The Real Angkor Wat, Part II

I remember day 2 of our Angkor Wat adventure to be excruciatingly hot; I was sweating buckets in the first few minutes upon arrival. It really didn’t make it much less enjoyable, though; once my mind was entranced in the beauty of what I was seeing, and once I accepted that I was going to be looking and feeling gross all day, it hardly mattered anymore.

We started off at a site called Banteay Srei. I should mention now that I got kind of lazy when it came to labeling each and every place we went to, especially after the first day. We took a lot of pictures that are labeled under Banteay Srei, for example, but I’m pretty sure are actually other temples/sites that we visited afterwards. I’ll do my absolute best here to make sure that the photos I’m posting match up with the names I’ve given. I will also say that day 2 encompassed a lot more actual traveling from place to place; there are several peripheral sites that are dozens of kilometers from Angkor Wat itself, so we didn’t visit quite as many places this day.

Back to Banteay Srei, though. Maybe it was because it was the beginning of the day, or maybe it was the site itself, but there seemed to be quite a few more travelers/tourists here compared to a few of the other places we’d been to. It didn’t take away from our enjoyment though; everyone seemed to be very peaceful and respectful and were essentially wanting to do the same as we were, which was enjoy these spectacular monuments for what they were, timeless works of art that have been preserved to the privilege of us all.

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Some of the architecture and carvings are similar to the sites we’d visited up until this point, but the details were no less impressive and mesmerizing. Even now as I gaze at some of these pictures, I can’t believe the kind of effort and talent that went into it all. It made me want to run my hand over every groove, every concave, every protrusion that we bore witness to. The enclosures allowed me to imagine the kinds of congregations that once took place when these were active sites of worship and religious practice. I certainly don’t know the exact history of every place that we went to, and I’m sure that it is beyond rich, indeed. The Khmer certainly left quite a legacy behind for the world to experience.

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Along the edges of Banteay Srei, there were fields of rice paddies that swayed in the wind. The vegetation all around us was vibrant and lush. There were some lookout points where we could take in a wider landscape and give us a better understanding of where Banteay Srei was situated in the Cambodian countryside.

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As we went from site to site, we were never really sure what we would be in for. Next, we drove for a long time before we made it to Kbal Spean. This was not a temple at all; in fact, it started off as a 1.5 km hike through some of the most amazing jungle we’d seen. The Cambodia we’d seen had been typically flat, but this trek was upwards all the way, certain areas revealing a sick mountainous view, peaks and valleys stretching for miles, all of it covered in intermeshed flora.

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At the end of our journey, we were rewarded with a few carvings etched into the stony flooring below the jungle canopy. Some of the carvings looked like Angkor Wat itself, a Sunday Buddha laying comfortably next to it. There were also depictions of Khmers riding beastly lion-like animals, chained at the mouth and neck, under the control of the same people whose artistry is still represented at Kbal Spean to this day, hundreds of years later.

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The hike back down was much easier because it was, well, down. On our way up we were so concerned with reaching our destination, we didn’t take in the scenery quite as much as on the way back. Breathtaking as always. We took a little side route that led us to a small waterfall before heading back to the main trail.

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After Kbal Spean, we were able to visit a facility functioning as both a museum and orphanage, started up by a former Khmer Rouge child soldier, a man named Aki Ra, and his late wife Hourt, where thousands of recovered UXOs and landmines are on display. Aki Ra and Hourt had/have dedicated their lives to restoring their country by attempting to rid it of the millions of landmines laid by the Khmer Rouge in the ‘70s, and taking in Cambodian children in need of care. Aki Ra was nominated as a CNN Hero for his work and he is driven to improve the conditions of his country.

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We visited two more temples that day, and as I said earlier, I must’ve been damn tired, damn lazy, probably both. Either way, I didn’t get to write down their names, but they were awesome. The first temple was quite large. We saw snakes slithering around in the grass below us and it was very deserted at the time we visited, to our utmost delight. We traversed the inner caverns of the temple and came across an old Buddhist man who chose to perform some sort of ritual that ended with us donning yarn-like bracelets which have since fallen off, but which both Teresa and I have kept to this day. We weren’t sure whether we were married or official Buddhists, but it was really cool and in the end, we saw it as a blessing from a respectful, pleasant man who expected nothing in return (but of course we couldn’t leave him empty handed after a good 5-minute ceremony like that).

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Our last stop on day 2 was a mixed blessing for me. Another beautiful temple that we got to watch the sunset from. Oun actually joined us on this one, climbing to the top and taking one of the most spectacular views ever.

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On my way up, climbing the stone steps that would take us to the top, I somehow put my foot down in a way that caused a muscle to spasm all the way up my neck. It was pretty damn painful, to say the least. I’ve had all kinds of muscular problems in the past, and this one was certainly up there with the most painful. It even caused us to postpone day 3 of Angkor Wat; I was laid out in bed the next day in a lot of pain. A very shitty feeling when you’re used to being constantly active and want to do nothing more than continue to trek.

Yeah, it sucked, but I won’t whine any more about it and like I said, the view from the top was spectacular. This is my 25th or 26th post and I really do feel like I’m running out of adjectives to describe just about everything.

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