Cambodia 13th April 2004
Today was our earliest start; we had arranged to see Angkor Wat at sunrise so it was out of bed by 5:00am. Kong arrived about 5:30, and it was already getting light. I was getting quite concerned that we would get there after the sun had risen. Even though the sky was filling with pinks and crimsons, we did manage to arrive at the causeway to Angkor Wat long before the sun peeked from behind the temples silhouette.
There was certainly no shortage of people waiting the rising of the sun above the temple, and we set ourselves up at a couple of points to capture the sunrise. I played around with various settings on the camera and took many photos. Thank goodness for digital!
We then jumped into the car, sweat beading despite the fact the sun had just risen and drove to the Bayon to capture the faces with the morning glow. The pinkish/orangish hue gave the cold stone a lovely warmth and I couldn't believe I could be saturated at 6:30 in the morning!
We arrived then at Ta Prom shortly after 7:00 in the morning, with the sun's morning shafts filtering through the Banyon and Fig trees. As we approached the temple, a group of young boys came running out, one dragging a small car on a string that had been made from a bit of wood with soft drink bottle lids for wheels.
We spent an hour exploring the temple again, finding our way around easily and taking out time enjoying just being here. A huge orange legged spider rested on it's web near the temple wall, and children played amongst the arches.
A young boy and girl were sitting outside a temple door, fallen stones lying around the base of a huge Fig Tree. I managed to take a couple photos before the boy saw me. Once I was spotted, he immediately rattled off 5.000 riel, 4.000 riel, 3.000 riel, 2.000 riel, 1.000 riel. I didn't even get a chance to haggle the price as it dropped.
I paid instead with a smile and some friendly chatting as they lit some incense for the small broken Buddha statue inside the temple corridor.
Outside the temple in the market, a group of young children were playing music on various instruments and singing happily.
We listened for a while, then again were off through the West Gate of Angkor Tom, and this time onto Preah Khan, or the Sacred Sword.
We paid one of the temple police to guide us through the temple, where he explained how the temple was dedicated to both the Hindu Gods as well as Buddha. Most of the Buddha statues on the walls were later chiselled off at the behest of a subsequent king. We found an altar stone with the phallic symbol still in place as well as a stone stupa and a beautiful carving of one of the queens down a corridor.
Back outside in the heat we could see huge trees growing over the stone walls and delicately carved apsaras in the lintels above doorways. On the way back to the car we bought a carved mobile of a stork fishing which now hangs proudly in our dining room.
Back in Angkor Tom, people were dancing in the shade of the Banyan Trees and I was sorely tempted to join them. We returned to the Guest House for lunch, then headed off on our photo tour to Tonle Sap and Floating Villages, which was organised through our Guest House.
We followed the Siem Reap River south to Tonle Sap, passing many houses and open country side along the way. The road soon deteriorated to the point where I'd been down better 4WD tracks in Australia, passing along a very long causeway to eventually arrived at the village of Chong Khnies. We travelled by boat down the lake, passing many fish traps along the way. The boat was tailed by many small birds which darted into the water looking for fish disturbed by the boats wake.
We soon arrived at Kompong Plouk, where we passed between floating houses built of bamboo and similar. Life living on the water must be amazing; dogs, pigs, chickens and people all sharing their house together. There were also many crocodile pens floating in the water containing crocs of differing sizes.
We continued passing in between the houses, stopping at one house for a chat and to purchase various food items from the grocery woman in her small boat. I guess people learn at a very young age the danger of the water, or how to swim as there were infants walking freely on the houses 2 metres above the water with no railings, and young children rowing boats between the houses.
We returned back the same path to Chong Khnies, heading into the wind resulting in most everybody on board the boat getting soaked. It was actually drier sitting up on the bow, whilst the remaining people in the boat found what shelter they could from the spray behind coats and life jackets. We visited the Gecko Centre, which had displays on the various wildlife, flora and fishing of Tonle Sap. We even passed a floating Catholic Church!
After watching a glorious sunset over the lake, we returned to the shore and were accosted by small children begging. This was probably the worst place for begging that I had come across in Cambodia. There was a little begging in Siem Reap and around the temples from people disabled from the war but usually people were selling things rather than outright begging. Here, small children were walking around hands outstretched asking for money.
New Year celebrations were in full swing, with lots of loud music and colourful lights, the trip back to Siem Reap especially memorable for the many houses along the way lit with many coloured lights similar to Christmas back home.