After vacationing in Thailand, I boarded a plane to Cambodia from the Don Mueang airport. This time my destination was Siem Reap and the obvious reason for my visit was to witness the beauty and magnificence of the great Angkor Wat Temple.
A guide escorted us after we had landed; we followed him with our luggages and hopped in a car. It was noontime and I was starving, so he took us to a French cafe. Cambodia being a French colony once, one can come across many such French joints, establishments and buildings throughout the country.
After gorging on we took a tour at the Artisan’s D’Angkor, this place is a must visit especially for people harbouring a keen interest in art and craft. While rambling around the workshop we could see workers meticulously creating various pieces of art representing their Khmer cultural heritage. A gamut of activities was taking place with someone busy chiselling out a figure from a rock while the other moulding a handful of mud and giving it various shapes. Among others silver jewelleries, leather puppets and musical instruments are also made by them. We also feasted our eyes as we walked into the Senteurs D’ Angkor.
Finally, it was time to check in at our hotel. Dumping the luggages we headed straight to the rooftop swimming pool. The view from the terrace was spellbinding, we sat by the pool sipping a mocktail and hashed over about the next day’s itinerary.
In the evening black clouds gathered round and it started pouring. According to our schedule we were supposed to attend a cultural programme. Our guide was very punctual and despite the heavy downpour he came on time to pick us up. In the car I collected a lot of information about the place from him and by the time we reached our destination, the rain had stopped.
We were taken to the Amazon Angkor Restaurant. The restaurant is huge and has copious amount of space to fit everybody in. I could see people from all over the world gathered under one roof. Soon the cultural programme started off with the local girls performing the iconic Apsara dance. The dancers were struck with afflatus and moved like they were gifted with skills from the Gods. A large buffet spread with a combination of Cambodian, Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese cuisines was awaiting us. After eating to our heart’s content, we returned to the hotel, we were completely fagged out but excited about the next day.
The following morning, we made it very early, at around four o’clock, to the Angkor Wat temple to witness the magnificent sunrise. It was the autumnal equinox day (Sep 23rd), the day when the sun comes in a perfect alignment — just over the central temple tower, it is one of those ancient structures built to align with the equinox.
After the sun had risen, we took a tour inside the Angkor Wat temple; the place is enormously big and to cover it in a day is next to impossible. While sauntering through the corridors the guide explained to us about its rich history — originally a Vishnu temple built by king Suryavarman II, it is now converted into a Buddhist temple.
After entering the temple, we took a long walk on the main causeway to the entrance tower. I could see the curved inscriptions on the wall that tell a tale of a near thousand-year-old history. As I walked through the tenebrous inner sanctum, my attention was caught by a series of Buddha statues all lined up in one corner. The aura of the place and the beauty of the inscriptions were a treat for the eyes; I was completely blown away by their splendour.
On reaching the main tower one can get a splendid view of the Angkor Wat complex; it is one of the best places to click pictures. It also offers a breath-taking view of the temple from the main causeway. Just adjacent to it stands the Bakan Pass. It is a tall structure and one has to climb up a flight of stairs to reach the top. I climbed up with shivering trepidation and did not dare to look down as it was a very steep climb. But after reaching the top I was gifted with a bucolic view of the entire complex — it was such a wonderful sight to behold.
Time was passing by and the sun shone down pitilessly from a white sky. We headed towards Angkor Thom, the last capital city of the Khmer kingdom. To enter one has to take the South Gate and walk past the majestic statues of the Devas and Rakshashas. The structures depict the famous scene of the Hindu Mythology in which milk was being churned out from the sea.
The Bayon temple that is housed in the middle of the complex is a well decorated and engraved stony structure. Several smiling faces are seen jutting out from the various corners of the temple. The structures are truly magnificent and stand out as one of the main representatives of the Khmer architecture. In addition to the Bayon temple there are a few other places such as the reflection pond, Baphuon (the pyramid temple) and the Phimeanakas (a step pyramid structured temple) where tourists can have a look around. The ‘terrace of the leper king’ and the ‘terrace of the elephants’ are a must visit for their exquisite wall carvings.
Now it was time for us to enter the premises of the eerie Ta Prohm temple; one of those numerous temples of the Khmer kingdom that are reclaimed by the jungle. This place has a charm of its own, it had always been my dream to visit this place. The famous movies ‘Tomb Raider’ and ‘Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom’ were shot here. The tentacle like roots of the massive trees crawling up the walls and engulfing the temples like a giant octopus are so very awe inspiring. It was the best part of my exhausting three-day temple run in Siem Reap.
After sundown, we sallied forth in the market place for a short walk and arrived at the famous Pub Street. It is the centre of all the night time activities. Starting from various kinds of street food to the shops offering fish spa, one can indulge in a lot of activities. The whole area is lit up with shimmering lights, the tourists are seen milling about here and there, busy bargaining away with the shopkeepers. The night market is very colourful and one can choose from an eclectic collection of items that are put on display. Somewhere in the middle of the street I heard a singer serenading the onlookers, while the passers by stopped there to listen to her mellifluous voice. The whole atmosphere was that of thrill and a lot of excitement. That night we dined at a Cambodian restaurant and went back to our hotel.
The next day we were supposed to fly back to Bangkok. But before leaving for the airport, our guide drove us to yet another important sight popularly known as the Wat Thmey, it is one of the three hundred killing fields in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge Regime. The Cambodian genocide was orchestrated by the Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, as a result of which twenty five percent of the Cambodian population was wiped out from the face of the earth in the name of ethnic cleansing! We took some quick pictures and rushed to the airport. The three-day sojourn in Cambodia came to an end but the beautiful memories that I bore in my heart will last forever.