Friday, 10 May 2013

Siem Reap Part 5: The Remaining Temples on Bike

Wish Us Good Luck
A nice visit to Angkor Wat marked the smooth beginning of the day. Our target is to set our foot to ten temples. Or include other monuments or historical building as well. On bike, with one whole day pass (we need to return our bikes by 7 pm anyway), the goal was indeed a challenge. Let's see whether we were able to finish up all ten temples. 

One down. Nine to go!

Temple #2: Baksei Chamkrong
After breakfast, we continued our journey to the next temple. It seemed that Angkor Archeological Park once housed hundreds or perhaps thousands of temples around the place. While many of them are now a pile of blocks laying on the ground, a few others survive until this date. While cycling under the shady trees, we spotted a pyramid-like temple, perhaps composed by laterite, by the name Baksei Chamkrong (The Bird Who Shelters under its Wings).

Ha camtu. Burung dia mana, jangan tanya saya. 

The Bird and The Wings
Surrounded by shady trees, this Hindu temple seemed less popular to tourists (and less crowded too). I was about to circle the area when few Cambodian teenagers attempted to lure us to climb to the top. Their persistence somehow caused major discomfort, not only to us but to few other western tourists nearby. So my friend and I decided not to go up and instead, we enjoyed the surrounding view of the temple from the ground.

There were four stairs to the central sanctuary, where most of them were in poor condition. Hence, climbing up requires great safety precaution. North stairways seemed to be the safest (a tourist made it to the top using this staircase when we were there).

The best view for photography lighting would be in the morning, as the temple was set facing the sunrise. To me, this temple is has the most outstanding color composition especially when the walls were hit by the sun.

The annoying teenagers disappeared as we showed lack of interest to climb up to the top. But still, for safety reasons, we decided not to go up. After about 20 minutes spent at the compound of the temple, we decided to continue our journey to the next temple. 

Temple #2 - checked!
Let's go.

Entering Angkor Thom via South Gate
Upon exiting the compound of Baksei Chamkrong, we noticed the traffic started to build up ahead of us. I knew instantly that we were about to enter Angkor Thom or the Great City. As the last capital of Khmer Empire, Angkor Thom housed several temples including Bayon, Baphuon and Terrace of the Elephants. Surrounded by moat (or shall I call the drying moat?), Angkor Thom once housed the residents of the priests, high rank officials and the palace. 

From Angkor Wat, there was only one small entrance to Angkor Thom, where practically only one vehicle could pass through at a particular time. Nevertheless, the traffic was somehow less serious than the layout would suggest. We got off from our bike to enjoy the surrounding view, while waiting for the traffic to subside. 

The route to the entrance of Angkor Thom is fenced by two rows of stone devas, placed in a position as if they were playing a tug of war. This was actually a display of the the Ocean of the Churning Milk.

Tips: If you need to go to the loo, nearby the area is the place. But I doubt whether you really need to go to any if you were cycling, as the water was quickly transformed into sweat.

Temple #3: Bayon Temple
Once the traffic subsided, we got onto our bikes and began cycling, passing through the small gate of Angkor Thom and cycled for another kilometre to the centre of the Great City, where the popular smiling temple was located - Bayon. 

Oh yeah, the distance from one temple to another range from 2 km to 12 km. No kid, but walking on foot is a joke. 

Suddenly the green ambiance turned into an earthly brownish scenery including the ground, the tree and the leaves. Some workers were sweeping the dead leaves from the ground, while few of them were on the opposite direction, on top of the elephants. Elephants used to be the most important mode of land transportation, but today, they end up being the commercial subject of amusement and promotion.

And don't mess around with elephant, unless you are prepared to be a piece of photograph laying flat on the ground. 


Hello Smiley Faces
We parked our bicycle across the road, where few elephants were there, waiting for any tourists to take a ride or even pose for a picture. Bayon stood in front of us, just across the road. Upon entering the compound, we were greeted with a smile by one of the staff supervising the entrance, who asked for admission tickets. It was already 11:00 am in the morning and the sun was cruel. 


Since my visit a year ago, nothing much have changed. From far, Bayon seemed like thousands of blocks improperly piled up together with no artistic vision. But the preliminary assessment immediately went off when we stepped inside (especially at the third floor) and witnessed hundreds of minarets and walls carved with smiling faces of the King Jayavarman VII. 

