Today, we finally made it to the famed Angkor Wat complex bright and early. We booked an all-day tour of the major temples, including Angkor Wat, the ancient South Gate and city of Angkor Thom, and then several other temples in the complex.
Perhaps the best part of our day was actually getting to speak to our guide about his feelings regarding Cambodia, especially hearing his story. His father narrowly avoided getting killed in the civil war; all five of his father’s siblings died in the conflict. His wife lost both her parents, and their children “would be the brightest” if they had access to full education. They fortunately get free supplies for school because both children are first in their class, but he recognized that teachers get paid much less than they should, often have to give half of their earnings to the principals of the schools, and that children can even have to bribe their teachers with around $5 a day to gain their attention. For children whose parents work as migrant workers in Thailand and aren’t home for the majority of the month, this becomes even more difficult as they get teased for not being able to pay these small bribes or completing their homework.Without education, children cannot understand the government; he believes that better education would lead to greater governmental change and usher in a new and more prosperous time for Cambodia.
He himself worked as a teacher for two and a half years (no doubt he did a fantastic job) but admitted that the pay couldn’t provide enough. Now, he works 5-6 days a month as a tour guide in the low season and 15-18 days a month during the high season; he says the key to being able to support himself now is budgeting (at a rate of about $500-$1800 a month, assuming that people tip as generously as we did). This is not to mention his insights into religion; he’s a Buddhist, and kept reiterating that whatever happens in his life, he’s the luckiest man.
These are just a few of the small anecdotes we heard; throughout the day we learned a good deal about him and his family, as well as the village he grew up in. This is not to mention at all the vast amounts of information he told us about each temple we visited; unfortunately the names and dates largely escape me so I haven’t included them here (and I’m kind of tired and trying to blog before dinner) but hopefully the pictures illuminate a small part of what we saw today!
Angkor Wat was clearly beautiful, and a really fascinating place to explore with our private guide. He gave us great, detailed information about the construction and cleaning process that the temple has been through, including the acid wash it received in the 20th century when they tried to remove the lichens from the surface of the buildings, giving it the distinctive blackish color. The carvings of the aspara dancers and the ascetics were incredible; their preservation over all this time is clearly remarkable.
It’s also interesting how the temple has been used in more recent times- during the Cambodian civil war people hid in the temple complex and the walls show clear markings of the areas where the bullets struck the buildings, and there are inscriptions and graffiti from those hiding. All of the temples we visited also reflect the active Buddhist population of Cambodia (and the Buddhist tourists who visit) with shrines in almost every temple.
Information about the civil war was actually very forthcoming from our guide, who was really a great storyteller and not afraid to give us the dirty details in order to give us a better understanding of the cultural impact of Cambodia’s political economy. For example, I asked whether or not the $20 admission every tourist pays (7,000 of them/day) goes towards the restoration of the sites, and it turns out that 75% of the net income actually goes to the Vietnamese private company that manages the ticketing. They were supposed to switch to giving the net to the Cambodian government in 2016, but so far that hasn’t happened. We also saw corruption when we smelled cigarette smoke in the complex and then realized that the police officer on watch was the culprit.
South Gate & Angkor Thom
Angkor Thom was the city constructed near Angkor Wat, home of the beautiful Bayon temple (my second favorite temple of the day). The South Gate represented one of the five entrances to the city and the entrance is lined by a row of demons and a row of Buddhas.
I loved the look of the Bayon temple. The heads are incredibly interesting and represent different happy Buddhas. Throughout the symmetrical complex, there are many different heads, 4 per tower.
The picture above is actually featured on the Riel currency here.
The Baphuon temple was also very interesting, although slightly less impressive than the first two in terms of preservation. However, it was very beautiful and obviously a testament to the vast abilities of the rulers of the time.
After Baphuon, we went to lunch at a traditional Khmer restaurant run by a family who used to cook for tourists and then hired other villagers to make a full restaurant. Perry got the beef loc lac and I had the Khmer version of stir fried noodles.
Bantey Srei was officially my favorite temple; its made of pink sandstone, and absolutely beautiful. The temple itself is fully Hindu, and pre-dates the Angkor period. The temple is called the Lady Temple because it exudes qualities of a good woman: beautiful, elegant, etc. My photos here aren’t doing it justice, unfortunately.
Pre Rup, the Crematorium.
This temple was the place where they would cremate the kings and royal family according to Buddhist tradition; our guide explained many different ways that Buddhists dispose of their dead, including water burials and jungle burials (both of which have been banned now due to disease in Cambodia).
This is the temple which was made famous by the Tomb Raider movie, which also brought acclaim to Cambodia and draws in a lot of tourists. It seems than any means of bringing in more money is a clear victory for the people of Cambodia, who really do live in poverty and deal every day with the aftermath of the civil war.
It is also called the jungle temple, due to the trees which have rooted themselves in the different buildings. Our guide also pointed out the ants that locals sometimes eat on top of their salads.
Overall, I cannot stress enough how great of a day we had exploring and learning from our guide, Seng Dalign. I overall appreciate now that life in Cambodia literally takes a village; so to pay it forward, if anyone is looking for a great guide or to teach English in Cambodia (he also volunteers as a teacher, as he used to work as one but didn’t get paid enough to support his family), feel free to reach out to me or to book through http://www.angkorhappytour.com.
One thought on “Angkor Wat, Ankor Thom, Bayon, Baphuon, Bantey Srei, Pre Rup and Ta Phrom, Siem Reap, Cambodia”
Beautiful pics – glad the guide was so good.