This is supposed something that rocks up on all those 'top 100 things you should do before you die' lists.
Holding a torch we stumbled through the dark into the Angkor complex and staked out a seat on one of the library steps. Most of the crowd clustered around the edge of the ponds. The predawn light was magnificent. The towers of Angkor framed against the sky.
But oh my god the crowds, while you couldn’t see the people in the pre dawn, you could see the bobbing torches and you could see the light from the LCDs behind cameras all pointed at the same view.
While Angkor in the day time is fairly well policed, there are a lot more vendors working the crowd first thing in the morning trying to sell you torches, books, postcards, scarves, pants, skirts, coffee, paintings. While the view was lovely, the crowds got to me very quickly.
But with or without the without the crowd - it was still absolutely stunning.
Luckily from here we got to ‘escape the crowds’ and while most people were headed into Angkor Wat we headed out to Ta Prohm, better known as the Lara Croft Temple or tree temple. This is the conservation 101 conundrum that comes up in all basic texts about archaeology and conservation methodology. In this case the trees and their root systems and the jungle is doing its best to own the temple, and in parts of the temple the root systems are what is holding it together, plus the trees growing in and around the walls add significant aesthetic values and also have their own environmental significance, so the significance value of the temple is enhanced by the jungle. However, the jungle needs to be controlled to stop it further damaging the jungle, so a delicate balance to preserve both the jungle and the temple fabric is occurring. It also looks amazingingly cool.
While we were wandering around the temple, a local guy gestured Bear to follow him, and took us on a tour through some dark tunnels, climbing over walls, and through galleries pointing out good photo angles. This was both awesome and a little scary. I had no idea if we were allowed in the tunnels or bits of the temple we found ourselves in, and quite a bit of clambering over ruins was occurring. Part of me was saying - don't climb over the archaeology, the rest of me was busy going wow. I wondered if the guy would turn around and request payment at the end of his impromptu tour. Either way, it was interesting and his photo angles were well thought out. We emerged into an area that contained other tourists and official tour guides and he disappeared into the crowd. Later we found him and gave him a dollar and he looked rather surprised, now I wonder if he was surprised we paid him without being asked or offended... oh well.
Root systems inside an Indiana Jones worthy tunnel.
By now it was well and truly breakfast time, so we were driven back to the resort for breakfast and a break, before heading out on the afternoon’s adventure.
For the afternoon we were driven further out of Siem Reap to see one of the more remote temples, Banteay Srei. On the way we stopped at ABC – the Angkor Butterfly Conservation Centre. This was like our butterfly house at the Melbourne Zoo, only just a tropical garden with a net over it full of butterflies, and the hatching room. The guide showed us all the species of butterflies in Cambodia, the eggs, the caterpillars and the cocoons, including cocoons hatching. They also had a variety of stick insects and preying mantis. The centre both works towards conservation of butterfly species and breeds them both for the centre and to sell. The market for butterflies is twofold, one they are good for pollination, like bees and two, and there are exotic butterfly collectors.
We stopped by the road side to see palm sugar being made. You pick the flower of a palm tree, mash the flower, chop the end off and the juice drips into a bamboo tube, you then heat the juice, and then stir it vigorously while it cools so it forms small crystals, then you have palm sugar. If you want palm syrup, you boil it less.
Next stop was Bantey Srei. This was one of the older temples, dating to the 9th Century. This date is problematic, as some of the iconography is reflective of a younger time period. But it is likely the temples were modified and updated over time. This temple has been largely restored using the anastyolsis technique. So while quite run down, gives you a very good impression of how it looked in its heyday.
Obligatory tourist photo
Cuter photo of Cambodian children playing at Bantey Srei.
On the way home, we stopped at the Angkor Landmine museum. This is a museum with a whole bunch of landmines and information about them and information about the techniques used to disarm landmines in the past and currently and the efforts to remove landmines from Cambodia. This was heartbreaking and I didn't take many photos.
We stopped at one more temple on the way home, this temple was Pre Rup. Pre Rup is one of the newer ones, built of a mix of sandstone and brick.
This temple is small but tall with an amazing view. When we got there it was basically empty, but 5pm rocked around and suddenly hundreds of people appeared. We fled the crowds and the driver explained that this temple is also a popular sunset spot.