Friday, December 23, 2016

November 17

Dark and early the next morning, we got up and had a little breakfast to take with us (though we ate most of it there) of three different types of bread, some hard boiled eggs, waters, and bananas. This had all been put together by the wonderful staff who knew we were leaving before the normal breakfast would open up. Suvann arrived at 5:00 AM and we drove straight into Angkor Wat from there. We drove to the main Angkor Wat temple where we were joining a large mass of people, all intent on watching the sunrise together at Angkor Wat. There were two ponds on either side of the main walkway and it took us a little bit to realize that the reason people were gathered around one side of the ponds was because of the amazing reflection of the temple and sunrise in the water. Duane and Shauna went off to find a spot by the pond while Brandon and I lingered near the entrance to the wat. The temple wasn't technically open for at least another hour or so. As we walked towards the pond to find Shauna and Duane, coming up the walkway towards us, accompanied casually by two guards, was a very very naked man. They walked up past the guards at the entrance to the temple and off to the side where they wrapped a jacket of some sort around the man's waist. And then I think they went up and into the temple. ???

Anyway...Brandon and I found a spot on the pond to take photos and then he wandered off. I waited for awhile for him to return but finally wandered around trying to find him. Instead I found Shauna and Duane who were taking photos at the other end of the pond. Joining them I asked them if they'd seen Brandon. They hadn't. But just a moment later I looked down the line of the pond and there was Brandon - about seven feet to our left. He'd noticed us about the same time that we'd noticed him. :)

The sunrise was beautiful with the buildings silhouetted, but otherwise was very gentle. There was enough haziness to the sky that rather than a dramatic sunrise it just slowly got brighter and brighter. Once we'd watched for a good hour, we finally decided to go in. On our way back towards the gate we came across our first monkey! We'd seen a few from a distance, but these were the first ones to be right beside us. We marveled for a bit until it ran off and then continued on.

We spent the next several hours just wandering around Angkor Wat - the main temple complex. To say that it is exquisite is an understatement. The colors are mostly gone and the stone remains, but the details are still literally everywhere - over nearly every surface. Everywhere we looked there were intricately carved design. Every wall, every doorway, every window. Everywhere. Near the beginning, Duane got some sort of blessing by some very young Buddhist monks. For a small donation you get a little bracelet and some water splashed on you. But best of all was their incantation - the harmony of the two young voices was very cool.

We wandered up and down and around - seeing much - until we were ready to go and see more. Suvann was waiting patiently back at the car and was ready to take us on to something else!

So, this map above is actually pretty great for giving a general representation of the entire complex. The night before we were at Prasat Prei Rup (yet another spelling variation) up in the top right corner. We'd just visited the Angkor Wat portion surrounded by the moat near the bottom left corner. From Angkor Wat we drove into Angkor Thom, entering through the South Gate. The gate was beautiful, and narrow. Suvann dropped us off at the lead up to the gate which was lined with two varying types of individuals. Apparently the Khmer Rouge had come in and taken the heads off of all the statues and sold them, so the heads we saw were replicas.

Through the bridge we met Suvann again and he drove us just up the road to the Bayon temple. We wandered there for awhile and then headed to Ta Prohm (better known as Tomb Raider).

Ta Prohm was probably one of my favorite places at Angkor Wat - simply because of the trees. The temple is famous because (as you might have guessed) the beginning of the first Tomb Raider movie was shot here. The trees were magnificent, giant trees - slowly consuming all the buildings and walls of the temple. It was a little mind bending, because if these trees were so ancient and gigantic, it only helped put into perspective how old these buildings were, that they had been built, used, and abandoned long before the trees had taken root, much less had an opportunity to grow to such heights. We wandered through Ta Prohm and even got a little turned around as we tried to avoid going against the flow of visitors once or twice. But we saw most of it. When we finally left, Duane was waylaid by two women selling different things. If it hadn't been somewhat sad (I mean, they are trying to make their income selling things and seemed somewhat desperate), it would have been more amusing - but even still it was. Duane repeatedly declined but they followed us all the way to our car and were still soliciting us to buy things until the moment we drove off. A little boy had latched onto Brandon, trying to get him to buy a whistle, and we said no but he continued to ask us, even pressing his face against the window after we'd closed the door on the car after getting in. Again, this all was somewhat amusing at the time, but it is so difficult to know the state of things for these individuals. With the children, I knew they were supposed to be in school and that buying things would only likely make things worse for them in some regards, but with the adults, who knows?

Following Ta Prohm we drove to Suvann's home to meet his wife. the night before Duane had expressed some interest in trying some various fruits and Suvann's wife had gone out and gotten those things that evening. When we arrived at their home, we spent a pleasant thirty minutes with them inside eating those fruits and talking. Best mango I've ever had! (Although all the mango we had in Thailand also beats out what I've had here in the states.) They had three cats that I made a small effort to try and pet, but were too skittish to come near strangers. I showed Suvann a picture of Peaches and his response was, "She looks very healthy!" (a.k.a. she's on the fluffy/chubby side). We finally prepared to head out again and took a few photos before we left.

Suvann took us to a bank (we needed a little more USD to pay him with) and then we grabbed some lunch and visited a locally made store (everything was beautiful, but very expensive) and then headed for the border! The drive up to O Smach was pleasant, though a few hours long (I think about three, three and a half?). We looked out the window, dozed a bit, played on our phones, etc. Suvann had never actually driven to O Smach, but he'd spent a few years of military service near the border. He also told us that is was common for Cambodians to travel the same path that we were taking up to Surin for medical treatment. We arrived at the border (though it was not initially clear exactly where the border was) and took a bathroom break and then passed through immigration. There was a brief moment of concern that we wouldn't be able to go back and pay Suvann, but the border staff were very accommodating and friendly. We thanked Suvann and hopped into another Lexus - a ride arranged by Suvann with a Cambodian friend who was a taxi driver in Thailand.

The drive up to Surin was shorter than the drive to O Smach, and we were somewhat entertained by the super cheesy Cambodian music videos that were playing on the screen in the car. As we drove through Surin towards our hotel we got a first glimpse of the long buffet of fruit set out for the elephant buffet the next day.

Finally arriving at our hotel - Fortune Mansion - we got our room keys and headed over to our rooms. The rooms were clean and very simple, and maybe just a little spartan. We relaxed for most of the evening, stepping out only to stop over at a 7-Eleven for a few snacks - our dinner for the night. 

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