Day 5 & 6 Temples near Siem Reap
First I want to give you my general impressions of Cambodia. This is a very poor country – much poorer than Thailand or Vietnam. It is clear that many people barely make enough money to survive. Many children are begging, and many adults are constantly asking if you want to buy something, ride a tuk-tuk, or get a massage. There is very limited health care, and education is not free. The roads are barely paved, and many in the country do not have electricity or access to clean drinking water. Land mines are still a problem, and you see many people with limbs that are missing. Like the Vietnamese and Thais, the people are quiet, modest, friendly, and hard working.
The heat is stifling. It is like nothing in the US – well maybe like sitting in a steam bath. Sitting quietly in the shade, the sweat just pours out of your every pore. Being outside in the sun is almost unbearable. At night it is just uncomfortable. The temperature is in the low to mid 90’s, but the dew point is in the 70’s. We think it is muggy when the dew point is in the 50’s. Having an air conditioned bus makes all the difference. We spend 1 – 3 hours walking around the temples and then we get to go back to an air conditioned bus where we are handed a cool scented towel to wipe our faces, and a cold bottle of water. We drink a LOT of bottled water, usually at least 6 every day.
The temples here in Cambodia remind me a bit of the ruins in Peru. We had heard of Machu Picchu before we went, but we didn’t know there were hundreds of other sites in the Andes. In Cambodia, we had heard of Angkor Wat, the best preserved of the temples, but we didn’t know there are many many others. This afternoon we went to Angkor Thom. The perimeter is nine kilometers! The walls are more than 10 meters thick and 10 meters high. There is a hand-dug moat 200 meters wide that is nine kilometers long. All of these sites were built between 1,000 and 1,400 AD. Angkor Wat had a million people when London had a population of 30,000. The main temple walls at Angkor Wat are decorated with very intricate murals 10 feet high carved into the walls that go on for 1.7 kilometers! When you think of the work that went into building these temples, it is beyond belief. The stories in the murals are all from Hindu mythology. There is no trace of influence from China, like there is in Vietnam.
Yesterday we toured the Ta Prohm Temple which has been left unrestored so we could see how the forest grew over all these sites. It has been used in several movies, so all the Japanese and Chinese tourists want their pictures taken in the places featured in the movies. This morning we got up at 4 AM so we could be at Angkor Wat to watch the sun rise. As you might expect, we were not alone. Being out before the sun was up was much more comfortable. We toured the temple until almost 9 AM, when we returned to the hotel for breakfast. At 10:30 we were off to visit Angkor Thom. There are over twenty temples inside Angkor Thom. We spent 2 hours touring just one, Bayon that had many interesting reliefs. This afternoon after lunch, I took a break, while Lois went to tour a local school which wasn’t in session.