Written by Uncle Traveling Matt
After the deep contemplation of Phnom Penh, i wanted to go see Angkor Wat, and so off I headed onto Siem Reap and here i am still. The ride wasn’t memorable except that I had met a man, with his wife and two children who were on the same bus heading to Siem Reap for the Khmer New Year festival and this would be the first I have heard of this festival in Cambodia.
If you didn’t know, Siem Reap is a MAJOR tourist town with its own international airport and so the idea of a quiet Angkor viewing is something of a myth but I was determined not to be down trodden by tourists and the crowds…And I think I succeeded quite well.
This all can get a bit confusing so let me clarify, Angkor Wat is not just ONE temple but a HUGE complex of temples inside the Angkor Archaeological Park which is itself an even LARGER complex of temples of which Angkor Wat is the main one. Hope that makes it straight for the rest of my sordid tale.
The Angkor Archaeological Park, located within Siem Reap is an expensive place by Cambodian standards (a three day pass is USD $40.00), considering I am trying to stretch my money as far as it will go. I’ll have to be careful here with what I buy. Enough of my complaining, the money is good for Cambodia and it won’t break me…I hope. On the first day of my three day pass, I wanted to rent a motorbike, but I’m sorry to say that in Siem Reap foreigners are NOT allowed to drive (I even tried to bribe my way onto one, but to no avail) and so there I sat for about 100Km on the back of this pumped up moped and saw the farthest temples. It was a drive in the hot sun for two hours, hiking up the hills and steps for 4Km to take some pictures, sweating a gallon of water and repeat…and by the end of that first day I was utterly EXHAUSTED.
I wanted to spend the next day relaxing and reading, but I couldn’t let myself down and miss a day of my three day pass, so I rented a bike…a peddle bike…and decided that I would do the intermediate temples. Here is where my middle school math teacher would shake her head and sigh…anyway for some reason, I got it into my head that 3Km is equal to 1 Mile…yeah in hindsight, it does seem an odd idea but there you go. Touring Angkor, there are two circuits one can do around the temples, the ‘Grande’ (34Km) and the ‘Petit’ (18Km), not to be one to do anything in the ‘petit’ way, I decided to bike the ‘Grande’ tour and to be honest, on a bike 34Km isn’t that bad. It was longer than I had expected, and with the heat of the day and the frequent stops, I thought that I had just gone slower than I had actually did. In the end, it was another tiring day.
The highlight of the biking tour was at the far end of the Grand circuit, at a temple called Phnom Kon. A large complex that is half in the jungle and wonderfully picturesque, but what I really enjoyed about it, was the fact that not many people were there. In an open space there were some children that were playing soccer, and they let me join in. I played for about an hour then called it quits as they were half my age and four times my ability.
This takes us to yesterday, my third and last day at the temple sight. I decided that I would get a ride to Angkor and WALK to the other temples. (Keep in mind I still thought that 3Km = 1 mile). I arrived early at Angkor to beat the crowds and upon walking into the complex itself, the sheer size and scope takes your breath away. The beautiful symmetry is repeated over and over. I have seen many beautiful things in my life and for that I am privileged, but to behold Angkor is to realize that the human spirit and mind are limitless, there is nothing that we cannot do.
I had a great conversation with a young man of 22, who was studying to be a monk. He spoke a little English and so the conversation couldn’t develop very deeply, but it was good to talk with him and get to learn more about the Khmer idea of the United States. He wanted to know if there were monks in the US like in Cambodia. He was very surprised to find that there were not, and asked how do we all go to the monastery then if there were no monks. Using his broken English, he had an interesting way of asking questions that made me stop and think about the same questions…how do we go to the monastery if there are no monks?
I spent about 3 hours at Angkor and as the tour buses started pulling up, it was time to make my exit and remembering the emptiness of Phnom Kon. I thought why not go play some more soccer with the kids at the far end of the ‘Grande’ loop? I mean it was only 18Km’s away and with my “special” math that was only 6 miles, I could walk that NO PROBLEM. Off I went by motorbike, though the driver was puzzled that I only wanted one-way. “Just looking for more money.” I thought and off I went to play soccer for the afternoon.
Here is the point where I have to interject that the REAL figure is that 1 mile = only 1.6Km, so my 6 miles walk was actually 11.16 miles, yes yes when they tell you to pay attention in middle school math because you might one day need it…well there you go, a trip, a tale, and some math all in one.
So off I walked after the soccer game, as I passed the people at the temple selling food. They were aghast at me walking and pleaded with me to take a motorcycle back. “Nope!”, I said, “I like walking!” and for the first 5Km that was the truth…but after that it became a mission. I mean I wasn’t going to let a sore back and feet get in the way of my walk, and why the heck was it taking me so long to walk 6km?!
Motorcycles stopped by me, but I just smiled and waved, they all must have thought I was loony, so roughly 3.5 hours later, I had walked the initial 18Km to Angkor and was in time to see the sunset and watch the New Year’s Eve blessing of the temple. It was about 6pm and I thought if I had walked this far (still believing 3 =1) why not walk the 7Km back to the guest house and save myself the $2.00, I mean what was another 2 miles really? So in total the 8 miles I thought I walked, really was 15.5 miles…Yeah that darn math…it’ll get you every time.