Thursday, Day 5 at Angkor, a journey to the “Rolous Group” of three temples set apart from the main core. These ones are located about ten miles east of Siem Reap, whereas the main Park is about five miles north. In point of fact, the Rolous temples were the first in this area to be constructed.
My first time cycling east of the river, and a Fit-Throwing Hellride it was to be sure! If you thought that the motorcycle drivers on the west side of the river were nuts (and if you didn’t think that, you must be from Planet Cheez Whiz, or similar), they’re about twenty times nuttier across the river.
Several times per minute is one required to negotiate an oncoming motorcyclist. And they always force the lowly bicyclist riding in the proper direction to venture out of the shoulder and into the road to get around them. Yeah, of course, I tried playing chicken with a few of them, so they’d get the message that it was they who should be required to swerve out into the street – but at the end of the day, I ain’t so willing to plow into an oncoming motorcycle just to prove a point.
There’s a big Fresh Market over there, but they want to charge money to park a bicycle, so I told them to fuckoff. At another, smaller Market across the street, the prices are much higher than downtown. So, to Hell with them, too.
But once you get out of town, the cycling is pretty decent, in that the shoulder is nice and wide, and there are far fewer oncoming drivers with whom to deal. This is the road to Phnom Penh, so there’s lots of traffic noise to suffer, and the sun was already becoming quite relentless on this day.
But after an hour or so, I successfully misinterpreted a sign and was off on the middle of a village somewhere – turned out, though, after finally stopping to consult the map, heading in more less the right direction. Having then followed signs, however, to Prei Monti temple, I realised my next mistake had been.
That’s it! This place is strictly for completists. And actually, in checking in with the guidebook, discovered that it’s not even one of the three. Too bad they don’t say this on the map. So, that set me back about one-half of one hour; but the ride through the village area was pretty okay; peeps were nice and friendly and all.
Next of all, I did arrive to Bakong. This is the furthest from the main road of the three; so the ticket-checker-man had to study my pass closely before finally confirming that, yes, this was my first temple of the day. In other words, that he should punch the hole for this day’s date.
Uh, if that’s not clear, here’s how the pass looks like.
So, they check to see that the given day’s date has been punched (and, of course, that the pass-holder has not already totted up seven punches); if not, they bring out the Punching Tool.
Actually, I’d been hoping that, stuck off out by themselves as the three are, maybe there’d be nobody there to check the passes; and so one’d attain a free day of templeism. But, it was not to be.
I liked the temple fine, especially its beautiful moat.
But it turns out the best parts of Bakong have nothing to do with the temple complex itself. First, the temple band.
Most of the larger temples have a band, comprised of landmine victims, playing traditional Khmer music. They’re all quite good, but this one is exceedingly good. The only one I’ve seen with a female member, and also the only one to incorporate vocals.
I was sitting reading the guidebook’s entry for Bakong when they arrived to begin getting ready for the day. This recording is more like part of their soundcheck than performance proper; but stunningly gorgeous all the same. Let’s listen.
The other best part was a modern temple on the grounds. The murals are so exceptionally well done, I almost had to shed some tears.
Apart from being so lovely, they’re also neat ‘cause the subject matter isn’t the same-old same-old Life-Of-Buddha stuff.
Preah Ko, like Neak Pean has been blessed with a brilliantly worded info sign.
It’s not so very big, but it’s a nice joint.
Seems to be a unifying theme these last few days: knock-out amazing carving.
Lolei, the third temple, is on the other side of the highway. Even smaller that Preah Ko, it, too, features delicious carving work.
And like at Bakong, there’s also a modern temple here. The murals aren’t nearly as satisfying as Bakong’s (but then, whose are?); though they’re certainly very colourful, nicely complementing the hall’s delightful columns.
The shrine is pretty odd, however: all the Buddhas look like they’d been purchased down at the five-and-dime.
It is kinda neat, I’ll say, that Buddha Mon’s heavenly aura is painted onto the ceiling above his head.
Finally, I quite love the way this mural incorporates into its design the building’s corner.
And that was the Rolous group. The ride back into town seemed to go by more quickly the ride out, though the sun was even more hotter. But once I arrived to the east-river city limits, it was Hellride City again – even worse, I dare say, during lunchtime rush than during morning rush. Ack!
Snagged me some lunch back in town. This was a pretty nice luxury; as, except for the one day when I’d got the bananas at Banteay Samre, I’ve not been eating during the Angkor excursions – having to wait until returning to town at 6:00 in the PM or so before the day’s first morsels. That can get famishing.
I’m becoming something of a folk hero with the tuk-tuk drivers who’ve staked out the Lucky supermarket as their home turf. Yeah, I get my watermelons from the store here. Only place in Asia I’ve purchased food from the store rather than Fresh Markets and street vendors.
Had been becoming more and more unsatisfied with the inconsistency of the Markets’ watermelons, so decided to give this “Lucky” place a try. It’s almost too consistent – think I’ve only got one sub-par melon from there – and the price is the same as at the Fresh Markets. I’ve even got all the checkers trained that I don’t need plastic bags for the watermelons.
