27th December – Siem Reap

Remember how my necklace was my good luck charm?  Losing it has started the flood gates for bad luck.

I was so afraid that I’d sleep through my alarm that I barely slept at all the night before, and half dragged myself to the reception to meet Bernard and the tuk tuk driver.  Shook myself awake once we were heading there, and decided to get a photo of us in the tuk tuk…

Only my camera isn’t working.

My video camera has all the icons on the screen, but no image is coming up.  And after 2 minutes, an error message appears and it shuts down automatically.  Removing the battery doesn’t help, nor does removing the memory card.

Admittedly, the night before the charger had slipped off the bedside table and yanked the poor thing to the floor with it, but in the 3 years I’ve owned it, its taken 3 severe knocks, and that was the most minor of all – it fell from twice that height last month without a scratch (thank god, lost a year of my life on that one).  Regardless, its not working, and I realise that not only have I managed to break 2 cameras on this trip, but also managed to wreck the one electronic I own that’s been consistently functional.  On top of which, I’m about to hit Angkor Wat, one of the most photogenic sites on the planet without a camera.  I don’t even have my phone since I didn’t think I’d need it.

My only hope is to drain the battery and pray that whatever’s wrong gets fixed once I recharge it.  Easier said than done since the thing shuts down every 2 minutes so I have to keep digging it out and turning it on again.  Thanks to this, I’m in a foul mood, and poor Bernard has to deal with it.

When we get to Angkor Wat, we have a choice of tickets.  You can buy a day pass for $20, or a 3 day pass for $40.  I know I’m only going to be here 2 days, but there’s no 2 day ticket, so eventually decide to buy a day pass and if I want to come again, buy another.  There’s no point in buying an extra day if I can’t actually use it – the tickets even have your photo printed on them so you can’t sell them on!

Angkor Wat is pitch dark, and of course my ‘flashlight’ was going to be the light on my video camera and Bernard doesn’t have one so we’re not in good shape.  However, someone is selling little pocket flashlights (the smartest of all the sellers I saw that day), and Bernard bought 2 for $3, giving me one which cheered me up a bit.

Actually finding your way in the dark was pretty easy, the torches were mostly for finding the holes in the ground and the stairs you had to go down.  When we got to the lake we were supposed to wait at, we had a dilemma – you couldn’t see anything, and there were shapeless mounds in the distance – one of which was the temple – where exactly should we stand to get a good view?

Eventually we picked a spot to the right of the group already forming, and began our wait.  We still had a good hour till sunrise, and this meant fending off people selling drinks, and chasing away Chinese tourists who thought they could barge in and set tripods up at eye level right in front of me (and yes, that guy got chased away with a 2-days-before-essay-is-due-in-and-laptop-wont-turn-on hiss, much to the amusement of the couple behind me I’d been making small talk with).  Finally, after a good 90 minute wait, the sky began to brighten.  Cameras were up, eyes were focused, and drinks were discarded…only to be scuppered by mother nature.
imageYes, a very heavy cloud formation had been hovering behind Angkor Wat, and when the sun began to rise, said cloud was right smack dab in the way.  So instead of the sun rising from behind this unbelievable temple, we had a slightly blue and pink sky, a big white cloud, and a temple coming into focus.  Don’t get me wrong, the temple is stunning, but we had kind of come for the extra theatrics.
imageWhen the sky stopped being slightly pink, we headed towards the temple to have a look inside.  This place is huge, and just a tiny bit incredible.  Bernard offers to donate his photos too, so I can enjoy it and know I’ll have a copy at some point.  The most upper tower is closed off, but the sheer amount of corridors and halls you can walk through means it doesn’t feel like you miss much.

We head back to the tuk tuk, who then sets off to the next temple much to our surprise.  We thought we’d be heading back for breakfast which was what the tour page had said.  We roll with it regardless, and arrive at Bayon Temple, famous for its head shaped carvings.
imageThis one is much higher, and is the sort of place British Health and Safety would have a coronary over.  Lots of platforms with no form of barrier, half crumbled walls and misshapen stairs.  The facial carvings are awesome to look at as well.