Preserved for thousands of years, this temple seemed like it's going to collapse any time soon, but do not worry, there were efforts undertaken by the authorities including Government of Japan, to ensure this masterpiece of art stands still for a thousand years more. Even though the real function and purpose of Bayon remained a mystery, the bas reliefs carved on the walls narrated various stories including the war between the Champs and the Khmer as well as the daily life of the Khmer people.

We left after an hour for the next destination. 

Temple #3 - checked!
OMG, dehydration to the max!

Temple #4: Baphuon, The Incomplete Lego

I was told that the mineral water, carbonated drinks or juices are sold at a higher price inside Angkor Archeological Center and one should bring his own bottled water. A bottle? Are you kidding me? This was the fourth temple and I had my fourth bottle. I sat down under the nearby tree to enjoy my Diet Coke, while watching a neatly dressed elephant marching in front of us. 

Five minutes later, we were already on our bicycle, towards the next temple. 200 metres from Bayon, a temple by the name of Baphuon is located. Unlike other temples in Angkor Archeological Center, Baphuon documents two significant historical event in Cambodia. 

This three-tiered temple was said to be amongst the greatest masterpiece of the Khmer, but as the time went by, the temple aged terribly that require immediate restoration. Efforts were undertaken by many people, especially the French, who were of the view that one effective way to restore the temple is by taking out the blocks and reassemble them. 

They took out the blocks one by one and laid them down surrounding the temple. Each was carefully marked and numbered to facilitate the assembling processes. But later on, civil war took place and all the architectural plans were destroyed by Khmer Rouge, leaving the generations of today problems to figure out how to rearrange thousands or perhaps millions of blocks.

In 1995, the restoration works commenced once again, and it was completed in 2011. But still, there were piles of blocks remained untouched in the temple's compound. To me, the temple is still incomplete. This served as a reminder how Khmer Rouge had blindly disrupt the process of putting back together a piece of art from the past. 

Sometimes we just could not repeat the greatest work of art produced thousand years ago. 

Temple #4 - checked!
Okay, I am totally dehydrated. I need a drink pronto! My head was aching as the afternoon sun was so hot. . 

Temple #5: Terrace of the Elephants
Less than 500 metres, there was another historical building by the name of Terrace of the Elephants. Since it was a terrace used by King Jayavarman VII to view special procession during his life time, I am not sure whether Terrace of the Elephants were actually a temple. But before we explored further, we were lured by some local women, offering cool drinks and seats under the big shady trees on a wide fields in front of the Terrace of the Elephants. 

From the field, we could see the whole surviving parts of the Terrace of the Elephants. With a 300 metres long platform and three staircase, it was a perfect spot to view any celebration and procession. 

Kira konsert Sure Heboh dia kat sini la tuh...

As we went closer to have a look, we noticed that the bas reliefs incorporated various animals, noticeably the elephants, lions, garudas and horses. And actually the Terrace of the Elephants is somehow connected to the Royal Palace of Phimeanakas.

Temple #5, fine not really a temple, but still I am counting it in - checked!

Temple #6: Prasat Suor Prat the Twelve Towers
As I was having a drink facing the Terrace of the Elephants, I noticed another monuments on our back, like three-stories tall towers, suggesting that they were somehow once connected to one another. I googled and yeah, it made sense to me, as Prasat Suor Prat means "The Towers of the Tight Rope Dancers".

Well, maybe during those procession times, there were dancers and performers doing acrobatic dance on the rope connecting from one tower to another. 

There were also view suggesting that it was used as divine judgment centre, whereby when there were two men in dispute, both parties were forced to sit on any of two towers, and he who was at fault will be suffering illness. (

Still, the function of Prasat Suor Prat remained a mystery. 

Temple #6, okay, I know, not really a temple, but still, I am counting it in - checked!

Exiting Angkor Thom via North Gate
As we were cycling leaving the centre of Angkor Thom towards the north gate, some women were waving at us, inviting us to have lunch at their nearby warong or cafe. We smiled back and politely declined. A quest for halal food is definitely an issue in Angkor Archeological Centre, so we survived by our own Gardenia bread, which was at that particular time, remained half. 

