I’ve landed in Siem Reap, Cambodia and begun my exploration of the ruins of Angkor. This was the center of the Khmer civilization during the 9th-15th centuries and there are hundreds of temple and city sites in this region. At least two dozen that are in the best shape or have been restored are close together and can be visited at the Angkor Archeological Park just north of Siem Reap. This is the final stop on my journey and I have left enough time to not be rushed. When I plan a trip, I try to work in enough relaxation time with the sightseeing. The last thing you want is to feel like you’re on the tourist death march and not on vacation! It turns out I had a little bonus time here at the end of the schedule, so I bought a three day pass for the park and I’m taking a “free day” in between each temple day. Another cooking class is on Wednesday!
For my first day, I decided to do some of the smaller temples on the outer loop instead of heading right to Angkor Wat, considered “the grand daddy of them all” to quote Keith Jackson… I wanted to build up the awe factor a little. I saw eight temples in a little more than a half day. Made it back to the hotel in plenty of time to hit the pool before mosquito hour.
I hired the tuk-tuk driver, Kean, that I used from the airport. His English was understandable and I had a good first impression of him. That says a lot around here! I tell him what time to pick me up at the hotel and off we go for the day! During much of this trip I’ve done lots of walking or rented a bicycle for my touring. Walking Angkor is ridiculous and although biking is possible, I’m glad I went for the tuk-tuk. It’s nice to have a shady, breezy ride in between sites and as a solo female I did like having someone around who knew where I was and was waiting for me to return. The ruins felt totally safe, don’t get me wrong. It was just nice to have someone watching for me.
The sun is so intense here that I went for coverup rather than slathering sunscreen all over for days on end. The UV index here this week is 15. Anything over 11 is considered “extreme” and for someone fair skinned like me, that means you get sunburned in 10 minutes. So I brought SPF 70 (don’t forget the back of your hands!) and some great lightweight ExOfficio pieces from REI. Plus, if you have decent coverup you don’t have to worry about guidelines for visiting religious sites (which Angkor officially is). I’ve noticed in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, you really are supposed to have shoulders and knees covered for Wats, royal palaces, etc. Being that none of these cultures are confrontational by nature, I have yet to see anyone wearing a tank top and shorts approached about this rule. But if you show up like that to enter a Wat, you have to realize that you are disrespecting them and their place of worship. Now, you’re also supposed to remove your hat, but it’s freaking 95 degrees at Angkor and I hope no one would mind if I kept it on.
One of Preah Khan’s entrance causeways’ naga head and asura (demon) sculptures from the “Churning of the Ocean of Milk,” a popular myth in Southeast Asia. I’ve seen it again and again. Here’s some background if you’re interested. It basically involves a long row of gods on one side and demons on the other, both tugging on a naga serpent. And it’s usually two LONG rows! I’ve seen some sculptures with over 20 figures on each side. The people must be pretty jazzed about this myth because the amount of work involved in creating a painting, carving or sculpture of it is significant.