Day 91: Tomb Raiding

Buhda buhda baaaa buhda ba, have some of that noise maker. I tossed and turned the whole night, knowing that I had to be up at 4:45am in order to be at Angkor Wat for sunrise. Yet I found myself asleep when my alarm went off. There is no way the noise maker was able to sleep through that racket, as the phone was on the bedside table beside his head. When we finally got outside we found our tuktuk driver waiting. He told Jamie and I that we would struggle to get in to one of the temples as we were wearing vests. We quickly darted back to the room and grabbed some t-shirts, making as much racket as possible. We then returned to our tuktuk, having to disturb the young hotel boy from his sleep once again as we passed through the main doors. It took around 5 minutes before we arrived at the ticket booth, following dozens of other drivers doing the early morning rounds as well. We had to pay $20 per ticket and pose for a picture to prove to the authoritative figures they belonged to us. We then returned to the tuktuk to begin the Wacky Races style start to Angkor Wat.

It was still dark upon arrival, and we had to use a torch app on my iPhone to guide us to the main temple. As we gathered around the lake outside Angkor Wat it was the first time I found myself thanking the heavens for being tall. I was happy because I was able to take brilliant pictures of the temple without people’s heads being in the way. We moved a couple of times as the sun rose in order to capture the beautiful sight, all of which I captured perfectly. Jamie however, ran into some issues when an extremely rude German man pushed his way to the front of everyone around him in order to get the best pictures. There is something about famous landmarks that turns anyone with an expensive camera into an A*******. They seem to completely ignore your presence making you want to rip the cameras from their arrogant hands and smash them onto the floor.

Seeing as it was quite a cloudy morning we presumed we wouldn’t get the spectacular sunrise we got up early for and decided to leave. That was until we were nearing our tuktuk and we saw people running towards us. It turned out, the people who were running knew something we would find out 2 minutes later… The sun was rising, turning the sky around it into a luscious shade of orange and pink. After some umming and ahhhing I took the lead and suggested we should return to capture what we got out of bed for. After all, would Moby Dick have given up so easily on capturing the illusive white whale??? When we got back to the lake the crowds had dispersed making it easier for us to take envy worthy photos. Victorious in our achievement, we returned to the tuktuk in order to beat the maddening crowds, as they remained at Angkor Wat to explore it’s grounds.

The next temple we visited was Ta Phrom. This was our favourite one of the day, and the very place they filmed some of the movie Tomb Raider (all the temples were in the movie, but this one looked more like the video game than the rest). It truly was astonishing, over time Ta Phrom Had turned to ruin and had become intertwined with the surrounding jungle. Sarah had read they purposely do very little renovation work to it, yet when we arrived certain areas were covered with diggers and cranes. It was still impressive nonetheless, there were before and after pictures to show the extent of their work (it looked all the better for it). Ta Phrom was huge and had many different sections. It took us a good 2 hours to explore all of it, and later that day when we watched Tomb Raider it was funny to see the very places we had been standing.

It was a relaxing experience to walk around as there were no tourists (preferably Japanese) getting in the way of both our photos and us. I don’t really know how to put into words just how spectacular wandering the grounds was. At any time we were surrounded by tall sculpted towers, gigantic silk cotton trees, and carvings of deities on all the walls and pillars. All I can do is describe what it looked like, as the feeling you get of being dwarfed by its sheer dimensions is something you have to experience for yourself, and it’s times like that that I feel so lucky to be living this lifestyle, and so proud that I made the decision to leave behind the warehouse of Westfield’s trading estate.

We stopped for dinner near the end of the visit. We took the noodles to go and made a new friend in the form of a canine, of which a local joked that it was our tour guide. It was a good job we were heading back then as it looked like everyone who had finished at Angkor Wat was now arriving at Ta Phrom. We located our driver and headed off to the third temple of the day, Angkor Thom.

