Friday, September 2, 2011

Up Close with Angkor Thom

Day 4

Arrived safely in Siem Reap past midnight. As expected, I was fetch by my hotel tuk tuk service. Good thing, they offer free transfers, or else, I’d catch myself in the middle of nowhere again.

I booked for a single-fan room for 7usd at the Bou Savy Guesthouse. You know I'm on a tight budget so I just chose the cheapest room available.  But see what I got?... Amayzing!

My tuktuk driver politely discouraged me to catch the sunrise in the morning, because I need to wake up by 4am for that. He’s more concerned that I need to take full rest, so I can endure the whole day tour in the morning. Ok fine.

So I settled out my things, took a shower, ate my baon... then Zzzzz!

Rise and shine!

Woke up around 7am, took my shower, went downstairs for breakfast. My cheap fan room comes with  daily breakfast of your choice, one free dinner, roundtrip transfers, free souvenir maps, friendly staff – and 10% discount cherry on top!

After breakfast, tuktuk driver and I talked about our itinerary for the big day. Bou Savy Management sees to it that you're bein taken cared of  while you're stayin in their classy home, so they deploy one particular tuktuk driver to assist you with whatever you need. From your Angkor Wat tour guide, to the much needed reservation for the Apsara show dinner... to bus ticket reservation for your next journey, if ever you need one.

Anyway, you need your own tuktuk driver in exploring the Angkor Wat  Archeological Park. And there’s separate fee for the tuk tuk driver and the tour guide. You see, the tuk tuk drive will just drop you off on one site and will wait for you when you’re done exploring or camwhoring the area. The tour guide will be the one who will escort you inside the park, and will explain to you the what's, why's and how's.

In my case, I opted to have a driver and a guide. I have saved enough for my lodging, so might as well spend some amount for an ounce of knowledge about these temples. Besides, I’m travelling solo, I have this particular need for a photographer. Ahahaha.

My tuktuk driver contacted my tour guide for the day, Sem Vuthy ( After brief introduction, hi's and hello's, I'm off to the one of the highlights, if not the highlight of my trip. While on our way to the park, Ty started his much memorized spiels about Cambodian history especially Siem Reap’s.  Very fluent English, I must say.  

tuktuk for a day - 12usd
Entrance fee to the Angkor Wat Archeological Park is 20 USD, for a day tour. You'll have an instant ID that you will need show to  an attendant to each major entrance gate in the park.

We started here.

Southgate of Angkor Thom
There are five gates to the Royal city. Each gate to the Royal City is crowned with four giant faces. South Gate of Angkor Thom is often the first stop for tourist. Tuktuk driver dropped us off in the entrance, and my tour guide will just text him or call him whenever he's needed. In short, it's gonna be a walking tour all day.


Apsara dance is a traditional Khmer traditional dance. It's a dance that tells a story or conveys a message. According to my guide, during the Angkorian period,  most Apsara dancers who does performances in front of the king were the most beautiful and stunning ladies in town. 

It's very fascinating to see temple having all these very detailed and  intricate carvings. Wood carving in Paete, Laguna may be tedious even when they have help from machines, how much more than stone carving with very medieval equipments.
my guide, Ty ( 25USD for a day)
King Jayavarman VII riding an elephant
There were a lot of historians during this period, however they were not fond of writing it in a book or on any paper trails. What they usually do was to carve it on the walls.  So you'll be amazed to see all the walls, rich with carvings of different stories. Most of them tells the story about how King Jayavarman VII led his people to triumph against their enemies.

If you're not keen to have temple overload in Angkor Wat, or you may have a very tight schedule or in just case that you are to see only two temples - Bayon Temple must be the other one (Angkor Wat as the main one.)

The giant stone faces of Bayon is the most recognizable structure in Cambodian art and architecture. Here in Bayon temple area, you'll see his face from everywhere, smilling at you. He must be glad to see you visiting his ruins, yeh?

I got lost for a moment while in Bayon temple. Ty gave me 15 minutes to explore the temple myself. Since giant faces of Bayon were almost the same, I had a hard time looking which one's our supposed meeting place. Tsk tsk.

Bat Chum

In some area of Bayon temple, there were extensive carvings of  unique scenes of every day lives of Khmer people. Apart from battle scences, there were also carvings of market scenes, chess game, naughty scenes... even the common picture of  Cambodian mothers and children na nagkukutuhan sa hagdan was there. According to Ty, it's a norm for most locals in their country, especially those that are living in rural areas.

Baphuon temple is a one of the major ruins in the Angkor Thom city. It's a huge mountain temple. It's is a large Khmer temple dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva in Angkor Thom - Angkor Guide book.

There has been some extensive restoration-construction in major parts of the temple, therefore most part of it has been closed to the public for some time. But just in time for my visit, it was opened to public. Great. Or shall I say, it was opened for the French Prime Minister who visited that same day.  According to my guide, it was the French government who financially supported the restoration of the temple. 

