Wednesday, December 12, 2007
We'd Always Have Angkor
The problem with taking a long trip is writing about it. It's definitely very challenging to cramp in everything that happened in a chronological order without sounding verbose and prosaic about doing this and that, seeing so and so, etc. So for this trip, I just want to instead highlight random impressions of the whole experience, and here it goes.
1.) The parts that I saw of Cambodia were dusty. Red, gray, orange, yellow dust. It permeates everything, I can even feel it between my teeth. Also, I've never seen a place so flat. Unimpeded fields and fields of rice spanning all the way to the horizon, as far as the eyes can see. Another exciting thing about Cambodia is the money. It has the riel as the official currency. But in Siem Reap, one can use the US dollar, the Thai baht, and the Cambodian riel of course. However, the currency of choice is the US dollar. All the prices in the restaurants and the convenience stores are in dollars. One time I paid for a bottle of water using Thai baht and was given some change in US dollars and riel. It couldn't be more crazy than that.
2.) Mass tourism has crept all over Siem Reap, from uber swanky hotels to rundown guesthouses. Most businesses are obviously oriented towards the tourism industry, including travel agencies, restaurants (which are surprisingly tastefully decorated by the way), bicycle rental shops, etc. Of course they could not help it coz the country's biggest attraction is found in this town, but then I could not help but wonder if the authorities could somehow manage the chaos, especially the construction boom, to maintain its quaint atmosphere.
3.) Speaking of mass tourism, one cannot avoid the tour groups. They are fucking everywhere! It does not help of course that I went during the height of the tourist season. At some point my sole concern was actually getting away from them, which seems futile because they're always looming nearby in their uniform umbrellas, noisy guides, and corny hats. When caught in the stampede of tour groups, one would be drowned in the noise of dozens of cameras clicking and the endless stream of people posing in front of a particular edifice or bass reliefs.
4.) The ruins of Angkor are definitely worth the hype. They're majestic, mesmerizing, and surreal. Angkor Wat itself was underwhelming, for some reason I have yet to figure out. But Bayon (the temple with larges Buddha faces) and Ta Phrom (famed for the huge roots hugging the ruins) are two of my most favorite sites. If walking around them in their ruined state is already a staggering experience, one can only wonder how it was during the height of their civilization.
5.) But then, one can only have enough of them ruins. My friend and I were mesmerized on the first day, trying to capture the details, oooohing and aaaahing over the intricate carvings and how the huge rocks were piled to achieve such exquisite structures. The second day was less exciting coz we felt we're quite familiar with some of the features already. But on the third day, we simply took quick visits to the ruins as they were becoming way all too monotonous... same balusters, same deities, same Buddhas, same old heaps and blocks of sandstones and whatnot. That's just us of course, and for some people their reaction might be way different... why don't we ask the tour groups?
6.) One of the best ways to see Angkor is by bicycle. While on our first day we rented a tuk-tuk coz we first visited the farther temples, on the second and last day we opted to rent bicycles instead. This is a good choice for transport coz we were able to enjoy more the scenery and take in as much of nature as we can. On the second day, we must have covered around 8 kms and roughly 15 kms on the third day. That was yet the most distance I've done on a bicycle and right now my bums hurt. The downside to riding the bicycles is that one can only move at a certain pace and therefore we covered less temples than we initially intended.
7.) The highlight of my Angkor trip is not only seeing a place I've wanted to visit all my life, but experiencing it all with perhaps one of the most wonderful persons I've ever met. Sigh.
Yun lang po. Bow.