What a great day! (Yesterday, Tuesday, that is.)
By whatever law of coincidence which controls the fates of the Sun and all its planets, the temples visited on this day were in a notably greater state of disrepair than those whose paths I’d before then crossed.
Like all massive civilisations (that is to say, empires), this one received its just desserts in the end. Fuck ‘em. But, in truth, it’s not “Dancing On The Ruins” in the “Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!” sense: “These stupid jackasses thought they could, by claiming divine right, impose their will to power over their known world. Now they’re gone; let’s party!”
Nothing wrong with that sense of it, natch. But I’ve, instead, in mind the sense of: “Oh boy! Awesome fun shit on which to climb around!” But then, I guess the two are equally necessary, ain’t it?
Pre Rup’s crumbling walls set the stage for the days touring.
The Japanese were here in force, up to their old tricks. Lent the morning a nice, festive beginning.
On the way out, a coupla vendors, having spectacularly failed in their attempt to get me to purchase their wares, decided instead to chat me up a bit.
One of them said he was from San Francisco. I somehow let slip that I’d lived in Hawaii for a year; and the other one claimed that he, too, had lived in Hawaii. I was thrilled to hear it. It’d been a long time ago, he added; and his colleague chirped in, “Yeah…like 300 years ago.”
We all had a good laugh. But I’m still not certain whether they were just bullshitting about having lived in the States, or what?
On to Eastern Mebon, which has the Park’s finest elephant statues (at least that I’ve seen to-date). There’re eight of them guarding the corners of the first and second levels.
Mebon, like Pre Rup, is spectacularly and fascinatingly crumbling to ground.
There are renovations underway at this site, however.
I lingered a while to watch the workmen. Looked to be a maddeningly painstaking way to fill up eight hours of one’s day – especially given in a few short years’ time it’ll have proven to all’ve been for naught. Nature always wins, but humans never learn. (Or will we?)
A tip: if one would care to get hold of William Catton’s remarkable Overshoot: The Ecological Basis Of Revolutionary Change; Chapter 7, “Succession And Restoration”, will be particularly apropos to this discussion (though, of course, I recommend reading the book in its entirety).
Anyway, enough with the preachifyin’, and back to the itinerary. I was working the “Big Circuit”, but decided to veer off-course to take in Banteay Samre. About five kilometres, each way, out of the way; but it proved a treat.
The temple is actually in amongst a fairly bustling village, which’s even got its own school, and whatnot. So the locals were out in force; catering, owing to the temple’s off-the-beaten-path destiny, to a smaller crowd of tourists than do the sellers in the centralised sites.
I’d purchased some bananas from one of the villagers (much more reasonably priced than at the mega-temples’ shops), and sat down near the entranceway to have some lunch. A gaggle of schoolgirls (and one schoolboy), were kind enough to only ask me once each to buy some crap from them.
When I’d refused them all in turn, they sat down to shoot the shit. Astonishingly competent English spoken by these kids. I asked whether they’d learned their skillz in school, or in pestering tourists. It’s both, they insisted.
When some tourists did walk by, they were quick to abandon me and go try to rope in some cash money; but then returned to entertain me some more.
The temple itself isn’t terribly large, but it’s a beautiful little jewel of a place.
The carving work here is to die for.
Meanwhile, the bricks’ marvelous red hue ensures a most pleasant viewing experience all the way ‘round.
On the way out, I said goodbye to the kids, and re-joined the Big Circuit.
At Ta Som, one is greeted by an appropriate (for the day’s theme) scene.
And not to worry: there’s plenty o’ rubble throughout.
Also, the most R-rated carvings I’ve yet seen.
Krol Ko is just a little hole-in-the-wall not even really part of the circuit – though it’s along the route. Not without its charms, however.
Moving right along, I gather that Neak Pean is considered one of the Park’s can’t-miss attractions. Certainly, its informational sign is not only the Park’s most evocative; but also treats us to maybe the loveliest English prose in all of Asia:
The ponds in question number four. They were fed by a complex system of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic fountains.
Gotta love it! Alas, when one arrives, after a long stroll atop a boardwalk to the island, one finds that it’s closed off to the public. Renovations, dammit all. Didn’t they know that to-day’s the day for letting nature have its way?
Here’s as close as can be seen.
Now, with only one temple yet to explore, and its being still pretty early in the afternoon, I got to wondering what I should do after visiting Preah Khan? Come to find out, Preah Khan is a fucking wonderland which will fill up with incredulity so many hours of one’s day!
A monument to impermanence, and a testament to the folly of civilisations’ endless putting up of massive architectural structures which will only, in the end, be laid low by Mother Nature’s never-ceasing criterion of change and adaptation.
It was huge, too: once held 100,000 people within its sway. Approaching from the east, one passes through the outermost wall, after which it’s a fine ten-minute nature walk before one even comes to the moat. A wonderful sight it is, know ye this.
After another fine woodland walk of some minutes’ duration, the next wall is reached. Here, the war between the trees and the pavements explodes onto Centre Stage, neatly cleaving the tourist’s unsuspecting gourd into shocked and awed halves.
A walk around the entire perimeter of this wall takes forty-five minutes or so. Every second of which is to thrill in the sights and the colours, while the birds and cicadas make sure your ears may be entertained as well.
Whoever got the idea that god made man “in his own image” was just an utter dipshit. What – I ask you – what could be more obvious than that if there is an all-knowing creator taking a recognisably terrestrial form, this all-knowing creator exists in the form of a tree? Nothing could be more obvious, that’s what!
Once inside the temple complex, one is treated to a labyrinthine zig-zag amongst the strewn rubbles altering one’s path at many a turn. But also, the place was once an impressive structure.