Can you see those pillars on top of the temple? Yes, that high and that far. Good thing, I'm so into mountaineering these days, so I see no problem getting to the top. I just never thought I will be climbing a very steep-rocked-walled mountain temple, in my white-balloon skirt.

Braving those walls,  I handed my camera to my guide, and started my climb. It was never easy. Exposed to the sun, I can barely touch the stones for my support coz it was burning hot.  From the top, I can see other tourist looking down on me, as if telling me 'climbing on skirt? you sure, you're fine, love?' (best in Brit accent ahahaha). I think there were two or three tourist who took a picture of me while climbing... ganda ko lang! Wish I was able to get a their Facebook accounts and ask for a tag for those photos. Haha!

I was the only one climbing those walls. Napasubo ata ako! I wanted to just go down, I thought 'twas easier. My feet were shakin'. I felt so nervous.  What if, I slipped one step, just one step...I may not be able to set my foot back to my beloved country, alive! And just when I thought of giving up, haha, there I was... on top - completely astonished with what I saw and what I conquered
I'm on the top of the world...
There's an small altar on top of the temple, where you can lit some incense and offer prayers. While enjoying the view, and taking pleasure of freshest air around, I can't help but wonder where my guide was. My camera was with him and I can't miss such beauty with no pictures. So I looked around, and there... I saw him climbing the stairs, just behind the front wall where I climbed. Kadayaan talaga. May hagdan naman pala. Grhhh. Mind you, it's also a very steep two-way stairs.

Much as I wanted to get mad because he made me climb the rocky walls, it was worth all the heat and sweat. Ty confessed he never thought I will be able to succeed it.

The Pillars

Seeing the pillars, made me feel like I am in Athens or Rome. Haha. On the west side of the temple, lies the reclining Buddha.  It's not the usual reclining Buddha you can see at the Grand Palace in Bangkok or the one I saw in Hat Yai, which were made of gold. Because this one's made of stones. Block of stones formed into a Budhha. How genius.

Moving towards the exit, we passed by one of the most important site in the Angkor Thom city. It's the Royal Palace. It's said to be the official residence of the king. But unlike other royal residences, this one's just made of woods. A sign of the king's humility. Very ironic for a king huh? According to Ty, only the temple were made of rocks, that's how they gave much reverence to their gods.

You can never see any traces of the palace, you can't expect it so be standing still after hundred years, yeh? You will just see some ruined foundation, that will make you wonder just how grand it could have been? One noticeable structure inside the palace grounds is the Phimeanakas. It's the private temple for the king. It's one of the most beautiful temples in Angkor Thom city. It consist of a three tier pyramid monument. No stone carvings on the walls, because it was believed to be covered with gold.

There's a way you can climb the tower, but I never bother. Once is enough. Haha. 

 According to legend there was a gold tower (Phimeanakas ) inside the royal palace of Angkor the Great where a serpent-spirit with nine heads lived. Not even the wives of the King may enter the tower. The spirit appeared to the Khmer king disguised as a woman and the king had to sleep with her every night in the tower before he joined his wives and concubines in another part of the palace. If the king missed even one night it was believed he would die. In this way the royal lineage of the Khmer was perpetuated. - Wikipedia

Few steps from Phimeanakas temple, you will see the Royal Swimming Pool. It measures 125 meters long and 45 meters wide. I once saw an olympic-sized swimming pool in Los Banos, Laguna ... I think it was nothing compared to this one. 

But since this one's no-maintainance, it now became more of a pond, some waterlillies on the side, moat everywhere, todpole enjoying the green waters... simply dirty.. but this cute little boy didn't seem to mind at all.   

Ligo tayo...

You can also see one smaller pool across the Royal Pool. It's said to be the one's for the Royal Servants.

We then exited the area, and I saw our tuktuk driver waiting outside. Cool. Oh, did I mentioned there's free complimentary water in our tour. My tuktuk driver had it placed in a cooler filled with ice. Very refreshing.  'Twas pretty dead hot during my visit last July, and it's not the usual heat we have in the country. To think, according to my guide, it's rainy season. Weeeh,  di nga?  You can even barely see any signs of a rainy season. Freakin hot!

Outside the walls of the Royal Palace, all the way to the exit, you will see the Terrace of the Elephants. It's a stone terrace in front of the Royal Palace. It spans more than 300 meters along the road. Walls in the terrace were covered with carvings of elephants.

Just within the area of the Terrace of the Elephants is the Terrace of the Lepper King. Why is it called? According to my guide, it was made in honor to the king who's name I can't recall who was stricken to death with leprosy.
That ends the first part of my day tour in the Angkor Wat Archeological Park. Went to one local restaurant for lunch.

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