The route to the north gate was somehow, less crowded by traffic, suggesting that this route is actually an off beaten track. The north gate is about 1 km from Terrace of the Elephant, and thank God for the shady trees, whose branches of trees literally touched the other counterpart from across the road, providing us shelter along the way.

In less than 15 minutes, we saw the Avalokitesvara on top of the North Gate and we passed through the uncrowded gate to the next temple, Preah Khan, about 5 km away from the North Gate.

Temple #7: Preah Khan, The Holy Sword
If both the magnificent Angkor Wat and Ta Phrom are not in existence, Preah Khan will be the ultimate destination for tourist. Despite its adequate potential, Preah Khan was outshined and outshadowed by Angkor Wat and Ta Phrom. And perhaps, due to its geographical location too, which was far from the popular route. 

We parked and locked our bikes by a nearby trees, along side other bikes. Well, there was practically no dedicated place for you to park your bikes, but as long as in joined in the band wagon, I think my parking spot was somehow justified. 

We walked along the causeway, leading to Preah Khan. A staff greeted us and requested to view our tickets. Then we resumed the journey. There were local people selling books about Angkor Wat, Cambodia and also surviving the devastation during Pol Pot regime. 

Suddenly the wind blew strongly, causing the nearby paintings on display to be scattered on the floor. We immediately assisted the seller to pick up the paintings one by one. Most of the paintings or perhaps all of them were depicting the apsaras and devas. I took the opportunity to ask the seller how the paintings were done. He said, he took it to the walls and bas relief of the temples and traced them by using chalk. No wonder they were so perfect in terms of the shapes and figures. We politely declined from purchasing as we were on tight budget and headed to the entrance of the temple.

Surrounded by almost drying moat, Preah Khan was built by Jayavarman VII not only as a temple but also as monastery and university. It was said that Preah Khan was built on the site where Jayavarman's victory over the Chams in a war. 

If I am given one word to describe this temple - rectangular. Almost everything about this temple is about rectangular. The entrance, the windows etc. From the first rectangular entrance, you will find yourself entering into more than 20 rectangular entrances until the middle part of the temple. And surprisingly, the height between our head and the ceiling of the entrances were not so high at all, that made us wonder, were the people at that time... not... tall?

The remaining parts of Preah Khan remained unrestored, and actually I preferred it to be naturally preserved in such a way. Just like Ta Phrom, there were big trees growing on tops of the buildings, by itself showing how old the building has been. 

Time to go. 
Temple #7 - checked!

Temple #8: Ta Keo, The One Hit by Lightning
We cycled using the same previous route via the North Gate of Angkor Thom, and headed to Ta Phrom which is located about 10 km from Preah Khan. My watch indicated 3:30 pm. How times fly so quickly. 

On our way to Ta Phrom, we encountered Ta Keo (meaning the mountain with the golden peak), but sadly it was closed from public visit. I still remember during my visit a year ago, Elf (the tour guide) explained that the temple was hit by lightning, so the construction and carving works were stopped as the lightning was considered as a bad omen. 

Sorry guys, no picture on Ta Keo as I was on bike. 
Temple #8 - checked! 

Temple #9: Ta Phrom, Where Angelina Jolie Ran Amok, Remember?
After 10 km cycling from Preah Khan, we finally arrived at Ta Phrom. It was not so difficult spotting for the popular temple. One: traffic went crazy. Two: there were stalls, warong and cafes located nearby. Speaking of the cafes, we were again, dehydrated, so we stopped by the nearby stalls and enjoyed our drinks. The drinks, which some considered as overpriced, were at that particular moments, became the least concern.

Haus, faham tak, haus? Ada aku kisah mahal ke tak?

Revenge by mother nature. That what I would call Ta Phrom. Thousands years ago, mankind destroyed the nature for rapid development. Few hundred years later, the nature slowly repossessed the development by mankind, as if saying "Now, yours are mine!!!". And we are here, trying to preserve the dispute. In fact both the trees and the human handwork now became as one inseparable entity. Any attempt to separate both of them will cause fatalities to the great piece of artwork. 

