True confession time: I get “cathedraled-out” in Europe rather quickly – usually after visiting just one or two of the stone structures. I admit to having a “seen one, seen ’em all” mentality about these grandiose religious behemoths.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I don’t have this same hang-up about castles. Nor, it turns out, about Buddhist temples, known as wats.
This is a good thing, because Days 7 and 8 of our R.E.I. Multisport Adventure were heavy on the wats. Specifically, the well-known wats of Angkor Wat. They were also heavy on the watts, as in power watts. (It’s a cycling thing. Ask the husband…)
Getting to the UNESCO World Heritage Site was not for the faint of heart. We rode our bicycles from the hotel – situated on a busy, bustling thoroughfare – to the Angkor complex via Siem Reap’s nutty, free-for-all roads.
First up? The granddaddy of ’em all: Angkor Wat temple. (The Angkor Wat complex houses about 360 temples and temple ruins over 150 square miles. Around 70 of the wats are considered “major.” Angkor Wat is the majorest of the majors. It’s even featured on the Cambodian flag.)
Then it was on to Angkor Thom. Known for its face-towers, the statue-lined entrance is equally magnificent.
There was seemingly miles of intricately carved detail on the walls, not just at Angkor Thom, but at all the temples we visited. That’s slave labor for ya.
Ta Prohm rounded out our first day of wat touring. Sometimes referred to as the Jungle Temple, with tree roots creeping over the ruins, it’s the one you may know from the movie Tomb Raider. I’m told the movie stinks, but I really want to see it now.
Apparently, after Ta Prohm was rediscovered in the mid-1800s, they attempted to “spruce up” the place by removing the spung trees. Though the resemblance is undeniable, these are not the same as strangler figs (Phylum: tracheophyta vs. tracheobionta?? I tried to find answers for you all, but the information online is confusing and contradictory.) Anyway, with the removal of what I’ll just call trees, the structures started to crumble. Turns out they were load-bearing. Oops! They abandoned that plan, which was wise for preserving the structures, but there was an aesthetic benefit as well: don’t you agree that the overtaken temples look creepy-cool?
Day 8 started the same was as Day 7 had: pedal hard, try not to think about the fact that you’re cycling the wrong way down a busy multi-lane street, and silently praise yourself for buying travel insurance. Thirty miles of cycling over every kind of surface imaginable awaited us. Our first stop was Banteay Srei, also known as the Citadel of the Women. Feeling empowered, I stood in the doorway, flexed my muscles, and tried to banish all the men from the temple.
It didn’t work.
Both the building of the structure and the ubiquitous intricate, delicate carvings were supposedly done by women. That’s female slave labor for ya.
On the way to our next temple, we pulled over and helped a family cut rice. Based on my brief experience with the scythe, I’m guessing lower back pain is endemic among rice farmers.
Our final temple of the trip ended up being a favorite among most of the people in the group, myself included. You see, in addition to possessing numerous fascinating carved poles, which brought to mind elongated Tibetan prayer wheels and which I couldn’t stop photographing, Banteay Samre was also much less crowded than all the other wats we’d visited.
I desperately wanted to sneak one of those eye-pleasing window adornments home with me and lean it casually against a corner of the living room, much like in the picture above, as a one-of-a-kind conversation piece. I didn’t, because that would be wrong. Also, they were very heavy.
But Banteay Samre is more than just a wat with fancy window treatments. It also has tailless lion statues that are thought (by me) to be the first artistic representation of twerking, a dance move possibly made popular by the 12th century Khmer rulers.
And it had other nice features as well.
The day’s activities went from awe-inspiring to sobering when we visited Siem Reap’s Cambodia Landmine Museum. Our volunteer guide was very forthright in telling us his personal tale – he lost his leg to a landmine at age ten. When he awoke in the hospital he was informed that both his sister and brother, who had been with him, had been killed from the blast burns they had endured. He named ordinance after ordinance and which country had manufactured it. Especially noteworthy was how cheap each individual bomb had cost at the time – from a few dollars to a few cents – given how costly the effects of these landmines were and continue to be for Cambodian people.
That night, I got my one and only taste of a Southeast Asian night market. Like going to Las Vegas, once was enough. Crammed with people, music blaring from stage performers, and every sense assaulted, it was still an experience worth having, though after a while I was happy to get on a tuk-tuk and call it a night. The only regret I have is not taking more pictures.
The trip’s cycling finished and most famous historic destination seen, we went to bed ready for some hiking, Cambodian style.
Read more about our Dust-Farm-Pail List SE Asia adventures:
- Things We Learned from the Travel Medicine Doctor: Laos/Cambodia Edition
- And We’re Off…
- Southeast Asia to Midwest America Jet Lag: What Fresh Hell is This?
- Blog Buddy Meet-up #1: Luang Prabang, Laos
- Laos, Days 1-2: Cycling & Sightseeing
- Laos, Day 3: The Journey to Nong Khiaw
- Laos, Day 4+: Hiking, Remote Villages, and One Really Bad Indian Meal
- Laos, Day 5: Queasy Kayaking
- Day 6: The Journey to Cambodia and a Meal for Adventurous Carnivores
- Cambodia, Days 7-8: Wat a Fabulous Couple of Days!
- Cambodia, Days 9-10: Spending New Year on a Sacred Buddhist Mountain
- Blog Buddy Meet-Up #2: Bangkok, Thailand