16.12.2013 - 19.12.2013 20 °C
After falling into bed exhausted last night at about 8pm, we were up bright (dark) and early at 4am this morning, and decided to go for a walk around the Siem Reap township. There are no street lights in the town, so the only brightness came the few shops that were open, or passing mopeds which made the walk exciting and a bit spooky. On the way back to the hotel, we were cornered by a few street kids asking for money, which Justin couldn't refuse - we were lucky there was a tuk tuk nearby to jump into because word spread quickly that there was a generous foreigner doling out US dollars
After breakfast, we jumped in a tuk tuk driven by the lovely Chea (call him if you ever come to Siem Reap - he was great (+855) (0) 97 20 30 333) and headed to Angkor Wat, which is about 6 kms north of Siem Reap. The main reason visitors come to Siem Reap is to visit the temple complex, so the road was full with tourists on every type of transport - tuk tuk, moped, car, truck, bicycle, horse and even elephant. Justin was already onto his first beer for the day by this point (to be fair, it was already midday in Canberra):
After buying the passes to enter Angkor Wat, we continued on, and came to a body of water which we realised was the moat that surrounds Angkor Wat. This is 190 metres wide and is 1.5 km by 1.3 km rectangle that was all dug by hand:
Once Chea dropped us off, we walked over the bridge that leads into the giant complex. On the way over, we were asked if we wanted a guide for the visit ($15 US dollars for the day) which we agreed to - great decision. Our guide spoke excellent English and told us many things about Angkor Wat which we wouldn't have know otherwise:
One of the first things he pointed out were the apsaras, which are the thousands of unique women carved into the walls of Angkor Wat to represent the royal concubines. They are all beautiful and no two are the same:
We noticed scaffolding around parts of the temple that had signs saying 'German Apsara Conservation Project', and our guide commented that over the years, several different countries have had a go at trying to repair parts of the ageing complex, and that Germany and Japan were very good, but France and India were not so good - when we asked why, he said that when India made efforts in the 1980s to restore the complex, they used powerful cleaning chemicals, which permanently damaged many of the statues and walls.
Our guide also explained what the stories were in the beautifully detailed wall murals:
He showed us the difference in texture on many of the murals, which were shiny and glossy at the bottom and had a dull stone texture towards the top. As the thousands of tourists over the years have touched the murals, the oils from fingers have glossed up the stone:
He then pointed out that this is the reason that many of the apsaras have shiny breasts which Justin found very amusing:
Another interesting fact was the reason that many of the statues are missing hands and heads, and sometimes feet. After hundreds of years of invasions and plundering, it was Cambodians (the Khmer Rouge) that did this damage, not foreigners. During their reign of terror, the story goes that they hacked off the feet, head and hands of these statues to sell for money for war funds:
After Angkor Wat, we stopped for a quick break. Justin disappeared and came back with some morning tea purchased from a street vendor - sticky rice and grilled chicken. Delicious.
Then Chea took us to several other temples:
After that, we stopped in at a restaurant that Chea suggested, and I ate fish curry out of a coconut, while Justin tried the sweet and sour crocodile.