Here’s Part II of our time in Cambodia including Angkor Wat and running into a recognisable Canadian.
And quickly the morning came. I was in charge of the 4:30 alarm, which I came dangerously close to completely botching. My phone, therefore also our alarm, died during the night and if it weren’t for my impeccable body clock (or drinking so much water the day before that my bladder roused me from a coma) we would have missed our date. Crisis averted! And by 5:15 we were in the tuk tuk taking the short jaunt to the gates of Angkor Wat.
Wat literally means “temple grounds” in Khmer. And Angkor can be loosely translated to mean “city.”
The largest Hindu temple complex in the world, it is estimated that the “City of Temples” took only around thirty-five years to complete as it was built during the reign of Suryavarman II (ruled 1113 – c. 1150) with the sole purpose of ensuring his entrance into heaven and serving as his tomb after death. Therefore, it was of the utmost importance that this temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, be completed before his death in order to guarantee the king’s ascension into heaven.
Absolutely, the only way to see Angkor Wat is at sunrise. We arrived at the grounds in total darkness with a couple hundred other people and stumbled our way to the main temple. There was something mystical about being unable to see the nose in front of my face, just trusting the path that we were told would take us to the largest religious monument in the world.
As day broke, we found the sweet spot. The best place to watch the sun rise over the temple’s five great towers was actually in front of everyone, closer to the ruins but still a spectacular vantage point. It was a moving experience and truly the best way to witness the monolith of Angkor Wat as its greatness was revealed against the backdrop of the rising yellow, orange and purple sun.
Through some extensive research, we knew that post-sunrise, we were to avoid the main, spectacular temple and instead first see some of the smaller temples that make up the “city.” In order to truly appreciate the magnificence of Angkor Wat, it must be seen last.
We moved against the crowd, caught up with our tuk tuk driver, Sinat, and moved on to the lesser-known temples.
We easily spent six hours on the grounds and barely saw a third of the ruins! It is impossible to explain the monstrosity that is Angkor Wat but imagine – not only was this vast masterpiece completed in a single lifetime, the intricacies of the bas-relief artwork adorning the walls must have taken an expert hand.
These works of art are spectacular today but one can only conceive of its beauty upon completion in the twelfth century when the carvings were adorned in gold. Famished, having only noshed on bananas that morning, we finished the “Small Tour Circuit” of temple-seeing and grabbed a delicious Khmer lunch upon the recommendation of Sinat. He then took us to the back entrance to the grounds of Angkor Wat and we began our journey into the rear end of “the city of temples.”
Eight or nine hours after waking up in the pitch black, we returned to the guesthouse for a mid-afternoon power snooze. The combination of the early morning and the scorching afternoon heat tuckered us all out and we were ready for some downtime.
We awoke hours later and headed out to check out some more of the markets, grabbed a quick snack and then went over to the beautiful lounge at the Heritage Suites Hotel for some live jazz and happy hour drinks with our Canadian friend, Meech, whom we were fortunate enough to bump into the night before.
Meech introduced us to two more Canadians who were on break in South East Asia before heading back to school at the Royal Military College in Kingston, ON. They are training to be pilots! It was so great to compare notes with some Canadian faces. Although we had never met before, as tends to always be the case with meeting Canadians overseas, there was an instant camaraderie and bond we all shared. (And I found out when we all added each other to Facebook after the fact that one of our RMCers actually went to high school with my cousins in Orleans.)
Bagheera and I have met very few Canadians so far during our travels, surprisingly enough! Perhaps during the Canadian summer months we’ll see more.
After a lovely start to our evening, we moved back down to Pub Street for some more drinks. Bagheera happened upon a flyer in the bathroom stall for a “hip hop club” so, naturally, we decided to try our hand at navigating the city using the terrible map printed on the poster.
With relative ease we came upon the club, sat down outside for a drink and after each of us took our turns rotating through the club portion of the venue we decided that the place was in no way a “hip hop” club.
We were the only foreigners there, the dance floor was littered with K Pop fans and was made all the more intimidating by the excessive use of lasers and strobe lights. To top it all off, the music was anything but hip hop or rap or R&B or anything resembling any of those genres.
We quickly downed our “Special Hip Hop Pitcher” which wasn’t so exceptional. It didn’t take a liquor specialist to determine it was just vodka and Red Bull. Skipping back across the bridge to Pub Street, we danced the night away to some more familiar (if not hip hop) tunes.
*For a more complete look at our tour of Angkor Wat, check out the gallery below