Saturday, October 16, 2010

Angkor Wat

So let me paint the picture - it’s 9.06pm on a Friday evening and I’m sat here in my guest house room and, basically, I’m stranded. It is leathering it down outside and has been doing so for the past 6 hours. In fact it has been doing so in Cambodia as a whole on and off for a week, so much so that much of the country is underwater. Siem Reap, where I presently reside - is partially underwater thanks to the river which has burst its banks. Truly I’ve never seen rain like this and even the locals are scratching their heads. So I popped out earlier to the local supermarket - a 5 minute stroll normally but wearing flip flops in these conditions, a gruelling 15 minute ordeal - to stock up for the night i.e. some chocolate and three cans of wonderful Singha beer (which have made me all nostalgic for Thailand again) - only 65c each! There’s the thing about Cambodia - since I entered this country 4 days (or is it 5?) ago, I haven’t conducted one transaction in the local currency. Everything is done through dollars and I have yet to find an ATM which will dispense anything but dollars.
Blessed as I have been on this trip, yesterday was my first full day here and for those who don’t know, Siem Reap is the gateway to Angkor Wat - quite the most sublime historical site you’ll find in all of SE Asia.I know that I've become temple tired at this stage but this isn't just any wat, this is Angkor Wat! Anyway, getting back to luck, it didn’t rain at all yesterday which enabled me to complete the Grand Circuit around the temples of Angkor, seeing all of the heavy-hitters and a few more besides without getting pissed on. Which was nice.
I rented myself a bike for 2 dollars which was one of those old bone-shakers your Mum used to cycle back in the day, a gear free contraption that somehow took me around for my day's touring.
As a kid, whenever I ate dinner, apparently I used to hoard whatever my favourite part of that dinner was until last. So if SE Asia is my dinner then Angkor Wat is my chicken nuggets. Sort of. Genuinely I had deliberately planned my circuit of SE Asia in order to save Angkor Wat till last and it hasn’t disappointed. Well, except initially it did. You see as I cycled along I felt a sense of anticipation that I hadn’t felt since I visited Petra a few years back and as I rounded the corner on my bike and the temple slowly emerged, it did feel pretty special until you looked closer and saw that they’ve got the builders in and there’s that horrible green scaffolding right out front. But once you get into the grounds and look at things up close - it really is a magical place, scaffolding or not.
North of AW is Angkor Thom which is another series of magnificent temples. First up was Bayon which looked like, well let’s see - you know that episode of The Simpsons when Homer is tripping on LSD, well that’s what it reminded me of. Or ‘I Am The Walrus’ by The Beatles. Or if you gave a child a ton of Lego and asked him/her to assemble it in the dark then Bayon is what you'd end up with. It’s a temple unlike any temple I’ve ever seen and it is quite the most wonderful sight. Strange things pop up around every corner and there are gigantic faces leering at you no matter which way you turn. Fantastic place.
Beside that is the less spectacular but equally puzzling Baphuon. Alas Baphuon was not only covered in scaffolding, there was a team of builders reconstructing the roof on the bloody place and so was unrecognisable. You know that opening scene in ‘Lost In Translation’? Well, if you replaced Scarlett Johansson’s thighs with Betty’s from Coronation Street - that’s what visiting Baphuon felt like. Yes, it's mad analogy day today.
My guesthouse is the only consolation I can cling to today as the rain continues to sheet down outside. Thanks to the free wi-fi in my room I’ve been able to keep abreast of the Liverpool ownership saga - and what a fucking soap-opera that’s turned out to be! But my guesthouse has got to be the first place I’ve ever stayed in which offers ‘Free Ride To Church Services’ as part of their promotion. If this rain continues hopefully they’ll use their contacts to put me on an Ark to get out of Cambodia and back to Bangkok.

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