Before I start droning on, I'd just like to point out that the strange lettering in my posts is beyond my control. I downloaded an app for my travels, knowing that I couldn't do what I wanted with just an iPad. It's called 'Blogsy,' and isn't bad except that it takes matters into its own hands. Downloading my photos should be in cinch in theory, except that it seems to choose the images it wants. Of course the images that I want don't seem to turn up. I'll just have post them on Facebook.
Went to Angkor Wat today. I really didn't know what to expect, but, apart from it being very touristy, it was absolutely astonishing.
Things got off to a bad start. I set the alarm on the iPad and went off to sleep, having booked a Tuk-tuk for 5 in the morning, so that I could see the famous sunrise over the main temple. I woke up and looked at the time. It was 6.45; somehow the slide thing for am and pm was on pm, when I distinctly remember setting to am. It must have slipped back without me noticing as I set the rest of the time. Rushing downstairs, I found my driver, who had been waiting patiently since 5.
We set off on the twenty minute drive and were soon in a very pleasant suburb, which then became a tree lined avenue. Monkeys frolicked? gamboled? or whatever it is that monkeys do. Couldn't tell you what sort of monkeys, as I'm no expert on primates, only being able to positively identify chimpanzees and American Christian Fundamentalists.
We came round a bend and there it was. The big, famous temple, with the pine cone shaped spires. It's enormous. There's a Stone walkway of a good 400 metres, which approaches the huge wide facade, which must be getting on for the width of Versailles. On arriving, this turns out to be just the first part of something much bigger. Passing through the central gate reveals another walkway which is possibly even longer.
Buddhist monks were pretty well represented and like everyone else were taking lots of pictures. Everywhere you look, there is something of interest. The only other place I've been which has such a powerful feel, vibe or whatever you want to call it is Stonehenge.
I wandered around for an hour or so and climbed the incredibly steep steps to the upper levels. I don't have a head for heights, so took it gingerly. Although it was only about eight thirty, it was already getting hot. After an hour, the 1.5 litre bottle of water I'd brought along was nearly gone. I tipped the remainder over my head, which was like a hot shower.
Back to the Tuk-tuk and on to the next temple. Maybe it's my imagination, but I kept seeing similarities between these structures and the pre-Colombian temples of Central America. There are lots of faces carved into the stone which had the same chunky, intimidating stare that you see in pictures of Inca and Aztec sites. Even the buildings had a similar look, with central stairways up the main edifice. One thing's for sure; the South American boys didn't share the meditative and philosophical ideas of the Hindus, who built the first Angkor temples, nor those of the Buddhists who appropriated the place a few centuries after it was built
Drove to temple after temple and finally decided to have a break for lunch. There are restaurants scattered around the 550 square mile site; this one had a roof with open sides and lots of fans. It turned out to be only 10.30.
There are young kids, normally girls, everywhere trying to sell you stuff you don't need. One girl came up with some postcards. She was about 12 and had masses of personality. 'You wanna buy postcards?' I said that I wasn't really interested. 'But If I sell cards, I can go to school in the morning, get a good education.' Compared to some of the kids I've taught in France, she, and several of the other kids I've come across would, in 'normal' circumstances be destined for great things.
One girl told me that if I didn't buy her wares, she'd cry. 'Go on then.'
'I've changed my mind.' Good banter, much better than what passes for repartée in French schools, the ubiquitous: 'Quoi?' These kids can all speak passable English.
You just hope that they fulfill their potential and don't end up as prostitutes.
Walking past a shrine, I saw a monk sitting just in front of the Buddha. He was playing with a telephone and smoking a Winston Light. There was something of the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland about him. I said hello and he invited me up to join him in his ten words of English. We tried to communicate and he chain smoked his pack of Winstons, interrupting the basic conversation, from time to time to ask me for a light.
I was unable to pick up any of the finer points of the Theravadic tradition
At that point the elephants turned up, something I wasn't expecting. You can rent an elephant to do the temple tour. It must be many years since I last saw an elephant in the flesh, but they seemed a lot smaller than I remember. They were Indian elephants, but maybe there's a Cambodian sub-species built in proportion to the human population. Even compared to the Thais, the people here tend to be tiny. I'm a giant by comparison.
Near the hotel is a road sign which says: 'Beyond.' Don't know what it says on the back.