We noticed that the trees growing on top of the building were somehow different. The banks were white and silver in color, that when the evening sun hit the surface, it shone in gold color. MasyaAllah. It was the most magnificent view of creation I've ever encountered in my entire life. It was so beautiful that I almost cried. 

When we were there, major construction were still being conducted. There were photos on display showing Ta Phrom before and after the construction, which clearly portrayed success. Given its unique features, a visit to Ta Phrom is a must. If you are visiting Angkor Archeological Park and failed to set your foot in Ta Phrom, it will be the joke of the century.

On our way out to the main gate of Ta Phrom, we encountered a band of local musicians playing soothing Cambodian music. As we approached them, it appeared to us, they are the victims of the landmines, trying to make a decent living, not by begging but by playing music. We stopped for a while to enjoy their music and donated some small amount of money as a sign of appreciation to them. 

Upon exiting the gate, we were approached by some local kids, asking for food. Three of them. Two boys and a girl. To my surprise, they displayed good English. So we sat down and gave them the biscuits we bought for them. The seemed so hungry that they opened the biscuit straight away in front of us. We took the opportunity to chat with them.

The girl pointed to our Gardenia bread, which was at that time, remained half, and asked whether she could also have that. She was immediately scolded by one of the boys, saying that it belonged to both of us, and they should be thankful for what we've given them. Thinking that we could buy a new one later, we gave the bread to them. 

Cuma macam tak sedaplah sebab bagi sisa kita. Tapi sisa pada kita, rezeki pada mereka. 

Hence, temple #9 - checked!

Temple #10: Banteay Kdei, The Least Attractive
We continued our journey. My leg was aching. And I was, again, dehydrating (or felt like dying?). We were so far away from the city, even if we decided to head home, Banteay Kdei was just along the route. Just another 3 km, we were there, where Banteay Kdei stood strong. Named Citadel of the Monks Cell. 

Not really, we somehow got confused with the signboards and got lost for another two kilometres. Thank you to my gut instinct that forced me to turn back and finally, and truly, we were at Banteay Kdei. 

We were informed that this temple was completed in haste, so that somehow explained why it remained unattractive. 

There were two piece of biscuits left. Herman ate one of them. While he was taking his first bite of the second biscuit, we heard a girl shouting from behind "Can I have one of that, pleaseeeeeeee!"

She was running towards us. But there were no more biscuits left. Only the one in Herman's hand. the one which he took a small bite. She said she was hungry, and that biscuit, on Herman's hand would do. Herman gave it to her. Then we heard a young boy running towards her, and asked for more. Sadly we didn't have any. The girl took just one bite and gave the remaining to the boy. 

It was a small portion. But they shared, regardless. It killed me inside nonetheless. If only I got more. 
Are we Malaysian, into sharing anymore? I am not so sure about that.

Temple #9 - checked!

Temple #11: Sra Skrang, The Royal Bathing Pool
In front of Banteay Kdei, there was a large lake located. As the name suggested, it was a royal and sacred bathing pool. We were informed it was a man-made lake and the water is blue, used for ablution or bathing of the royal personnel. 

But today, it was used for rice cultivation by the local people. We sat down for a while to rest and to enjoy our last drink. We imagined that this could be another nice spot to view sun rise, an alternative to the crowded Angkor Wat. 

Our watch indicated 6:15 pm. Another 45 minutes to return our bikes to the shop, before the clock stroke 7 pm. 

Temple #11 (again, not really a temple, but I am counting it in nonetheless) - checked!

Okay, now our mission is to cycle another 10 km to return our bikes before 7 pm!

New Mission: Return the Bike
We cycled as hard as we could, only to noticed that the basket of my bicycle was about to fell down as the screws and nuts went missing. I had to cycle with one hand at the handle and another hand to hold the basket from falling down. 

And we got another 8 km to go!

The only motivation I had in mind was my friend who was already few metres ahead of me and the fact that I wanted to reach the hotel room, took a bath and lie down until next week. 

After 5 km of cycling, we started to enter the city area. And we cycled hard nonetheless. 
6:50 pm. We arrived at the shop to return the bike. We got back Herman's passport. And walked another one km back to our hotel. 

Was everything worth the bicycle ride?

Till then, 
Hairi Tahir

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