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An occasionally belligerent mother of four and an autism parent / advocate who believes that traveling, good food and good company are vital to keep one sane. I've worked as a news writer/newscaster, a quality systems auditor, a ISO9001 consultant, an FM radio DJ, a Filipino tutor, TOEFL reviewer and have gone into the food industry both as an entrepreneur and as a mommy chef, giving a sponsored demo on healthy cooking in a mall and on local TV. My favorite job however, is being a mom and a wife.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Move Over Lara, Here Comes Aya - Our Temple Tour in Siem Reap

 Angkor Thom's Bayon
A trip to Siem Reap NORMALLY involves visiting the fabulous temples. I stress the word as some young backpackers might disagree and say it's the "mostly legal" pot sessions in the area :P

though it's off season for tourists, there were still a lot
Laughing aside, the highlight of visiting Siem Reap is seeing the ancient world as it is and hearing about how it was.

Senchey the tour guide
After a day of light shopping activities, we booked a guide from our hotel for $35. The legit guides normally wear peach colored, long sleeved shirts and are adequately adept at your language of preference. In this case, English.

Angkor Wat's a short ride from the city proper
We were told by the hotel guest relations officer that since we had MAX with us, a taxi service would be more comfortable for us. Of course, we already told MAX's favorite tuktuk driver, Sarath, the night before, that we would be availing his services to head off to the nearby temples ($15).

overcast and cool, just the way we like our temple tour day
We left the hotel, sans stroller,  at 9 in the morning, and was welcomed by an overcast day.

the Angkor Pass is a must have in visiting the temples of Siem Reap
It took less than 30 minutes to reach the ticketing pass booths for getting our Angkor pass. This is the minimum requirement in visiting the temples. You can't ask somebody to get the tickets for you. Personal appearance is required, as your picture will be printed out on the tickets, to avoid unscrupulous "sharing" of the said pass.The photographs will be taken onsite and are not valid after the expiry date, even if you didn't use em at all.

tourism personnel (under the umbrella) are stationed in all the temples and will check your tickets
Passes come in 3 durations and prices (all prices in USD):

1 day pass - $20/person
3 day pass/valid for one week - $40/person
7 day pass/valid for one month - $60/person

Only cash is accepted. Forget about begging them to take your credit card. The pass is non refundable too and only includes visiting of the temples and use of it's sanitary facilities (when and where available).

perfect day for a tuktuk ride
Since MAX was below 12, he was not required to buy a pass. Our guide, Sanchey, being Cambodian and all, also got to see the sites for free. The passes will definitely be checked prior to entry in all the major temple sites you'll be heading off to (Angkor Wat, Ta Phrom, Bayon etc).

The process' length would depend on the number of people there. Since it was an off peak season, we were in and out of the place under 5 minutes - tops.


The 15 minute drive to Angkor Thom was quite cool. It got even cooler, as there are more trees in that area. A light windbreaker or shawl are good things to bring if you're riding a tutktuk to the place.

our first glimpse of Angkor Wat
On our way to Angkor Thom, we passed by Angkor Wat. We were told that Angkor Wat would be best visited in the afternoon, just in case it rains, as it's spacious interiors are fully enclosed.

wild monkeys by roadside
Nearing the area, we saw a lot of monkeys scampering on the roadside. We only stopped by for a moment to take a picture or two, within the vehicle. Given that these animals are quite used to humans - who pet and feed them, you still wouldn't want the possibility of an animal attack or being "robbed" by these playful mammals.

gods vs demons @ Bayon
Before entering the ancient city of Angkor Thom, we stopped at the bridge and checked out the headless demons (right side) and gods (left side) guarding the pathway. Our pictures were taken beside the demons, with the guide romanticizing the act, saying that gods belong on the right of the demons.

the gods guarding Bayon
Being the last and most enduring capital city of the ancient Khmer world, there are several temples here that have mostly withstood the test of time. Inside it's walls, you will find the following structure:  Bayon, Phimeanakas, Baphuon, Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King, Prah Palilay, Tep Pranam and Prasat Suor Prat. You could go through all of these in half a day.

at the bottom of Bayon
The first on our adventure was the Bayon temple. Expect to climb steep wooden steps, and rough, uneven sandstone blocks. (To the woman who wore 6 inch stilettos and a peach chiffon cocktail dress while carrying that hugeArtsy LV bag: what were you thinking?!).

pretty steep climb

no vertigo here

blocks being prepped for restoration
We entered it through it's east gate, where the short walk from the tuktuk parking area, is probably the easiest path you'll walk on in the entire structure.

