Day tour at the Angkor Temples

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

“(Angkor Wat) is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of.” That was what Antonio da Madalena, a Portuguese and one of the first Western visitors to the temple.

Henri Mouhot, the French naturalist and explorer who popularized the site in the West through the publication of travel notes, wrote: “One of these temples—a rival to that of (King) Solomon and erected by some ancient Michelangelo—might take an honorable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome, and presents a sad contrast to the state of barbarism in which the nation is now plunged.”

It is no wonder that foreigners flock to see Angkor Wat (which means “Temple City” or “City of Temples” in Khmer). Most of our visitors are Koreans, our guide said. Chinese is next, then Japanese, and finally Europeans -- in that order.


The tourism office of Cambodia describes Angkor Wat in these words: “… In its beauty and state of preservation, (Angkor Wat) is unrivaled. Its mightiness and magnificence bespeak a pomp and a luxury surpassing that of a Pharaoh or a Shah Jahan, an impressiveness greater than that of the Pyramids, an artistic distinctiveness as fine as that of the Taj Mahal.”

Actually, Angkor Wat was the last temple we visited. I was one of the three journalists to attend an international conference in Siem Reap. Since we arrived late at night and the following day was still free, we decided to take a tour to Angkor Wat, which was about 20 minutes away from the hotel where we were staying. We told the person at the hotel’s front office that we were interested to go to Angkor temples.

He contacted someone by phone and after waiting for about 45 minutes, we were introduced to a certain Mr. Phan, who was tour guide. For US$74, it was a good bargain (imagine this: a tour guide, a driver, and a vehicle) for the three of us. Plus, there was an entrance fee of US$20 per person.

We left the hotel at 9 in the morning and our first stopover was the Bayon, a well-known and richly decorated Khmer temple at Angkor. Its most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and massive stone faces on the many towers which jut out from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak.

Angkor-scholar Maurice Glaize, author of The Monuments of the Angkor Group, describes the Bayon “as but a muddle of stones, a sort of moving chaos assaulting the sky.”

We were already when we got out from the temple but it was good that our driver was already waiting for us. In addition, he had prepared bottled water for us. It was such a relief as we were all thirsty.

Our next stopover was the Ta Prohm, which as seductive as Lara Croft. Yes, this was the place where Tomb Raider was filmed. The Lonely Planet described it in these words: “It is a series of dark galleries and pillars held hostage under the iron clasp of gigantic roots. The walls are decorated with carvings of sensuous celestial nymphs with smaller roots crawling across them like a rash.”

Unlike most Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm has been left in much the same condition in which it was found: “the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor’s most popular temples with visitors.”

The trees growing out of the ruins are perhaps the most distinctive feature of Ta Prohm, and “have prompted more writers to descriptive excess than any other feature of Angkor.” Here’s one from Angkor scholar Glaize: “On every side, in fantastic over-scale, the trunks of the silk-cotton trees soar skywards under a shadowy green canopy, their long spreading skirts trailing the ground and their endless roots coiling more like reptiles than plants.”

In 1992, the United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) inscribed Ta Prohm on the World Heritage List.

The Sanskrit inscriptions on the walls said the temple held thousands of pearls, precious stones and golden dishes weighing more than 500 kilograms.

It was almost lunch time when we finished marveling the temples of Ta Prohm. “It’s time for us to walk a long distance again,” our guide told us. “You mean another hike?” I inquired. He nodded.

“Can we have lunch first?” I answered. “I think we are running out of energy.” Imelda agreed. “We can rest at the restaurant while waiting for our foods,” she suggested.

And that was what we did -- for almost an hour.

“I think we need to go now,” our guide said. “Angkor Wat is not crowded right now. In fact, there may not be people around so we can see the temple in its glory.”

Although we were tired, we agreed.

You can go there via tuk-tuk, a motorcycle with a cabin attached to the rear. Since automobile traffic is still not that bad -- unlike in Bangkok, Thailand -- tuk-tuk is the most common form of urban transport. You can hire a tuk-tuk and driver by the day. Be sure to negotiate first.

If you have not ridden an elephant yet, try to do so while you are outside of the temples. There are restaurants outside the temples, too. Coconut drinks are available -- so are bottled waters.

If you see some monkeys around (the temples are surrounded by forests), don’t try to eat or you end up without food as they might snatch what you are eating.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on March 06, 2014.


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