Tomb Raider Edition Y'all! (T.R.E.Y!)
Wait for it, it will make sense.
Sunrise at Angkor Wat! One of those must things to do in Siem Rep. So I set my alarm clock for a 0420 wake up to meet my guide at 0500. But why sleep till 0420, why not wake up at 0311? Something is seriously not right with me. Anyways, I met my guide (Bob) and the tuk-tuk driver and off we went. And I was LOVING IT! The pre-dawn morning was a bit cool and on the tuk-tuk it was almost chilly. Which felt awesome. My poor guide was shivering. Anyways, we headed to get tickets (which they are very strict about) which was only a minor zoo, yes, at 5AM. Got the ticket and headed to Angkor Wat. Glad I brought my mini-flashlight since walking on all of these uneven stones in the dark could have been treacherous. When we got to Angkor Wat and the reflecting pool, it was already crowded. But I managed to find a semi-decent spot and then it was time to wait for sunrise. It really was very pretty but not quite like the zen experience I expected it to be with the three to four thousan people surrounding me jostling to get a good pic. BTW, if one more person hits me with their selfie stick, I will grab it and us it to bludgeon them to death. Just sayin.
After sunrise, I met up with Bob and we we headed into the temple complex. The first thing we did was go straight to heaven. As one does, right? Heaven is the upper tier temple and is access controlled so you get their first before the queue becomes too long. After a very short wait, I climbed up to Heaven (loving the climbing by the way!) and wandered around the upper tier's galleries taking pics with the great view of the temple compound. There were four (now empty) pools at this level, one for each of the elements (air, earth, wind, and fire) that people would bathe in before they went into the temple rooms to pray. I'm glad they access control this level as I'm sure it could get packed later and it was nice to be able to wander a bit without bumping into people left and right.
Angkor Wat was built in the mid 1100s as a temple to the Hindu deity Vishnu. So originally the temple was Hindu, then it changed to Buddhist, reverted back to Hindu, and then reverted back to Buddhist. Apparently the King decided to change the national religion. Talk about executive overreach. And how exactly does that work. "You are all now Buddhists?" So you do see some signs of Hindu art in the stone carvings, and come combination, but there's also a lot of places where the previous religion's artifacts were just removed. Which is kind of sad. As we walked around the lower level, Bob explained that there are four things that damage the temple: religion, revolution, colonialism, and weather. Well check on religion and weather is obvious. Bob would point out the areas where bullets had damaged the amazing stone carvings depicting early Cambodian life. Check for revolution. And colonialism? Well how many statues and heads of Buddha were removed and sent back to museums in France, the UK, etc. So that all makes sense.
As we continued to make our way down through the temple complex, I went to explore one of the many libraries. Why is it that all of the temples I've been to around the world have very steep and shallow steps? Mayan, Incan, Egyptian, and even Cambodian. They all have steep and shallow steps. I get the small feet part of the shallow steps, but why so steep? Still it was fun to climb, and snap some pics, but I'm being extra careful about getting back down! After wandering a bit more, and taking more pics, we headed off to breakfast.
While Angkor Wat is the largest temple, not a mile away is Angkor Tom (which when Bob said it sounded like Uncle Tom!) which is an ancient walled city which was very cool. When these temples were being built, approximately one million people lived in the Angkor Wat area, so many of them would have lived in Angkor Tom. Our tuk-tuk driver drove us through the very narrow entrance and we made our way to Bayon which is the main temple in Angkor Tom. Bayon once had 54 towers with 216 faces on them (4 on each tower looking in each direction), but the temple has definitely been damaged and worn down, but you can still see lots of towers and the very cool faces on them. Again, Bob started with the less crowded lower level and we walked the circumference of the temple looking at the 1.2km worth of stone carvings depicting live in Cambodia then. In the stone carvings, if the people had long ears, they were Cambodian; if they wore hats, they were Vietnamese; if they had beards they were Chinese. And needless to say there were lights of war fighting scenes. Cambodia is the oldest country in Southeast Asia and Vietnam was once it's vassal state. After walking around the lower leve, we climbed up to the upper level which was packed. But such great views of the stunning architecture, the towers, and the stone faces. It was really great. Though the sun was up at this point and it was definitely getting hot!
After Bayon, we started making our way to the last temple on the Small Circuit, but I asked to stop at some random temple on the way. Ta Keo. Bob wasn't thrilled as there wasn't much to be said about this temple. It has been abandoned during the construction of the temple so it's not complete and it had no stone carvings. According to Bob, during construction it was struck by lightening which is a bad omen, so they abandoned it. Still it was a temple, so I climbed it. And took a few pics.
Our last temple for the day was Ta Prohm. Or as it's known on the tourist guide circuit: the Tomb Raider temple. Unlike Angkor Wat which was carved out of the jungle years ago and now had wide open fields surrounding it, Ta Prohm was still deep in the jungle. When it was abandoned centuries ago, the jungle sort of swallowed it up and it's easy to imagine what it looked like when the European explorers "discovered" it again in the mid 1800s. With the invasion of the jungle, the trees have been slowing destroying the temple. Large part of the temple were under repair and some were closed where the trees, and their roots, have de-stabilized the temple making it unsafe for tourists. But still we had a chance to wander around and I think Bob took my pic in front of a giant weird white tree that Angelina Jolie picked from an orchid from in the movie. Will need to watch the move again. Apparently the weird white tree is actually a parasite eating another tree underneath it. Still kind of cool.
After walking around Ta Prohm. We headed back to the hotel. I wanted lunch, a swim, a massage, and a nap. Which I did in that order! Overall a great day!