5 smiling faces :)
Built 100 years after Angkor Wat, it's the next most amazing temple to see after the former, with it's 2000 faces carved on solid rock and 54 towers rising to the sky.

war between ancient Khmer and Vietnam

standing still

framed by Apsaras

hydrate or faint

no such thing as a fast getaway


tribute to the gods
It is a Buddhist temple, with pillars, surrounded by 4 faces, representing the omnipresent god. Bas reliefs at the first 2 areas tell of the battles, of a history built upon the blood of it's enemies, and it's people. Personally, it's my favorite temple.

Terrace of the Leper King

Tep Pranam (?)
After going back to where we started (but not before Phil took pictures of the Terrace of the Leper King, Preah Palilay and Tep Pranam)), we walked through the woods and ended up in Baphuon.

tourism personnel (bottom left) check tickets and age of folks - particularly kids,  entering the place
An impressive bridge leads up to this temple.

 1st level - done!
Our guide, however, felt compelled to walk under the shade, though the heat from the sun was still quite mild.

across the holy waters, lies Baphuon


steeeeeep climb ahead!


at the top of Baphuon. Check out the bridge below
Baphuon can be an even steeper climb. So steep that children are not allowed inside the structure. After the carrying and climbing, MAX and I sat at its front lawn, while Phil and our guide entered the temple.
holes in the stones were precisely cut to hold pegs,  for stacking purposes. Sort of like Lego
After what seemed like half an hour of resting on the giant cut stones at the grounds of Baphuon, Phil and Senchey were back, and ushered us to walk once more, into the woods.

After walking down a short yet steep slope, we came upon a wall.

a wall that has probably seen many curfew breaking teens ;-)

carry, walk, carry, walk - my mantra for almost 8 hours
Entering a small foot gate, we were surround by so many huge kapok trees. We were now in the shadow of the Hindu temple, Phimeanakas.


Phimeanakas
I saw the stairs and thought that carrying MAX through and up this structure, would not do my back any favors.We decided not to explore it any further.

excited to see the Victory gate, MAX finally runs off


run was too much for him :P

thanks Tony Ganzalez's FitStar for getting me in shape to lift my son for HOURS
Walking a few more yards, we entered the impressive Victory gate, that led to the Terrace of the Elephants, or where the ancient kings would watch processions and where elephants would  perform for royalty. From this vantage point, one can see Prasat Suor Prat, or a series of twelve, nearly identical towers spanning south of the eastern wall of Angkor Thom.

Terrace of the Elephants with Prasat Suor Prat in the background
After MAX slipped on the muddy elephant grounds at the bottom of the terrace, we were just happy that we had reached the end of part 1 of 3 in our temple run. At this point, the sun was starting to come out from behind the clouds.

Tomb Raider with Ta Phrom in the background. photo courtesy of  Paramount Pictures
Part 2 began with another short ride, through bumpy roads, to a temple featured in the Angelina Jolie hit, Tomb Raider.

at the Main entrance of Ta Phrom
Unlike most of the temples we had visited earlier, this temple was pretty much left as it was originally found, with only the addition of walkways and structural support.

putting down roots
Upon arriving at it's gates, expect mini restaurants, sanitary facilities and lots and lots of aggressive, English speaking vendors/street urchins who can't seem to take the word "Ot teh!" ("No" in Khmer) as an answer.

the spung tree could crush rocks over time. It can even grow over another spung tree, killing the original one in the process
As high as the other temples were, Ta Phrom is flat in comparison. The unique feature of the place however, are the spung trees that have sprouted in, around and ON the place.

so what's the plan?

it's quite plausible that not all temples have been discovered, as with the place we didn't visit - Beng Melea

if found, please return to Tiffany and co.