Finally, though, one’s attention is drawn over and yet over again to the central storyline of the trees’ staging of their Sherman’s March over and through the temple’s grounds. (Lest one may’ve thought they’d been satisfied with the mere ravaging of the outer walls…)
The glory of Preah Khan lies not only in the fact of its state of decay; but also in the rainbow of colours marking the event. The greens, reds, browns, and grays leave the visitor wanting more, and then still more again.
The oddest sight, though, is that, for all its long-lost splendour, the complex appears to have been designed for use by little kids. See how low the ceiling! The doorways are the same, as well.
If all the spectacular sights and sounds weren’t enough for one’s soul; it may be noted that the temple is somehow strangely devoid of tourists. The guidebooks mark it off as one of the Park’s highlights, and it’s right there on the Big Circuit, but…where are all the people? Okay, it was getting on in the afternoon; and the place is so cavernous as to make it perhaps easy to not notice others in your midst. Whatever the case, it certainly contributes to the incredible ambience.
At one point, having long since lost track of the time in the infinite joy of aimlessly wandering the halls and courtyards, I slipped under this balustrade to see if I could get a better gander at another hotspot in the trees’/stones’ epic battle for these acres of real estate.
Before I even knowed what was going on, I’d clambered up this pile of rubble here…
…and crowned myself “King Of The Ruins!”.
The view from up here; nay, the aura from up here was indescribably electrifying. And, yes, a viable photographic angle was obtained. (Perhaps a little too viable: I suppose I snapped a good forty thousand million shots of this place. I’m pretty terrifically happy with ’em, though. I guess you know where to find them.)
Right at eye-level with the tops of the prasats, I couldn’t believe that such a magnificent vantage point was available to a lowly mortal onlooker.
After several minutes’ marveling in the euphoria of this miraculous perch, I decided to take some footage.
After which, I climbed up onto the nearby wall seen there, and took yet some more footage from a slightly different angle. Notice, in both videos, how wonderful the score provided by the birdsong – and then note that it sounds so the much more fantastic in person.
Finally realised that the sun was getting pretty low in the sky; and that if I weren’t careful, I’d be caught out having to ride back after dark among the wrong-side-of-the-street-drivin’, no-headlight-engaging-after-dark maniacs atop their god damn stupid god damn motorcycles. So, reluctantly, I began to make my way out.
Yes, okay, Angkor Wat and Bayon and Baphuon are all must-see sights in the Park. But Preah Khan is right there with them. In fact, while acknowledging that it’s not as architecturally accomplished as its more famous cousins, I think it’s my favourite of the lot. Zounds, but what a jolt!
Outside the wall, heading back toward the East entrance, I passed by a group of four Britishwomen, one of them just asking one of the others, “Which temple is your favourite?”
“No, none of them,” the friend crustily replied. “I dunno…they all seem the same.”
“Are you out of your fucking mind?” I wondered aloud. But they were out of earshot, and so fisticuffs did not ensue. Good thing, too: while I’d not mind getting my ass kicked by four out-of-their-minds Britishwomen, there was still the nature walk back to the parking area to experience!
So superior were the dusk-time jungle-sounds, that I had to take yet some more footage.
Cut it off early, frig it, ‘cause I seen a mosquito land on me right at the same time as I seen, on the screen, the dreaded warning call of, “HOLY CRAP! YOUR CAMERA’S BATTERY IS LIKE NINETY-NINE-POINT-FIVE-PERCENT FUCKED!”
Too bad, ‘cause right after this was when one of the cicadas, ever-present in the Park’s woods, began sounding. These damned things get so revved up, one always begins to marvel, “HOLY CRAP! THAT SON OF A BITCH IS LIKE THREE-POINT-FIVE SECONDS AWAY FROM BLASTING OFF TO PLANET MOON!” And then…it just sputters out; like as though somebody’d done and pulled the goddam plug just at the very instant our hero should have been igniting its rocket. Boy, it’s odd. Maybe I’ll try get some footage at a future visit…or maybe one’ll just needs must make visit and hear for one’s own self!
Back out in the parking area, there was only one vendor remaining; a husband and wife team. After striking out in selling me cold water and/or a guidebook, the husband began to ask how long I’d been in Siem Reap, and how many more days I’d be coming to the park?
As I politely answered his questions, he walked over to me. Having so many times before (including by two different ticket-checkers at major temples) been subject to this opening interrogatory gambit, I knew precisely what would be his next query.
“Have you been to Banteay Srei?”
“No, not yet; but I’m planning to! On this,” I added pointing, before he’d an opportunity to ply his wiles, at the bicycle upon which I’d arrived.
“It is…very far.”
“No, it’s not. It’s like forty kilometres. Not even that. More like thirty-five. From town,” I added, noting his facial contortion.
“From Siem Reap is thirty-seven kilometres to Banteay Srei!!”
“Exactly! That’s nothing! So…no motorcycle.”
In pausing, a great look of concern passed over his face and, ever the psychoanalyst, he lowered his voice almost to a whisper before offering, “I think you want to go on motorcycle.”
“No, I don’t want to go on motorcycle,” I countered laughing uproariously. The moto- and tuk-tuk drivers are possibly even more insistently cheeky than are the trinket sellers.
As I hopped on the bicycle, he protested, “Motorcycle is very cheap.”
But I hardly even heard him: my thoughts were already back at Preah Kahn, the Magic Kingdom of the Angkor temples. As I pedaled the tree-lined road back to town, there was no doubting which song would be springing forth from my Angkor-infused lips. For, ‘twas the same that had already been coursing through my veins for hours and hours even before arriving to Preah Kahn.
How if you sing along with me (for old times’ sake)?