When we get back to the tuk tuk, we’re relieved to hear we will be going back to the guesthouse – the guy is just new at running the tuk tuk and hadn’t realised that was the plan, has since phoned the place and discovered the error.  This means we get to eat (woohoo!) and I can grab my phone to take my own photos (double woohoo!)
imageWhen we get back, we’re headed towards a three place stop, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, and the 2 terraces (Elephant and Leper King).  Baphuon makes Bayon look positively safe with its structure, and is one of my favourites, while Phimeanakas is a simple pyramid-like temple.  Before heading to the two terraces however, we keep heading North, and come across another temple by chance, Preah Palilay.  This is off the typical tourist track so many people pass it by.  It hasn’t been reconstructed, and is suffering heavily from the banyan trees growing in and around it (a big problem for the temples here).  As such the roof has caved in on the main tower, but is still pretty awesome to look at.imageThe two terraces meanwhile were very pretty, but given that we’d been going up death defying stairs and hovering on high ledges for the past couple of hours, we really only spent a few minutes looking round before we headed over to the tuk tuk area to try and find out driver.  Easier said than done given that there were hundreds parked there – our driver spotted us long before we spotted him.
imageWe headed out Victory Gate and went to see Ta Keo, Ta Prohm and Pre Rup, before the final temple before lunch, Preah Khan.  This is a Hindu temple, and was currently under some heavy construction.  From the information signs I could find, they’re trying to restore as much as possible while using the original stones.  So far the work looks pretty fantastic – here if I hadn’t seen the before and after photos from the restoration parts, I honestly couldn’t have said it had been restored.  That said, there were still plenty of places falling to ruin with stones collapsed in tunnels and courtyards, while the banyan trees were doing everything possible to become structurally vital to the building.
imageThe biggest problem with Angkor Wat, especially if you’re doing it all in one day, is that it does suffer from ‘temple-itis’.  That unfortunate affliction that backpackers and tourists contract whenever they have to see the same thing over and over again.  Although all the temples in Angkor Wat are unique and interesting in their own ways, without a guide or time to properly appreciate one before immediately heading to another, they do start to blur into one another.  Which is sad because I really enjoyed my day in Angkor…but I’m not entirely sure I could identify some of the temples I saw in the middle of the day to those I hadn’t.  Its just one big archeological hot pot in my head.  So was grateful after this that we headed for lunch – although the place our tuk tuk driver took us wasn’t exactly cheap…though food wasn’t half bad.  Both ended up having different types of soup, Bernard something spicy, mine just ‘cambodian soup.’

Our final stop is Phnom Bakheng, which is on a hill and one of the best places to view the sunset.  Supposedly you can see Angkor Wat from here, but when I got to the top all I could see was city and farmland – the temple was on the opposite side and hidden by trees.  We arrived nearly 90 minutes before sunset, which at least made sure we’d get good seats.  The best seat in the house would have been on the corner, but there was a sign blocking the view, so instead sat to the side of it.

imageThis might have actually been a mistake, because in the next hour, several dozen people started to arrive and hunt for good seats.  This little corner became very busy, and eventually someone decided to chance the sign blocked corner seat.  It was an Asian man (I want to say Chinese but not completely certain) with a fancy camera.  Behind him was a good 5 lines of people sitting or standing behind us, all looking at the same thing.

So, when the sun finally starts setting and everyone gets their cameras out?  This good gentleman gets to his feet and stands, snapping away oblivious to the fact that he is now blocking the people to his side (myself included) and a huge chunk of the people behind him.  Those to the side have to lean around him, in turn blocking the views of people further down the line.

If it had been only a few seconds, people would have tolerated it.  You stand, take a photo, sit down and check the settings, stand up and repeat, never blocking the view for more than 10-20 seconds.  This is a very time-restricted moment after all.  But no, he takes a photo, does his settings, and repeats regardless of the angry mob behind him.  After a minute someone to the side of him finally gets his attention and asks him to sit down – which he does rather sullenly.  Within a minute, he’s back up again, and its thirty seconds before I’m telling him to sit down while everyone behind him yells in anger.  Guess what?  Another minute and he’s back up again – this time though he finally seems to register that there’s 50 odd people who will quite happily push him off the ledge if he doesn’t get his act together, and reduces his standing time to just a few seconds each time.
imageSadly, we don’t see the full sunset.  There’s heavy cloud cover again, so rather than the horizon, we see the sun vanish behind a white wall – which is at least more impressive than the sunrise earlier today.  Once the sun is finally out of view, the mob head towards the stairs, and we wait a few minutes before following – don’t really want to go down those not-fantastic stairs when there’s a hundred other people on them too.

Its been a great day, even with the poor start – and will probably be paying for it tomorrow too thanks to my choice of footwear.  My walking sandals were comfortable, if not as grip capable as my hiking shoes, but offered no defence against the hundreds of red ants in the area.  Meaning on top of my usual mosquito bites, my ankles are littered will small red bumps from the little arthropods that are going to hurt in the next few days….


About Batale

I am an aspiring writer - though since I haven't written anything original in about 2 years, so calling me a writer is like calling a man who makes dinner every night a 5 star chef. I started this blog to force me to write. From the 1st January 2013, I intend to update this blog every day. If nothing interesting happens, I'll write about something that does interest me, whether that is a movie, a book, something I've heard about, or even some of my stories growing up.
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