Saturday, October 10, 2015

Day 81 - Temples day 1: Arrival in Cambodia and Surprise Visit to Angkor Thom

For our 8 o'clock air trip to Siem Reap in Cambodia we had to get up very early (at 04:20!). A few minutes after 5 AM our shuttle arrived and dropped us off at the airport. Amazing how full the streets and motorways in Bangkok were even before 6 AM! Fortunately our hotel had prepared four take-away breakfast boxes for us, so that we didn't have to starve. As we had distributed our stuff over our four bags before, no bag weighted more than 21 kg. And because of too little sleep my sister and I had one hour of giggling in the plane. I missed that so much!

Although Bangkok Airways is a low-cost carrier, they served a not-so-bad breakfast. My father could however not enjoy it because he spent the complete hour flying time for filling altogether twelve forms for our immigration in Cambodia. The forms were quite complex because we opted for visa on arrival, and it was important to make no mistakes in order to avoid trouble with the immigration officials (they often invent unwritten rules like "we don't have another copy of forms, please pay").
The immigration was not problematic although some ten minutes were needed to have about eight people check and process the visa application like in a manufacture. In the end they told us "you don't have passport photos with you, please pay". If we had passport photos, they would probably have invented another reason to get some extra dollars.

We were greeted at the arrival door by our guide who seemed to be excited that his customers had really arrived (that means income) and that it is not a group of pensioners, but a family.
Since the hotel was not ready for early check-in (it was around 09:30), we were surprised by a spontaneous tour that actually was planned for the afternoon. It seems that Thai cars don't even produce seat belts, except for the driver, because nevertheless nobody uses it.

We spent our first temple day at Angkor Thom, the area that was built in the 11th century as the second capital after the Rolous area (see day 83), but before Angkor Wat (see day 82). The first thing of Angkor Wat we saw was the bridge of the 54 demons (and 54 gods to have the balance) as well as the south gate of Angkor Thom - including a band of apes, including a pig transport on motorbikes (three pigs per motorbike) and including a naughty ape that stole a lotus bud and a banana ;-)

On the left and right side 54 demons (pulling a face) and 54 gods (smiling)

The first temple was Bayon. The nicest thing here is that it was build as a Buddhist temple (in contrast to the earlier and later Hindu temples, because Hindu and Buddhist religion always changed with the new king, but always alternately) so that you see large stone Buddha faces everywhere in the temple. Our second temple was the private temple of the king that you enter via a bridge ("rainbow bridge") over an artificial lake that represents the proto-ocean. After it was cloudy and even looked rainy in the morning, the weather improved significantly. Good for the photos, but bad for us because we were still dressed for airplane travel (long trousers, long sleeves, closed shoes), not for temple climbing in the sauna. Anyway, the decent from the king's temple brought a nice surprise because the entire back wall of the temple is a huge lying Buddha.

From the king's temple, we walked over to his palace precinct. Behind the palace area, there were two large pools (one for the several hundred wives and concubines, one for the king) and two wonderful terraces with relievo: One with relievo of Hindu legends including the nine-headed snake (that turned into a beautiful woman and vice versa) and one with many, many nearly life-size elephants.

Our lovely tour guide explaining the relievo

The stairway to the third grade (king only, because the kind is god) is very steep.

If you look closely you recognize the Buddhas face, tilted 90 degrees, because he's lying on his side. This is one of the walls building the temple.

After the surprise three-and-a-half hour temple tour, we were brought to our hotel and could move into our rooms. The hotel is great (except that we froze to death during the night, and had to dress up like polar bears at 4 AM), and it seems that we are the only non-Chinese guests. After having a quick shower, we checked TripAdvisor and walked some 10 minutes to a little family restaurant that surprised us with friendly hosts and a cheap menu of good-tasting Khmer/Thai dishes.

Siem Reap is a busy town with somewhat chaotic (but totally relaxed and attentive, that means more or less safe) traffic and the strange habit of advertising household appliance sales with huge loudspeakers and mega loud music. The main means of transportation are motorbikes (for 1-3 people) or tuk tuks - motorbikes with trailers for up to four/five passengers.

After returning from our afternoon lunch, my father and my sister wanted to check out the hotel pool. All of a sudden a strong thunderstorm surprised us, and it became night in only about 5-10 minutes. I have never seen such a fast transition from daylight to pitch black night.

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