Friday, 10 May 2013

Siem Reap Part 4: Angkor Wat on Bike

The Plan
Woke up at 6:00 am. Depart from Hotel at 6:30 am on bicycle. 7:00 am watched the sun comes up at the Angkor Wat. And enjoy the day, ahead of everyone else under the sun. Sounds nice? Again, that was the plan.

The Actual Event
Woke up at 7:00 am. The first ray of sunlight had penetrated the earth. One word. Late. We got up and quickly prepared ourselves for a long adventurous day. Well, better be late than never, right? Backpack, food, mineral water, torch light, guide books, sunglasses - checked. Let's go. 

We aimed to set our foot to ten temples. Sounds ambitious? We'll see!

We rented a bicycle each, for the price of USD 3. That is not definitely the cheapest offer available as you could get a bike at USD 1. But time was of the essence, so I didn't argue further. Sometimes, by comparing what we've earned in our country, we just do not mind giving them extra. 

Rezeki Tuhan itu luas, bukan. Apa lah sangat nak berkongsi lebih.

Cycling to Angkor Wat
We took our bikes, which were neatly parked outside of the hotel, and began cycling to Angkor Wat. We could see the ray of sunlight was making its way up, but it was still dark. So we had to be careful while cycling. 

The challenge started the moment we entered into the main road heading towards Angkor Wat. What kind of challenge? You see, the moment you entered into the main road, you are literally submitting yourself for a battle against hundreds or cyclists, motorcycles, tuk tuk, cars, shuttle vans, buses and small lorries. 

Tips #1: 
1. Extra precaution is a must, especially when you are overtaking any grannies cycling so slowly in front of you.
2. Extra precaution is also a must when you are cycling. Beware of any big holes or sharp objects. Or you will run the risk of pushing your bike all the way home about 10 km. 

The most interesting part of cycling in the morning would be seeing local people cycling to work and the local school kids walking and cycling to school. We smiled and waved at them. They did the same in return, despite the fact that we were strangers to them. 

If you do this in Malaysia, they would call you miang.

Purchasing Tickets
After few minutes of cycling, we arrived at the counter to purchase admission tickets to Angkor Wat. As we saw two buses entering the compound, we quickly parked our bikes, before we had to line up behind 80 tourists for admission tickets. 

Purchasing the tickets was simple. Stand in line. Wait for your turn. Give them the money. Look at the camera. They printed out the tickets. Yay. Go have fun. Yes, strike your best pose, as your picture will be on the ticket.

Tips #2: 
There are three types of tickets. One day pass (USD 20), two-day pass (USD 40) and three-day pass (USD 60). The three-day pass may be used even not for three consecutive days, but within the same week. If you purchase the tickets after 5 pm, you will be allowed to see sun set at Angkor Wat for free! But remember, while entering, DO NOT ALLOW the admission officer of Angkor Wat to stamp on your ticket or the ticket will be invalid the next day. And if you are Cambodian, the admission is free!

Tips #3: 
Keep your ticket ALL THE TIME. Officers in charge will request to see your ticket prior to admission and any loss of ticket will be penalised by USD 100.

Almost There
We resumed our journey to Angkor Wat. The day has become brighter, it was pretty obvious we would miss the sun rise at Angkor Wat. So we took our own sweet time cycling and enjoying the nearby scenery. From the hotel, the distance was about 8 km.

After about 10 to 15 minutes of cycling, we finally arrived at the junction, where we could see the gopuras of Angkor Wat standing still before us. The excitement had just kicked in. We turned left and resumed cycling. There were many people cycling with us, as if it was some kind of a marathon or something. We turned right and quickly spot parking lots for bicycle on our left. We parked our bikes. 

The sun was already up. There were people leaving Angkor Wat. Some with frustrated faces. I guessed the weather was cloudy that people could not see sun rise clearly. That happened to me a year ago. But still, not a reason why you should not be enjoying the other things about Angkor Wat. 

We climbed onto the causeway leading us to the gate of the compound of Angkor Wat. Surrounded by about 300 feet moat, the view from both sides sparked your excitement of the day. The floor of the causeway, which consisted of block of rocks arranged together, were somehow disjointed at some points, that you have to be very careful. Some of them were numbered, so I believed, the authorities were in the process of rearranging them. 

