Cycling Angkor Wat

Let’s start this post off honestly.  I do not much like temples.  I realize this kills about 50% of things to do in any town in Asia as the people are always very proud of their temples.  I had temple fatigue before I even set foot in one.  So when deciding whether I wanted to come to Cambodia at all, Angkor Wat of course factored in.  The truth is I didn’t come because Angkor Wat would change my life with its magnificence, I came because I knew if I didn’t now it isn’t very high up on my priority list to see it otherwise.

I don’t know much about Cambodian history so I started off my visit to the Angkor National Museum.  It was quite informational if a bit dry, and I feel overpriced at $12 USD since you can wander through in a few hours.  The museum does give a good crash course on Khmer history of the glorious past.  Now I see why there is so much that I see in common with Thai and Vietnamese culture, from a time when the borders were not as they are now.

Siem Reap is about 90 degrees all year long so it is a safe bet to warrant that a tuk tuk is always a better idea.  This isn’t exactly a cheap venture though, with a $20/day park ticket, $15 tuk tuk per day, and another $20 if you want an English speaking guide.  I haven’t been one to pass up exercise even in the sweltering heat of the region, so I set off on a bicycle.

Except I came during rainy season. This does not bode well for my weather the rest of this adventure.

The only non-bicycle option I would’ve considered. Na na na na na na na, Batman tuk tuk! First there was one, who did well, so now there are many. Ah, Asia.

Although I got the best bicycles I have seen since in Asia for a buck or two. They had working gears, working brakes and this one even had some rusty suspension.

Well, if I know I’ll get temple fatigued, I’m going to start with the grand ones first! This is Bayon reflected into a giant rain puddle.

The multitude of stone heads facing the cardinal directions really was a sight to behold.

As was the multitude of tourists. The Asian tourists were best prepared for the weather because their umbrellas doubled as sunbrellas.

I just had to duck around a corner off the main path to find silence. I ran into some archaeologists doing some sort of soil study.

Some demons wrestling with a giant naga snake body. The demon heads were apparently not as popular to steal as the other heads.

I really enjoyed just wandering around such a huge national park area. I’d stumble on less man-made miracles, like this heart shaped root collecting water.

Trees grew around and all over temples. It lends an unplanned air of nature and man made mixing together to form beautiful ruins.

I may have gotten as much joy watching this child run around gleefully screaming about her plank on a string than I did clambering around this sweltering temple.

Bad tourism in action on so many levels. There were small kids selling bananas and lotus seeds to foreigners who would then feed the primates.

There’s a whole lot of moats and ponds in the various temples. Angkor Wat’s moat is particularly large.

Piles o’ rocks, stacked by size. Are they bored kids or something else? I thought it was the former til I saw them everywhere, particularly in shrines.

Angkor Wat from the back side, the only one I caught without construction.

The pouring rain meant people were hiding out in random alcoves. I was glad to be enjoying some shallow reliefs at the time. Har har har.

What they meant was, it was a Buddhist holiday. Not that the temple would close in an indeterminate amount of time. Sucks for the one day trippers.

What’s cheaper than a lawnmower? A fleet of krama wearing locals wielding machetes.

Angkor Wat from the front. The construction does not help. The French family trying to time jumping shots into puddles did help. The large amount of tourists kept making me want to photobomb everyone.

It would appear the only things being restored were ones with foreign funding who advertised their help with huge flags, banners, and displays about restoration instead of any information about the temples. I’m all for restoration, but isn’t this a little blatant that one of these isn’t original?

I’m personally OK seeing ruins in general, but particularly here if that’s the way it would’ve been without sudden international tourism interest. I did not see a single temple fully being taken care of by just Cambodian interests. Sad.

While Cambodia exhibits interesting mixes of Hinduism and Buddhism, this is just a little too much for me.

Ta Prohm is the temple famous from the Tomb Raider movies and for the trees overtaking the temple. I overheard some Asian tourists excitedly mumbling about “Ang-cho-lin-ah Cho-lie!”

I went around the back end of the temple and saw where they were just trying to stop the tree damage. Go nature go!

It was packed with tourists on the main track of Ta Prohm. I turned some random corners and ended up running into some local poor children who were collecting recyclables but also playing. Like kids anywhere, there was a bossy one telling everyone what to do. One little boy stopped to extend his hand to help me cross a deep puddle.

I walked by as a guide explained to a bunch of monks in Mandarin that a linda is a sign of fertility. Then he pointed out it’s a very graphic depiction of fertility, you pound an octagonal or cylindrical stone into the female half the linga to make the water come out. The monks giggled for a good five minutes even as they walked away.

I’m not really sure what a triple linga is for, some bizarre triplets-having fertility statue?

I think I accidentally wandered into a work site. It’s hard to tell since I don’t think they work in the wet season when everyone is farming. Apparently a lot of these statues had heads as recently as 50 years ago. Recent history hasn’t been kind to Cambodia.

I spent most of the last day just enjoying biking around shady trees, rice fields and things like these lounging water buffalo. I like seeing them when I only see ears popping out from under the water flapping.

Sunrise and sunset are supposedly spectacular. I couldn’t tell because one was much too early for me to wake and bike for and the other was always so crammed full of people I gave up.

I think the Las Vegas like resort town that Siem Reap has become to support this combined with the objectively high western prices just makes this feel like not Cambodia at all, ironically.  I already  mentioned the bad primate tourism but it just keeps going, with people who have good intentions. Even in the national park I kept running into a lot of fake orphans.  Tourist demand outstrips actual orphans in this country so poor families separate to give their kids a better shot at earning money.  Every temple has female vendors who have lungs like you have not seen before screaming the entire day asking if anyone needs water or food.  I don’t now how they do it.  I’ve seen arguments that it is because there are rules about their farming inside the national park.  However, based on the rest of the region, I suspect these women would choose to do this anyways as it is more profitable than hard labor intensive subsistence farming.

I felt a little guilty as a woman behind me in a temple that could not stop exclaiming “MAGNIFICENT! AMAZING!” for a few minutes.  I am glad I saw such beautiful buildings and I loved the ornament and relief sculptures.  However I think I had enough and I didn’t even go half way around the world to see it.  The temples may belong to the people, but I get the feeling that left to their own devices the Cambodian people would not be rushing to create sandstone new works to replace the crumbling ruins.  This would be a good sanitized version of Cambodia for anyone who just wants a cursory glance at the land.  This was not the Cambodia I came to see, just the ruins of a long gone civilization.


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