Feb 22, 2005

Day 4: Angkor Thom, some outer temples, down time

Today was another early day. Hoping to view Angkor Wat backlit by a stunning sunrise, we had arranged for a taxi to pick us up at 5:00 at our guesthouse. Sure enough, same driver as from the airport. On the way out to the temples we review with him our intended schedule. Since we wore ourselves out yesterday, a half-day of sightseeing will suffice for today. We'll be done by 10, which gives us the afternoon to rest and him the chance to pick up another possible "full-day" fare. (In hindsight, the Angkor temples deserve much more than a day and a half. If I ever return, I'd want to spend at least three days exploring the area leisurely. But we've been moving non-stop and waking up early for several days running now...)

So first the Angkor Wat sunrise. Our driver drops us off in the pitchblack out front of the main approach on the west and indicates where to meet him once the sun is out. Stupid us, we've forgotten a flashlight. Luckily an Aussie couple and their guide arrived just before us, so we follow them through the gates. It's about 5:30 now, and the ambient light allows us to pick our way across the lawn to the recommended "sunrise spot" just northwest of a reflection pool. A gaggle of Angkor-watchers is already there - half of them a Japanese tour group. Long story short: clouds to the east obscured the sun, and the reflection pool, probably much more reflective during the rainy season, was covered in pond scum. Glad we saw the morning Wat, but the sunrise was short of awe-inspiring. Rie heard a Japanese man somewhere behind us saying, "Today's is no good, either." This was his third morning in a row, apparently, and third crummy sunrise. Guess they can't all be picture perfect.

We locate our driver in the now dense throng of cars outside, and head into Angkor Thom for a morning view of the Terrace of the Elephants (first pic below), which was largely in shadows yesterday afternoon. Then out the Victory Gate, just to the north of the East Gate, and toward Ta Prohm. (Here's a map of the Angkor temples if you're interested.) Ta Prohm (second pic below) is one of the more junglified temples, and has been left more or less in that condition. It's also, I believe, where much of the Tomb Raider outdoor footage in Angkor was shot. Ta Prohm is another spot I would have liked to spend more time just soaking up the atmosphere. But we're tired by this point and no longer enjoying the sights as much as we should. And taking much fewer photos, as the lonely two below suggest. We rush off to one last stop, the older temple-mountain of Pre Rup, and return to our guesthouse just before 10am.

Rie by this time is beginning to feel physically ill on top of the emotional stress of dealing with hawkers outside the temples. And it's beginning to grow hot outside anyway, so we agree to spend the next several hours catching up on sleep and just lazing about the guesthouse.

Later in the afternoon we're feeling much refreshed and find ourselves reflecting on the joys and responsibilities of travelling in less-industrialized countries. There's talk of landmines and NGOs and what small and economically low-impact items could be handed out to the children who crowd around anyone who smells foreign. This last discussion is replicated in at least one travel discussion forum I've looked at since our return. The consensus there was pencils, pens, and the like.

Around 3 or 4 we head downtown to the Old Market area, and we wander around there for an hour or so, marvelling at the exotic fruits and such, until we settle down at the Red Piano for our first tourist-oriented meal of the trip. Actually, we stopped initially just for a drink, but the balcony atmosphere was pleasant and we were tired of moving, so drinks became snack became dinner. We stuck to the Thai and Khmer portions of the menu, and the food was not bad. As a bonus, Tiger draughts were something like a dollar until 7pm.

During the walk back to our guesthouse, we observed that security guards are ubiquitous around the bar and guesthouse districts. Comforting.


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