Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Temple of Our Own: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
When planning this trip, there was a kitchen sink list of places Mike and I both wanted to see. Along the way, there were compromises that had to be made, deals that were struck, and promises to be upheld in the future. Mike really wanted to go to China, but forfeited that in order for us to tour Tibet. I really wanted to end in South America, but gave that up and added places like Southern Spain and the Amalfi Coast to our European leg, and Myanmar and Sydney. I gave up touring Southern India in order to stay longer in Southeast Asia and to make it to Siem Reap, Cambodia and to see the temples of Angkor. What I did not realize is how blazing hot Cambodia would be by early March. As someone who prides herself on being able to stand a lot of heat, Cambodia's dry season had me licked. But having looked so forward to this portion of the trip as our sort of "Temple Climax" we pushed through the overwhelming humidity and blazing sun and climbed the ancient ruins and temples of the mighty Khmers.
We flew from Luang Prabang, Laos and landed in Siem Reap where we hired a taxi to our hotel. Here's a tip for anyone planning a trip here, know that if you don not have a tour guide set or your hotel picking you up, these taxi drivers expect to make a sale on you. The whole ride was a semi-aggressive interrogation of how long we were staying, what we planned to see, have we hired a driver, etc...Used to these sales pitches, we stayed vague and said we had a guide arranged which then seemed to tick the driver off. "Why isn't he picking you up then?" He asked. He went on to explain that it's no good for him to make these airport runs unless he can get further business from it, so we should be warned the next time we come to Cambodia. The taxis cost $7 from the airport and it's about a 10-15 minute ride. My guess is they pocket $4-5 for the ride and for the going rate around town, that is fair. If you want to skip the awkward sales pitch (or the refusal to turn up the car's air-conditioner once they learn they can't make more money from you), walk outside the tiny airport and hire a tuk tuk for $2.
We stayed at a guesthouse in a room for $8 with the idea that a fan would do...WRONG! Unless you have grown up experiencing South East Asian dry seasons, a fan will do nothing for you. And when the power inevitably cuts out at different points in the night, be prepared to wake up instantly from the little sleep you have accumulated and jump directly into a cold shower. The heat aside, two days exploring the temples of Angkor was a spectacular experience.
Angkor Wat
We hired a tuk tuk driver for two days and tried our best to wake up early and see as much as we could before the heat caught up to us. The first day, we started off with Ta Prohm Temple, which became my favorite temple. (You may have seen this in Lara Croft Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones.) What struck me as we toured this temple and many others is that we were not so much on a temple tour, as a nature walk. It is quite humbling to see the roots of a tree growing over huge temples and stone ruins, reclaiming the land. In the end, nature always wins. It made me think about when the temples were built. Were the trees here before? When did the trees take over? Were they always in charge? As humans we try so hard to leave a legacy. We hope for permanency even though we know we are anything but. And now with social media and camera phones and the incessant documenting of our lives, we cling to the fleeting now more than ever. And in the end, what will be left? What will be the temple ruins of our society? Will tourists with camera chips inside their brains tour the grounds of our ruins and witness ficus trees wrapped around a landfill of smartphones? Redwoods dotting the lands of our plastic bag pits and mounds of our styrofoam take-out containers? What will they make of our Facebook movies and Instagram accounts? What will a thumbs up symbol mean to them? Will it be a sign of approval as we see it, or will it be interpreted as some sort of god-like symbol, a symbol used so frequently with so many of our communications, that it will seem like a sort of blessing we wished upon each other with every thing we did. Maybe it's kind of both, anyhow.
Preah Khan Temple
On day two we started off with the biggie - Angkor Wat. This is the temple people come to see. It was the temple I had looked forward to for a very long time. It was the temple I had expectations for. The funny thing about expectations, a lesson I learn time and time again, is that they are more often then not disappointing. Now, I'm not saying Angkor Wat was disappointing. But my experience was fraught with disappointing moments.
Ta Prohm Temple
For one, after walking all the way through the massive entrance, and up the steep vertigo-inducing steps to the top of the temple, I was struck with what has become an all too-familiar feeling on this journey - gut wrenching cramps telling me that if I don't find a toilet in a matter of minutes, I am going to learn the true meaning of humiliation for the very first time. In a panic, I had to climb down the steps, and race around the temples to see if there was a toilet somewhere near the ruins. Hell, I would have taken a tall-grass field, but everything was out in the open as far as the eye could see. I'll save you all of the details and just say that we found a bathroom in time and I was spared any major humiliations. After that, we went back to Angkor Wat and Mike climbed back up the steps and I decided to just sit in the space and enjoy the moment. Which I did! However, it did not blow me away as much as Ta Prohm or Preah Khan or later when we saw the faces of Avalokiteshvara (or King Jayavarman VII) at Bayon, and with so many mind-blowing experiences under our belts, I realized that there was a part of me that was "full-" (a term a new friend we made used.) While I would not change a thing about this adventure, there is something to be said for short travel, too. You can devote curiosity and energy to a new place with a refreshed spirit where with long travel it sometimes is difficult to find that spirit when all you really want is a good shower or relief from the heat you have been schlepping through for weeks or a toilet that is near by.
Bayon Temple
Nevertheless, we saw some amazing temples and sitting on some stone ruins inside Angkor Wat looking up at these temples that were just a Google image in my mind from a couple years ago, I felt like I had accomplished something. This in many ways was the climax. We did it. We made it through all the countries we wanted to see in Southeast Asia. We survived India. We saw the desert night sky in Morocco. We ate our way through Europe. We walked through Tibetan villages struggling to hang onto their culture and eager to share it. We sailed with the birds in Nepal and this little idea, this joke text message we started a few months before we got married, had become this thing. This adventure has become our own temple where we have deemed what is sacred to us in our marriage. And no matter what happens from here, somewhere this temple will always be standing somewhere. Maybe with trees and moss and some garbage and also flowers. But if the temples of Angkor proved anything it was that time can make it all the more beautiful.


2 comments:

Carmen said...

i am getting excited for you to come back state side and already a little nostalgic for these stories from your travels.

couldn't read part of the post because the pic was covering it!

Thon Mey said...

The Vast Space Office

This is the office has large space include over 25 showrooms with multiple designer work areas, such as a fabric library, and a pattern making room, model fitting rooms, offices, lounges and a large multi-function media room.

Leading to furniture shop in Cambodia construction materials said the whole project is sustained in the most environment-friendly performance available.

One more thing there are temperature control systems such as low flow plumbing fixtures, energy efficient appliances, not-volatile paints.

Moreover the sustain used for the furnishing works and also very efficient and clever system with day lighting sensors, that are the amount of natural daylight and electricity will be sufficient for the art work done in these office spaces.