Original title, eh? Either way, “real” can be a subjective word. That’s pretty much all I intend it to be in this sense. This is my perspective on what the majority of my experience was like as we drove from temple to temple, ruins to trails, and so on. Buckle in, we did plenty.
I believe I mentioned in an earlier post that we wanted to be thorough, not just in regards to Angkor Wat, but the trip as a whole. Of course, looking back, I can name more adventures, more sites I can count on my fingers that I wish I had done. But I was never not doing anything, not really, so what is there to say about it? I will be back.
So we were as thorough as we could be, I think. We managed to make it to plenty of sites in the general vicinity of Angkor Wat, as well as many of the ruins and places of interest on the peripheries. As we arrived at each site, I wrote down the name on a piece of paper and took a picture of it. That way I’d know where all of the pictures that we took were located at, and I’m damn glad I did because it’s really hard to remember them all, especially when it’s not your language. It also makes it easier for me to go through it all and imagine the gravelly route that we took from place to place, every single day one of the hottest I’d ever experienced. I even injured my neck, somehow, on the second day, but it’ll get in to that a bit later.
Our first stop was Pre Rup, an ancient temple that blew our minds because it was the first time we’d ever seen anything like it. The structure was immense and it was very enjoyable to explore. Although there were a lot of people, the mazelike layout, and multiple levels to climb helped eliminate any feeling of crowdedness. There were stone towers that let in heavy rays of light, illuminating these massive blocks whose use I’m still unsure of. It was such a massive structure for the time it was built and it’s relieving to know that restoration work is taken fairly seriously, allowing these buildings and monuments to maintain their structural integrity. The carvings are detailed and beautiful, words aren’t enough for them.
Next up was East Mebon, another brilliant temple. Stone-carved elephants guard the corners, meters up from the ground. The towers, or temple-mountains as they are meant to be representative of Mount Meru, home of the Hindu gods, are similar to those in Pre Rup, but not quite as large. There were fewer people here and it was no less enjoyable or impressive. At this point I had begun to think about the terrestrial layout on a larger scale and the design of these structures’ chosen positions.
After East Mebon was Ta Som, a structure that felt more like a subterranean catacomb once you were held within its cold, dark walls. The structures surrounding it are complex and intermingled. A massive tree has engulfed a stone entranceway. There were parts of this area that you could tell a lot of people hadn’t walked through as much, hallways crossed with spider webs and untrodden areas of land where the grass had grown to knee height. We worked our way around the back and noticed a massive spider, seemingly floating in between two trees that must have been 2-3 meters away from it on either side. The web that it had spun was enormous, big enough to catch a small rodent if it wasn’t careful. I believe it was the same, or similar species of orb-weaver that we came across in Luang Prabang, and actually saw a picture of on a poster with different Laos’ spiders hanging up in the Viet-run guesthouse in Pakse. Jeez, all these connections.
Next was Neak Peah, a swampy area with an older structure that we were barred from coming any closer than about 30 or 40 meters. There wasn’t a whole lot to see here, but I did see a snake skimming across the water. The swamp was covered with this bright green substance, individual specks that together form a vibrant layer across the surface. A healthy imagination could come up with a lot of potential candidates for subaquatic inhabitants.
Next, Preah Khan which I wrote down as Phreah Khan, I’m not sure why. Sometimes there’s an occasional spelling variation when translating between Khmer, Laos, or Thai characters and Latin alphabets like English. Or I could’ve just f’d up the spelling, it’s quite possible as well. Here is where I distinctly remember saying “capital Ottawa” to the startled look of the kid who was just about to do the same. This was one of the quieter areas which is why we were surprised to see anyone here asking for money, which he eventually did. It was just simply another beautiful, multifaceted structure that we had a lot of fun climbing around and exploring.
We then passed through the North Gate and jumped out of Oun’s tuk-tuk to relax for a little bit. We were on a bridge that went over a massive moat encircling a good portion of the overall enclosure. It was a peaceful, serene day and always nice to be out in the open air when it’s so hot.
I can’t remember the name of the last temple we visited and I guess I was being a slacker because I either didn’t write it down, or did but didn’t take a pic. At the base of a large hill, dozens of tuk-tuk drivers conjured in a parking lot that was also lined with food and souvenir stalls. There were probably more people here than we’d seen together in one place all day. On the other side of the road, a group of elephants were lined up, the locals looking after them offering rides to those who wanted to reach the temple at the summit on the backs of these giant black creatures. We opted for the walk; we’d already been on the go the majority of the day, why stop now?
The climb up was lined with a rocky landscape, little spiders fleeing in cone-shaped webs as people walked by. We continued to round the hill/mountain until we finally made it to a set of steps that took us up for the final ascent. At this point, shoulder’s had to be covered up and I believe down to the knees as well, out of respect for the sacredness of the temple. We came across this rule in one or two more places we visited, but nowhere else.
The view was beautiful, as it was during the climb as well. We were also exhausted at this point and didn’t stay up for very long. Eventually, we made our way down the opposite side of the temple grounds and back down the hill to where Oun was waiting for us. Day 1 was complete, and we hadn’t even seen the main attraction, yet. We were loving every bit of it so far. The next day, we ventured further out.