An officer greeted us with a friendly hand gesture and politely asked to view our tickets. He compared the look on our faces and the faces on the tickets. He asked: Philippines? We laughed and said that we are from Malaysia. He smiled and surprisingly greeted us in Malay language: Selamat datang (welcome!)

We thanked him and resumed our journey. Wait. Philippines? Well I took it as a compliment. Most Philippines guys on tv are good looking. Haha sempat lagi perasan. Matilah Hairi oi. 

Entering the Compound of Angkor Wat
Upon entering the gate, we saw the majestic Angkor Wat, standing strong before us. Even though it was about 800 metres away, we were somehow moved, by the greatness of human's dedication to art. There were green canvas covering some parts of the building, indicating that it was still going through some process of renovation (yeah, it was still there a year before). We truly understand, it was intended to preserve it for future. I could not stop imagining, how was it like hundreds or thousands years ago.

There were two old buildings on each side, as we walked on the causeway to the main entrance of Angkor Wat. There were also a small pond on the left side, which is a popular spot for photographers early in the morning. Hundreds of them would set up their high-tech photography equipment and wait patiently for the sun to go up, as Angkor Wat and its morning reflection on the pond will be a perfect combination for a picturesque scene.

There were six monks sitting outside of the building on our left. They were definitely well aware that they were the subject of photography at that moment, but they did not seem to be distracted by it. They would smile and wave at tourists who did the same. 

Entering Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat, being the most famous monuments in the Angkor Archeological Park (and also as a symbol in their flags and money) was built by King Suryavarman, as dedication to the Hindu Lord of Vishnu. However, as the subsequent King embraced Buddhism, the function of the temple was transformed into Buddhist worshipping centre. 

Everything about Angkor Wat is about symmetry including the layout, the walls, the hallway, everything.   The wall and the bas-reliefs depicted the Hindu religious belief including the epic tales of Ramayana, Mahabrata, the Battle of Kurukshetra, the Marching Army, the Judgment of the Dead (including those who committed adultery and fraud while conducting selling and buying), the Churning of the Ocean Milk, Vishnu fighting the demons, Battle of Lanka etc. 

No, I am not an archeologist. I learnt these from Elf, the tour guide that explained to us almost every carved walls in Angkor Wat. If you didn't hire one, you would definitely find the walls containing monkeys and dragons and some ugly people - which would not make sense to you.

Apsara and Devas
Other than the Hindu religious belief portrayed on the walls, there were also figures of young ladies on various and different poses on the bas-reliefs and walls. Those in dancing position or poised to dance are the apsaras, while those in guarding positions are the devatas. They represent the ideal image of a female beauty.

The Gopuras, or easily speaking the corn-like towers were the main features of Angkor Wat's view from far. They were actually constructed to symbollise Mount Meru, the home of Vishnu. And actually not only the gopuras symbollise the Hinduism, but each and every part of Angkor Wat. 

Why climbing on top to the prasat is important? Because it is from the central prasat, you are able to enjoy the surrounding view of Angkor Wat from the top. However, to reach the central prasat, tourists are required to wait in a long que and climb series of stairs to the top. Trust me, despite the long que, the view from up above is rewarding. While waiting for the que, we met the same guy, who were selling stuff at the Angkor Night Market. According to him, most people in Siem Reap would take two jobs to support their life. During the day time, he is the tour guide and at night, he sells souvenir. That reminded me of Mr. Vannak, who also took two jobs to maintain his family.

Tips #4: 
Dress for the occasion. I know, Cambodia, just like any other South East Asian countries are HOT. However, you need to bear in mind that you are visiting a worship place, and the Asians have a strong believe in their religion. So R.E.S.P.EC.T is crucial. Respect here includes you need to wear appropriate clothing. So, the ones revealing your shoulder or any skirts above your knees are No-No. Not only they will not allow you to go to the top prasat, but also deny your entrance to some temples. Speaking from experience, the three cute English girls were denied from entrance due to their attire, even when they tried to cover their knees by using their sweaters. 

Time to Go
We spent an hour at Angkor Wat. Even one hour itself was not enough. But we need to make a move as there were nine more temples to go! It was 9:30 am and we were hungry. So we decided to have breakfast at the nearby cafe. 

Halal is a challenging quest in Angkor Archeological Park. Just a plain bread and a hot chocolate, I am liberal like that. 

Stay tune for the adventure in completing 10 temples in a day!

Temple #1 - checked!

Till then, 
Hairi Tahir

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