Angkor Thom was around 3km in size, and each section was spaced far apart. Like I said earlier, this also featured in the movie Tomb Raider. Now, any lead we had over other tourists was long forgotten when we got dropped off, from a birds eye view it must have looked like a recently kicked ant’s nest. It was crawling with tourists, most of which were Chinese and Japanese, and the most annoying part, they constantly got in the way of our photos, or stopped in front of us every two seconds to take pictures of their own. Our driver dropped us off outside the first section, the south gate, passing the Elephant Terrace along the way (a long wall with carvings of elephants on). He then told us we could walk back to find him in the car park when we were done (we all felt sorry for him as it must be a long boring day having to wait around on people).

We walked around the temple and it was mind blowing, visually at least. It became very difficult to navigate ourselves, this was due to the high walls and it’s maze like qualities. At one point we lost Jamie, but he was quick to find us again, which was a good job as he took a couple lovely photos of me and the annoying blonde bombshell that was with us. There was so much to take in, from fallen rocks to impressive statues, I found myself forever pulling my camera from my pocket. I did it so often that I began to feel like a cowboy withdrawing his weapon. The temple had a set of steep steps you could climb to reach the top and admire the views. I was surprised when we got there as inside the top spire was a small, dark room with a Buddha statue. People were paying money to receive a blessing from a monk who would wave an incense stick over them as they knelt and prayed.

The most impressive features atop the temple were the surrounding pillars. Each one had four sides, and on each side were smiling Buddha faces which had been hand sculpted into them. Of course, anytime we tried to take a photo, either another tourist would walk in front of the camera, or clusters of people would gather around and push and shove until they got to the front to take their own pics. It got a little too much at the south gate so we decided to return to the ground and head over to Bapuon, the central section of Angkor Thom.

Outside the temple we were passed by people riding elephants. All of them were wearing bright yellow and red sheets on their backs, and the people were sat on specially made seats which curved to the shape of the elephant’s backs. It was only a matter of 150 feet before we reached Bapuon. It had a long walkway which led to the main gates, when we arrived Sarah was told to cover her shoulders (because she’s a woman) before we were allowed to climb the stairs to the temple. As we explored the outside of the temple, Jamie and I found we had to duck under a lot of the doorways, as this temple appeared to be less accommodating than the previous two.

We walked around the perimeter until we reached another set of stairs. These led to the very top tier of the temple, and boasted a great view of the surrounding fields and ruins. The picture I took from atop didn’t even look real, it resembled something from a video game, it was very difficult to capture what the eye was seeing but that didn’t stop us from trying. By that point we had done quite a lot of walking already, so decided to take a rest for a while. It was nice but I found it difficult to muster up enough energy to get going again. We had to wait to descend due to more Japanese tourists taking pictures on each step they climbed down…. “Brilliant”, my sarcastic brain thought. When we were about to leave Sarah grew with anger at the fact two girls were openly walking around in nothing more than short shorts and a vest (one of which was ironically dressed like the Tomb Raider character, Lara Croft) yet she had to suffer in her pink cardigan.

We then moved on to the next section of Angkor Thom, with a storming group of tourists hot on our tails. We didn’t look at much as it was only small statues and the like, and we decided we had seen the most impressive bits during our visit. The only thing that we could have paid a visit to, which might have been impressive, was the 60ft reclining Buddha. Sarah and I had already seen one during a day trip back in Thailand anyway, so it was no real biggie. As we were exiting, in order to avoid a yelling woman trying to sell us her goods, we manoeuvred through a walkway with decorated walls. On the walls were amazing carvings of religious figures, which probably depicted a story but because we didn’t have a guide we’ll never know. Unless I google it or read the tourist book Sarah bought, and there is very little to no chance I’ll be doing that.

At the end of the walkway we located the tuktuk driver, then had some lunch at a nearby restaurant (if you can call a bunch of tables under gazebos a restaurant). There must be different prices for the locals and for westerners, as each item on the menu was over $5 for us, but Sarah noticed when the table of locals paid their bill they handed over no more than $3. Due to the prices being so high we only ordered drinks then moved on to the next stop, a return visit to Angkor Wat to explore it’s grounds.

