Consider time as your clingy friend when in Siem Reap – resolute, imposing, present. Like living in the pages of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years Of Solitude, time’s slow passage leaves you no choice but to wait; the same way the ruins of Angkor had waited centuries for you to reach it.
The Ancient Capital
Every guide book will tell you to visit Angkor Wat at daybreak and there’s a good reason for that. Despite having seen so many pictures of it, seeing this historic temple complex with my own eyes as a new day unfolded still left me gaping in awe.
This is how my friends and I started our day of touring the ancient Khmer capital of Angkor.
The Angkor Archeological Park, sprawled over 400 square kilometers of earth, is home to the many ruins of the once mighty Khmer Empire, Angkor Wat being its most famous structure. Depending on how much of it you wanna see and how leisurely you want to go about it, visitors can choose from 1, 3, or 7-day passes issued at the park entrance.
In our case, we opted for the day pass and hired a tuktuk to drive us around. Initially, Pong and I had wanted to rent bicycles. Just how cool is it to bike around the temples, thru jungles and patches of red dirt, and go full-mode Dora The Explorer. This didn’t push thru ‘coz errmm Coney didn’t know how to ride one! In hindsight though, it was a good thing we ended up renting a tuktuk ‘coz biking would have been the most terrible idea for a day pass holder.
On top of the travel in between sites, there’s a lot of walking involved, which is actually the tolerable part. The heat, on the other hand, is the nasty bit, borderlining on unbearable – and that is coming from someone with a very high tolerance for UV rays. It was not even noon yet but I was already drenched in sweat. Bananas, energy bars, and liters of water are your lifelines. Had we pushed thru with the bikes, we would’ve lashed out at each other before the day ended. I guess credit is due to Coney’s biking skills for saving our more than a decade-long friendship. Haha!
Day pass holders like us usually follow the route of the major sites: Angkor Wat complex, Ta Prohm Temple, and the walled city of Angkor Thom, where the royal palace, Bayon, and Baphuon Temples are located. Shorts and sleeveless shirts are deemed inappropriate in some sites so best bring a sarong for instant cover up.
The serene stone faces of Bayon…
Outside walls of the Baphuon Temple and the Royal Palace (‘coz we weren’t allowed to go in)…
Ta Prohm Temple, made famous by the overgrowth of its surrounding forest…
State of inertia
Earlier I mentioned how time seems to pass by so slowly here. It does, even with our packed itinerary. While it’s expected of such places, I find it more resounding in Angkor. Like time has more weight. It drags perhaps because of the long history that comes with the territory. Come to think of it, this is the furthest I have reached into the past so far in my travels. A thousand years strong. Imagine that, a millenium! And unlike other ancient ruins, that of Rome or Greece, it hasn’t seen much change since its downfall. It just stood there, existing and unmoved.
With this realization dawning upon me post-trip, I feel really guilty about not doing some due diligence before coming to Siem Reap. I should’ve read more, watched documentaries of it, and all that stuff. I just feel now like I owe it to the place to have at least attempted at discovering its meaning, and to not diminish its essence by just settling for its pop culture associations. I mean the experience would have been much more profound had I understood. I could come back and know more, but then again the experience of marveling at something for the first time had already passed. So yeah, that kinda makes me sad now.
Having said all these, here’s my unsolicited advise to someone visiting for the first time –
Succumb to Angkor’s inertia.
Forget about Tomb Raider or Temple Run. These ruins have existed for a very long time and have a thousand years worth of stories to tell. Search for those instead.
Go languidly. A day’s pass is nice enough for pictures, but a longer pass is ideal to reach more sites at a pace that suits more to your liking.
What are a few days when compared to a millenium?