Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Friday, October 5th, 2007
Posted by Lisa Hill on December 8, 2007
We set off early to see the fabled Angkor Wat and Bun wisely led us through the eastern entrance so that we could enjoy it without the tourist hordes. It really is astonishing. Built by Suryavarman II between 1113 and 1150, it is a huge pyramid temple complex, surrounded by a massive moat. It’s the largest religious building in the world, and the reliefs are often in very good condition even though there has been a lot of looting and even the occasional bullet hole during the 1975-1979 Wars. It’s a Hindu temple, so Bun explained some of the Ramayana stories depicted on the reliefs, including the story of the tug of war between the demons and the good guys above the churning sea of milk. It really is amazing to see these ancient stories brought to life by master craftsmen from so long ago, especially since I never expected to see them in my lifetime. I had first learned about Angkor Wat when I was doing a degree in Southeast Asian Studies at Murdoch University and the Khmer Rouge were still in power at that time so it was not safe to visit.
All of it was magnificent but I was most enchanted by the library. Since Angkor Wat was declared a World Heritage Site in 1992, the temple has had some funding for restoration, but the library was restored by the Japanese. Even when the books are long lost, there is something about the idea of ancient civilisations preserving their thoughts and ideas for posterity that grips the imagination. What is most astonishing of all is that the whole complex was overgrown with massive vines and even trees growing in amongst the masonry, and somehow they have managed to tame the jungle which threatened to overwhelm it completely.
We went back to L’Escale for lunch and tried the set menu: prawns and a pomelo salad for me, and a soup for Tim, and then an assortment of fish dishes and what we thought was a won ton roll made with sweet potato. A brief torrent of rain cooled things down a bit, but we were still too hot and tired to venture out for another temple so we loafed until late in the afternoon and then took a tuk-tuk down to the market. It was not as frenetic as the one in Saigon, and few of its wares were pitched at tourists. We did, however, manage to find a Buddha head as a gift for friends of ours – but Customs found borer in it when we got back home so it never made it out of the airport. Indeed, we had no luck at all with our purchases from this market – a stone statuette that Tim bought lost her head, and the mobile bought for my niece Cressida’s baby fell apart.
We went back to L’Escale for a third and final meal and tried their ‘Innovative Tapas’, which included tidbits such as mango ravioli; onions baked for three hours; and Tom Sum soup. For main course I had duck with bok choy & taro in an orange sauce, while Tim had tuna with passionfruit and cauliflower grilled on a stick of lemon grass. We washed this down with a French Merlot, and we finished up with an assiete of desserts which included tiny little souffles. After that it was an early night before our last day in Cambodia.