(by Alistair Fabius)
After Pow proved trustworthy and befriended us, meeting us as promised the next morning at our overpriced hotel to take us to a much cheaper guesthouse, we had our own private tuk tuk tour us around Angkor Wat. We gave ourselves three days to see the temples spread out over parts of the vast ancient Khmer empire built some 800 to 1200 years ago. Pow layed out a plan for us and we trusted him with his wisdom.
With the blistering heat and sun already pouring down on us, we departed our guesthouse at 9am. Our first stop was Banteay Kdei Temple, across the road from Sra Srang, the royal bathing pond (more like a mini lake). You can literally climb all over the ancient ruins that make up the temple, and security doesn’t even bat an eye. Like almost every site at Angkor, this place was packed with tourists, so we didn’t spend much time collecting our thoughts and relishing the moment, rather we snapped a few dozen photos and moved on to the next jaw dropping site.
Our next stop was Pre Rup, followed by Eastern Mebon, two pyramid style temples with steep inclining steps taking you right to the top (or close enough to it). Mebon (if my memory serves me correct) was adorned with elephant statues on every corner. And like every other site at Angkor, it was also decorated with lion statues with almost every one missing it’s upper jaw. Once again we spent little time gazing, snapped our photos, and on to the next.
Ta Som was our next stop, followed by Neak Poan, a tower inside a pond, surrounded by four more ponds, each with a differnt animal statue facing outwards. To get there from the road, we had to walk down a narrow boardwalk for roughly 200m, with only a small viewing place from which you could take pictures. Unlike the rest of the sites, Neak Poan was off limits to tourists, so once again, a few quick pics and off we went. It was at this point Pow realized we meant business, as he anticipateded this portion of the tour would take the better part of he day; it wasn’t even 12 o’clock.
Next was Preah Khan, a huge temple with long corridors still intact (and packed with more tourists). One of Renee’s and my favourites, we walked through it and then took the scenic route back walking around the surrounding walls to meet Pow at our tuk tuk. This was followed by a stop for lunch inside the North gate of Angkor Thom. Pow took us to a place operated by his family where we were served authentic Cambodian dishes, with one of them even served in a cocout. By far the most amazing dishes we’d eaten so far.
After lunch we began exploring the 13 square km of Angkor Thom, which encompassed probably the most magnificant sites I’ve ever layed eyes on. Of the many temples and terraces we explored, Bayon and Baphuon temple were the most mind blowing to say the least. Bayon was huge, with its hundreds of massive ominous faces atop huge bas-reliefs, it was breathtaking. Of course it was also littered with tourists,but again you could literally climb all over the structure, bringing you back 800 years and making you wonder how on earth anything like this could have ever been built with such primitive technology – Elephants, a local 10 year old told us, trecking massive stones from over 50km away. And if Bayon didn’t stop you in your tracks, Baphuon temple sure would. It was insane, a massive temple in pyramid style offering an epic view of Angkor Thom’s surroundings.
For once, we took as long to explore as Pow had intended, and we we’re off to our last temple of the day, a sunset viewing atop Phnom Bakheng. Unfortunately this temple was packed with even more tourists than ever, and with heat exhaustion creeping in we opted out on sticking around for the sun to set. We clambered back down after a few quick camera shots, and with no suprise to Pow, we made haste and booked it back into town. Day 1 complete and we kicked some serious Angkor ass, as Pow said, “fuckin eh!”.