There was another stop we could take on the way to Angkor Wat, Phnom Bakheng. This was a temple atop a mountain, I say mountain, it was more of a hill. The tuktuk stopped at the bottom and the three of us made our way to the top. It only took 10 minutes to get there and, again, there was construction going on. The temple itself was only little but had a great view of the surrounding forests, and in the distant poked the silhouette of Angkor Wat. There was a man sleeping on the edge of the temple, clearly he was also tired from all the walking. We took some pictures then made the descent back to our driver. On the way Jamie and I stopped for a bathroom break, causing Sarah to feel jealous because she was a girl and the world wasn’t her toilet! This may sound distasteful but at least we went into the wilderness, unlike the locals who go on the streets, but when in Rome and all that!

When we reached the bottom we were shouted at by another local lady trying to sell us her goods. She ran along with a list of her offerings, hopping and waving her arms trying to get our attention (I couldn’t help feeling that it would make for a great comedy sketch) luckily there was too much traffic for her to cross, and by the time it cleared we were off in our tuktuk. The last stop of the day (before our hotel) was Angkor Wat, it took somewhere between 5 – 10 minutes to get there, and when we arrived we paid a visit to The Blue Pumpkin for a hard earned coffee break. After our mochas we made our way over to the temple but were halted by ticket checkers. It all began falling apart when I couldn’t find Jamie’s ticket. I had ahold of them all day, and although it still remains a mystery where his ticket went, my best guess as to how it disappeared was when we visited Bapuon. I think I handed it to Jamie when they were checked.

I felt really bad about it, as it meant Jamie couldn’t come in, so Sarah and I darted in to explore as quickly as we could, while Jamie sat outside and waited. He was a good sport about it (even if his eyes said otherwise) and claimed it would be filled with tourists anyway. How right he was. Luckily for Jamie he didn’t miss much, even though the temple had an impressive infrastructure (which reminded me of scenes from the game Assassin’s Creed) it was tarnished by the sheer volume of tourists. At one point it took Sarah and I 10 minutes to take a single picture because of the swarms of tourists which passed by, ruining the shot each time!

We queued up to climb atop one of Angkor Wat’s spires, where once again Sarah had to cover up. We took many pictures, both on ours and Jamie’s camera, and the view of the surrounding grounds was impressive. Other than that we spent the rest of our time battling our way past tourists. When we had enough of it’s beauty and pests (tourists) we returned to the lake to take one more picture of the outside of the temple. It was a good job we took pictures first thing in the morning, as in the afternoon any picture of the temple was ruined by the scaffolding and tarpaulin which was erected for renovation work. It would be better if they closed it until work was finished, but they take so much money from ticket sales each day that it would be too great a loss for them to do so. After our 300th photo of the day, we found our buddy Jamie and returned to the hotel.

When we arrived home and safe we paid the driver $5 each, plus a handsome tip of $3 (I know, big spenders!) we then headed back to the room to shower, as by then we had filthy feet and sweaty bodies. After that Sarah and I enjoyed some cooked dinner and beers while watching the movie Tomb Raider. As for Jamie, he headed into town to use the Internet cafe again. As the film neared it’s climax the Scottish lad returned. We had some more beers and a couple games of pool before heading out for a night on the town. Before we could do any drinking Jamie needed to buy a sleeping bag liner, after being victim of a bed bug bashing. I left the two of them to explore the markets while I had my first fish foot massage.

I joined a New Zealand couple who were also getting the treatment. As nice as they were to talk to, they were awfully coy when it came to disclosing information about the work they were doing in an orphanage, causing any conversation to abruptly end when the topic was mentioned. Sarah and Jamie soon returned, unsuccessful in their findings, I had 5 minutes remaining on my treatment (it was $1 for 20 minutes) and when it was over we headed to a bar, with me walking on fresh soft feet. We visited two bars that night, but come 1am I found myself practically asleep at the table. We had been up since 4:45 that morning and I was extremely surprised at Sarah still being so alert. In the end Sarah and I returned to the hostel, unlike Jamie, who stayed out until 5am with the three New Zealand boys we met at the bar. When we got back we had to disturb the young hotel employee from his sleep for the second time that day, we then climbed into our beds after a long day reenacting everyone’s favourite femme fetalle, Lara Croft.

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