I DREAM OF APSARAS

For the benefit of people who don’t know where Siem Reap is, here’s the map of Cambodia. I have a friend who thought Siem Reap is in Thailand.


Day #2
Saturday, 15 July 2006

As we were on a holiday, we started the day rather late, which proved to be a big mistake. If you are in Siem Reap, it is advisable to start the day early as the weather could be quite exhausting to keep up with. When you wake up late, the sun is already up on your head – as it is an hour late compare to Malaysian time.

Authentic Pho, Saigon Kickstart (Coffee) and Cheese Omelette

We had breakfast at this nice restaurant called the Soup Dragon at Pub Street. It has Khmer, Vietnamese, Thai and Western food. Compare to other restaurants that we went to, this one comes with reasonable pricing. They have quite a lot of locals dining here, so I guess Chan brought us to the right place to have breakfast. In fact, throughout our stay, we had 3x breakfast here as most places do not open for breakfast and Red Piano’s prices are too exorbitant and choices are quite limited. It is a mistake too for getting a guesthouse without breakfast. Probably we could save more if we were to get a guesthouse which comes with breakfast, but we are not complaining.

We got all excited after breakfast to see the Angkor Wat. When we got there, it was already 10 am local time. The sun was bright and it was really hot. There were so many people walking on the pavement towards Angkor Wat. A third of the pavement was blocked for restoration. It is quite a pitiful sight. Reminded me of our perpetual construction back at home (MRR2?). Being our ignorant self, we didn’t know that the pointed gopuras were inside and not outside. I kept on playing some pictures that my friends took and my mind couldn’t seem to register. Are we in the right place? Then, as we walked inside after the first entrance, lo and behold, it was a magnificent sight. Stupid-nya. Because of the large scale, it was indeed difficult to cram the whole structure into our cameras.

Angkor wat in its splendor

There are some spots closed for restoration. It is indeed a long process to make this place look like the old days, but I think the feat is near impossible. I guess with the looming number of visitors – it is quite difficult to preserve the ancient temples. Some visitors really disgust me by speaking so loudly in the temple – afterall, this is a temple, we have to keep silence to show some respect. They even have a signboard telling people to shut up.

Some visitors – with their designer glasses, Gucci bags, stilettos (yes – some idiots actually wear stilettos to Angkor Wat), etc totally had no respect for the temple. It saddened me that I saw one guy spitting on the ground of the temple. I wish the police there would slap some summons on him. So much for respect huh? Some local kid even pee in the compound of the Angkor Wat – adding rancid uric smell to the guano-smelling Angkor Wat. Siem Reap authority should limit number of visitors to its ancient temples or perhaps ban all hooligans from temples.

We spent approximately 2 hours loitering in Angkor Wat. At first, I refused to climb on the steep staircase, fearing that the clumsy me might fall off. I guess, it is quite safe to climb, as long as you exercise extreme caution. Never mind of stories of people falling to their deaths. The fatality rate is low, though. Nothing to worry about. Serious.

I don’t understand why people would want to bring their children as young as a few months old to Siem Reap. It is not a place for children and elderly people. So I suggest, if you have not hit mid life crisis – it is time to go to Siem Reap NOW. With the fast deterioration of some temples, it is highly advisable to go as soon as possible before the structure came tumbling down. And please – keep your hands off the carvings on the stone as they are delicate things.

We had lunch at the nearby stall within the vicinity of the temples. The increasing number of visitors to Angkor Wat had spurred many stalls mushrooming along the road of Angkor Wat.

South Entrance of Angkor Thom

The next stop was one of my top favorite – the Bayon. The Bayon is in the vicinity of Angkor Thom. We entered Angkor Thom via the Southern Gate – where most heads of the statues alongside the road towards Angkor Thom are still intact. As it was already afternoon, it was difficult to get nice shots of the place – this is just one of the pictures I think quite alright.

Bayon is the place with many giant faces. I guess this is the temple that one shouldn’t miss. Frankly speaking, I love this temple more than the great Angkor Wat. There have been some speculations of whose face are on the carvings – some said the faces belongs to King Jayavarnam, some said it’s Boddhisattva’s etc. It is good to read up a little before you go on a historical trip.

