavering concentration, focus and the firm belief that I did want to live and see another day.

The next day I sprung out of bed at 7:00am and went back to Angkor for part two.

First we stopped at Angkor Thom an ancient walled city that used to be home to over a million people, an architectural masterpiece. I was in awe of the many heads of Bayon that greet you on arrival, each uniquely weathered the way only a building that is over a 1000 years old can be.

I fell in love with the 300 meter elephant wall; I was stunned in imaging what Baphoun's past glory must have been. It is now just a pile of rubble that is being resurrected by a team of French experts and reminiscent of a large building site.

Afterwards, I climbed, explored and experienced about 15 other temples, each unique, stunning and as impressive as the one before. Slowly they began to merge into each other, simply unbelievable. My favorites were the rust colored ones that I saw late in the day when the sun was beginning to set; they reminded me of my favourite childhood cartoon 'City of Gold'.

I encourage everyone to go to Angkor and Cambodia in general. If Phnom Penh symbolised poverty and humanity then Angkor is grandeur and glory. Together they combine to create an intense passion for Cambodia and a memory that will be imprinted on your soul forever.

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