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    Tropical Storm Tour: Cambodia Part 7

    Thursday, July 9, 2015
    Siem Reap, Cambodia

    A dreary day at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    A dreary day at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    Ultra thick buildings at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Ultra thick buildings at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    Steep stairs at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Steep stairs at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    I set my alarm for 4:00 am to get ready for the big day: my first visit to the Angkor temple complex. The only problem was the sky decided to let loose with a consistent downpour. At around 5:00 am, I climbed into a motorcycle tuk-tuk as the driver donned rain gear and shuttled me a few miles north toward the gates of Angkor. On the way, all of the other tuk-tuks blazed past us; I have no idea why my driver was such a slow-poke. After a short while, we pulled up to the ticket counter, where I forked over $40.00 for a three-day pass. Luckily, they accepted my Thai baht, but I figured out a little bit later that they overcharged me by three bucks. I guess they had to tack on some tax. Then they took a photo of me and printed it right on the ticket so I could not loan it to someone else, as it’s good for any three days spread out over a whole week.

    Beautiful carvings at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Beautiful carvings at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    Giant faces wrought in stone at Bayon, Angkor Thom in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Giant faces wrought in stone at Bayon, Angkor Thom in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    Descending into darkness at Bayon, Angkor Thom in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Descending into darkness at Bayon, Angkor Thom in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    The first stop of the day was at one of the most famous temples of the complex, Angkor Wat, built in the 12th century as a Hindu temple for the Khmer Empire, gradually transforming into a Buddhist temple. Just a hint of morning light slightly tinted the horizon and the rain refused to let up. In fact, it never did stop raining the entire day–not even for one minute. But, despite the inclement weather, the tourists trundled down the walkways in droves, some with their bodies sheathed in plastic and others, like myself, toting umbrellas. It was quite challenging to shoot photos while holding an umbrella, but there was no way around it. Soon after spying the majestic towers of Angkor Wat, I found myself within the fortress, marveling at the ultra-thick, intricately carved stone buildings everywhere and stairways steeper than ladders. Inside one dimly lit hallway, a local man offered me lit incense to place in a shrine, but I declined because I knew he would make me donate money. The way I looked at it, I already donated $40.00, which is a small fortune in Cambodia. Right after, I saw a couple of tourists accept the incense, and when they placed it in the shrine, sure enough, he opened up a little box and hit them up.

    More giant faces wrought in stone at Bayon, Angkor Thom in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    More giant faces wrought in stone at Bayon, Angkor Thom in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    Believe it or not, this is a staircase at Phimeanakas, Angkor Thom in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Believe it or not, this is a staircase at Phimeanakas, Angkor Thom in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    The Terrace of the Elephants, Angkor Thom in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    The Terrace of the Elephants, Angkor Thom in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    Well over two hours elapsed by the time I emerged from Angkor Wat. On the way out to the tuk-tuk, a girl lured me over to a food stall with the promise of an omelet on bread for $3.00 instead of the inflated $5.00 listed on the menu. What a bargain! A bunch of kids tried to sell me souvenirs at the table. Second in the line-up of temples was Bayon, built in the late 12th or early 13th century, which boasts many giant tranquil Buddhist faces carved into towers that attract tourists and their smartphone lenses like gazelles attract cheetahs. One rude Chinese lady nearly knocked me over as she squeezed past me through the crowd for a photo op. After a brief glance at Phimeanakas to snap a couple of photos of its intimidatingly steep staircase, I headed over to the Terrace of the Elephants, where trunks hang freely and the tourists gather at yet another photogenic spot within a phalanx of temples inside the Angkor Zone. Right next to that is a narrow walkway that zig-zags its way through a labyrinth featuring a ton of amazing carvings all over the walls.

    Beautiful carvings at the Terrace of the Elephants, Angkor Thom in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Beautiful carvings at the Terrace of the Elephants, Angkor Thom in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    Intricate portals at Ta Keo, Angkor Thom in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Intricate portals at Ta Keo, Angkor Thom in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    I had to walk through mud like this all day at the Angkor ruins in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    I had to walk through mud like this all day at the Angkor ruins in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    Exiting the passageway, I passed by the Terrace of the Leper King, where my tuk-tuk driver was supposed to be waiting for me out front. As I walked along the road, I looked around for him where a bunch of tuk-tuks were parked on the other side, but no dice. So, I kept walking, thinking he may have been at the next temple. The main problem was there was no next temple. There was just jungle–lots of it. About a half mile away, I came to a big gate, where I whipped out a map and asked another tuk-tuk driver where I was. He said I was at the North Gate. So, I schlepped all the way back down a half mile to where I had just been and walked over to where all of the tuk-tuks were parked.

    Another insanely steep staircase at Ta Keo, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Another insanely steep staircase at Ta Keo, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    Traditional Cambodian musicians outside Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Traditional Cambodian musicians outside Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    A tree attacks some ruins at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    A tree attacks some ruins at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    I finally found my driver kicking back inside his tuk-tuk and angrily told him I had just schlepped a mile round trip for nothing after walking through brown mud puddles and climbing stairs for hours and hours all morning. I didn’t yell, I just told him he should have parked closer to the road where I could see him and he could keep an eye out for me. His response was he showed me on the map where he would be waiting, like it was all my fault. Yeah, I made a mistake by walking past the spot he showed me, but he made a mistake, too, by unintentionally hiding. I’m usually really good with directions, but when you turn corners in a million different ways inside labyrinthine temple grounds, sometimes you can get your sense of direction all mixed up. Since it was still raining non-stop, and after what had just happened, I dramatically proclaimed this “The worst day ever!” The driver, who was not too happy that I was ticked off, asked if I wanted to continue the tour, and I said yes. After all, we only had three more temples to stop at.

    Tourists pose at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Tourists pose at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    More intricate portals inside Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    More intricate portals inside Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    A wall of roots engulfs a wall of stone at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    A wall of roots engulfs a wall of stone at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    At Ta Keo, which was built in the 11th century, I climbed up one of those intimidating giant staircases that is easily as steep as a ladder. At the top, the prize was the view of a solemn, golden-garbed Buddha image inside a dark shrine. For the grand finale, we proceeded onward to Ta Prohm, the famous Hindu-Buddhist temple complex from the late 12th and early 13th centuries that is being consumed by the jungle. Entry is gained through a long walkway, where I saw a group of traditional Cambodian musicians jamming a repetitive riff on into infinity. After dropping a donation in the bowl, I continued on into the temple. After passing through the first door, I turned to the left, where I was struck by the sight of a tall, slender tree growing out of a crumbling shrine.

    A close-up of roots attacking a stone wall at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    A close-up of roots attacking a stone wall at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    Tree roots and stone walls supported by joists at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Tree roots and stone walls supported by joists at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    Soon after, I found myself walking among scores of huge tree roots that have been hard at work for decades–if not centuries–dismantling thick, moss-covered stone walls. Like Bayon, the extremely photogenic atmosphere of Ta Prohm attracts tourists by the busload for photo ops unmatched anywhere. I saw at least one pedestal built specifically built for posing in front of some huge roots. Plenty of passageways both inside and out boasting uneven, stone-strewn surfaces offered technical hiking conditions–especially with the added dimension of mud and puddles from the non-stop rain. After I had my fill of this scenic ancient site of awe-inspiring beauty, I jumped back into the tuk-tuk at 1:00 pm for a ride back to the Golden Takeo, where I convalesced for the remainder of the day.

    Words and photos ©2015 Arcane Candy.

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