it's not marketing when I say that wearing Sanuks was the best idea I had all day
As with nearly all the other temples, bas reliefs and Apsara (goddesses) carvings decorate the walls and columns of this place. The temple is a bit muddy in the inside, with most parts of the flooring, covered in wooden walkways. I must say, the huge roots of the strangler trees as well as the awesome spung tree, have given so much character to this place.

everyone wants to have a photo where Angie's pic (see above) was shot
good luck in finding a weed killer for this monster
After going around the inside of Ta Phrom, be prepared for another 5 minute power walk. I think it took me 10 minutes, as, once again, I was carrying our exhausted child, MAX. Poor Phil was still suffering from the stress of Baphuon, compounded by his recently fractured and dislocated arm. At the end of the pathway, we were once again reunited with our tuktuk.

our guide said that these trees were cleared in recent past. They just grow back real fast
We then rode off to Khmer Wooden House for a much deserved rest and some overpriced Khmer cuisine.

tourist trap that charges $5.50 (US) for a plate of fries :P They take Visa and Mastercard
After a much needed rest in an air-conditioned room, my lifting powers were once again restored and I was ready to experience all that Angkor Wat had to offer.

What Wat!!!
Angkor Wat must be the most iconic structure to symbolize the glory of the ancient Khmer. This Hindu then Buddhist temple complex was the capital of the Khmer empire. After various researches were conducted, it was surmised that this was also the mausoleum of King Suyavarman II.


on the bridge to immortality

bugs for snacking, sold at the bridge - Phil loved these spicy critters
Entering this structure from the front, a great man made lake/moat surrounds this breath taking monunment. A wide, seemingly sturdy bridge connects us mortals to the world of the gods (as what temples were alleged to be, in the olden times).

there was no cement back then. wonder how they got to precisely stamp this design on the rock? #AncientAliens

offerings to the gods

Vishnu

after the long bridge, we're inside the gates. Waaaay behind us is the main temple of Angkor Wat

walking to what could be the length of 2 football fields-AFTER the bridge

still walking...

almost there
Entering this temple mountain is truly an otherworldly experience. The vastness, the sheer intricacy and detail that went into it's construction is simply unfathomable. As an awed out mortal, I can compare walking it (I'll get to the climbing of the stairs later) to walking the length of 3 football fields (a conservative estimate). Climbing it's 3 levels, while carrying a 20+ kg child...I swear, Lara Croft's got nothing on me as far as endurance goes :P My month long body weight training led up to this one moment: reaching the bottom of Angkor Wat's 3rd tier. The 3rd tier does require actual climbing, which can be done by scaling the almost vertical steps of the tower. I threw in the towel at this point. Besides, it was unsafe for MAX too.

defying gravity - the ceiling at Angkor Wat, sans cement

royal pool at the 1st level

shrine to Buddha
The 1st and 2nd tiers had the usual bas reliefs, carvings and precise engineering as everything was put together without cement. You'll also find the royal swimming pools (drained), one each on both levels, and dedicated rooms to both Vishnu and Buddha. The harmonious blending of religions was brought about by the kings. Using religion as a vehicle to rule the people, the switch in beliefs is determined by the ruler of that era.

2nd level...while carrying MAX...whew!
The sad part though, as with the other temples, are the imprints of war and tomb raiders. Expect to find headless statues, fallen walls and the likes. On-going restorations are still being done around the various temples. Some of the retrieved artifacts are now being housed in the Angkor National Museum.

3rd tier - not a walk in the park, as you can see
Perhaps the common "wow" factor of the temples, aside from it's design and architecture, is how big blocks of stone from the mountains weres brought down to the valley. From floating them on rafts downriver, to having elephants dragging them to the site, nothing short of being in awe, can sum up my thoughts about it.

wall ruins at Bayon


someone needs a nap

walking the long walk back to where we started @AngkorWat
It was roughly 5 pm when we returned to the hotel. A sense of fulfillment, amidst the slight fatigue prevailed. It was an excellent day indeed, at the ruins :)

From TMW, may all your wanderings be better than ours!

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