As it was afternoon when we were at Bayon, the light was too bright for photographs. Nevertheless, I tried my best to get nicer shots. It was quite hard to get pictures with the sunlight emerging from the top.

The Magnificent Bayon

After Bayon, our energy drained fast because of the heat. It was scorching hot as we tried to find some shades from the sun. I had down the entire 1 litre of bottled water but it didn’t have any effect. As we walked out from the Bayon, we went to Baphuon but it was closed for restoration. There was a guide who was speaking Japanese to two Japanese tourists – I was glad that I understood what he had just said.

By the time, we walked towards the Terrace of the Elephants, it was already almost 5 pm. We rushed to Bakheng to see the sunset. I was already at the end of my energy level. When I saw the walk uphill to Bakheng, my legs turned jelly. Elephant rides are available up the hill for USD15. Not wanting to waste that amount of money, I decided to climb onto the steep terrain. It took me awhile as I need to rest almost at every 20 steps I took. I blamed it on lack of exercise. Our tuk tuk driver followed us as he would guide us through an alternative way to get down from the hilltop once the sun set. He couldn’t help but chuckled at my lack of stamina. @#$%^&*

After climbing to the hill, I was shock to see the ordeal was far from over. We still need to climb another flight of staircase which was even steeper compared to the one we climbed in Angkor Wat. As I went up, I cursed. I wonder how the ancient people climb the stairs? I wanted to ask Chan whether they purposely built it this way to prevent enemies from climbing in the temple quickly, but didn’t managed to, as I was already out of breath the moment I reached the top. I was tickled at the thought that some of the climbers looked like the female ghost, climbing out of the well, in the famous movie – the Ring – only much clumsier and has no long hair.

The Treacherous Bakheng

Then, bad news. It started to drizzle a bit and we were glad that we brought along umbrellas. It was kinda ridiculous to wait for the sun to set on a cloudy day. As expected, we didn’t get to see the sun set as it was too cloudy. There were many people on top of Bakheng – I felt like a fool, waiting anxiously for the sun – but the sun sets behind the clouds instead. I guess we had to come again if we wanted to watch the sunset but the thought of climbing the steep staircase again put me off. If I were to come again – I am going on the elephant ride! Like Bali – actually we were very lucky to have caught the sunset at Tanah Lot as our guide told us, sometimes, it would be too cloudy to see the sunset. I guess we just cannot plan according to nature.

After basking in the sun the entire afternoon and waiting in vain for the sunset, we went back to our guest house. On our way back, we passed by the Jayavarnam VII Children Hospital, run by Kantha Bopha Foundation Dr. Beat Richner. Dr Beat Richer plays cello music by J.S. Bach and songs by Beatcello. The Kantha Bopha Foundation gives free medical services to Cambodians, mostly children as most Cambodian families cannot afford a proper medical treatment. Hence, this Foundation relies heavily on donations.

We would love to go to the concert, if not being too tired and worn out. My mind just told me to go back to the guest house. We should have gone to the concert. Apart from monetary donation, donation of blood is welcomed as most Khmers do not donate blood due to religious beliefs. If I were to go to Siem Reap again, I would definitely go and support this cause. Beatocello concert is on every Friday and Saturday, starting 7.15 pm at Kantha Bopha Centre, Jayavarnam VII hospital. Probably, I could just mail them a cheque.

We headed to have Happy Pizza (sprinkle with marijuana) at Happy Herb Pizza. The egg plant with cheese is delicious!! I remember I had beer at Happy Herb in Phnom Penh for 50 cents each but this place didn’t seem to offer buy one free one beer and, the service was rather slow. Don’t try the bolognaise spaghetti – it is quite shitty. I think you could try any happy pizza at any pizza parlor, not specifically have to be at Happy Herb.

We were too tired to think of anything towards the end of the day, so we went back to the guest house for early rest as we wanted to catch the sunrise tomorrow at 5 am in Angkor Wat.

The moment I closed my eyes to sleep, I could see Apsaras dancing gracefully in my dreams.