Anyhow, as I say, the tuk-tuk drivers are astonished at my watermelon-eating exploits. (Heh, for all they know, I’m just taking them out and dumping them in the river!) On this one particular day, I was leaving the store, and said something about, “See you tomorrow.”
But then I corrected myself, “Oh, maybe tonight!” Ha, and when I did return that very same night, this one really friendly driver smacked his head to his forehead with his palm; just like good ol’ Spanky from Little Rascals (or what). That was a riot!
Figured I may as well head up to the Park, being that my pass had already been punched for that day. I knew a place where no cars go; viz., the East Gate. I had wanted to make visit for this reason, but even more importantly because it’s AKA “Deads Gate” or “The Gate Of The Dead”. Spooky!
The trail out to the gate from the Bayon area was pretty rocky, and not much fun. But it didn’t take too long to arrive to the gate.
Whaddya think: does it look more ominous that the other gates? It did kinda feel more ominous – but perhaps that’s just my wanting to impute characteristics in order to justify my trip out there.
So then, I did set out for West Baray, which is this big ginormous reservoir out past the West Gate. There’s also an East Baray; but it’s totally dry now. Turns out, this road was also a place where no cars go; though there were some motorcycles, it was a rather nice ride, sheltered by the trees from the sun’s midday might.
I was soon joined by a young teen name of “Jom”, who proceeded to batter me with the usual array of questions. When he asked where I was headed, I mistakenly told him, “West Bayon.”
“West Bayon? You’d better check the map! This is West Gate right here.” We were coming up on West Gate.
“Yeah, and isn’t West Bayon just a bit further on?”
He explained that West Baray was up ahead, and I quickly amended myself. After this, we were joined by a friend of his, name of “Won”. He too proceeded to batter me with the usual questions his friend’d just finished asking; but a lot more besides. A talkative little cuss.
But it was cool, ‘cause I was digging his pronunciation of “Cambodia”. He stretches the long-O sound, which made me happy every time he employed the word – more than one might’ve guessed, incidentally, as he began many sentences with, “In Camb-ohhh-dia, we…”
Among his questions was whether we had to pay for schooling in the US of A. I explained it to him; and then he explained to me that in Camb-ohhh-dia, they pay a small percentage of the cost for primary school, a little higher percentage for secondary, still more for high school, and the entire enchilada for university.
Uh-uh; not what I wanted to hear! But I decided to let it pass with an, “Okay…”
So, they were all into taking a route to the Baray that didn’t seem, according to my interpretation of the map, to be the most direct route possible. But I went ahead and followed them. Turns out I was right, as I used my proposed route on the way back. However, though their route was less direct, it was not bad, as it was a tree-lined road through their village, providing much-needed shade.
At last, we turned off and headed up to the Baray. They parked their bikes to go down to the water’s edge; but I wanted to ride all the way around first – and also didn’t quite trust them, somehow — and so rode on. When they seen this, they got hopping mad, and tried to convince me to go down to the water with them.
After a bit, Won rode up beside me and told me that it was too hot to ride all the way around. “Hope you brought your water!” I chided him. When he then protested that the distance was too great, I playfully chirped, “Great exercise!” He agreed; but then complained that this road was dangerous, as there are many thieves in Camb-ohhh-dia.
Noticing that I’d not been deterred, he asked whether I’d “help” him with his studies, if he would take me around the lake? Fuckin’ I knew I’d smelt a rat! When I wouldn’t “help” him, he asked if I’d help him, ‘cause he’d already taken me this far? When I wouldn’t, he asked me if I’d help him, just for the Hell of it. When I wouldn’t, he gave up and left me to ride it around alone.
Turns out, scammer though he was, he was right about mine having been a suckass idea. What he hadn’t warned me was that the road is very sandy. Makes for very slow/difficult cycling under the baking heat. But even worse, every time one of these big trucks carrying a load of rocks would come by – which was about every five minutes – it would scare up a huge cloud of dust for me to be breathing.
Eventually, I proposed to myself, “Fuck this,” and turned around to head back whence I’d come. After a while, I passed Won and Jom sitting by the side of the road. Kinda had to eat crow a little bit there, but it was okay.
When I shortly thereafter stopped to take a picture of an island the Angkorites had built out in the middle (there’s a temple on the island), they sprang back into action. Won offered to take me over to the island – one can get a boat, if one so desires.
When I declined, he asked if I’d got a guidebook; and asked where I’d bought it from. “I borrowed it from the guest house – nice, eh?”
“Borrowed it?! Do you want to buy it?”
“Of course not! Once I leave here, I’ll have no need of it.”
He explained that I would have need of one, for all the memories, and the historical and cultural learnings imparted by the book, and so forth. Said he would be able to sell one to me, if I wanted.
Finally, we came to the road where he was to turn off and head back down to the village. He warned me again that I ought not to take the path upon which I was thence traveling. It was a pretty half-assed warning, however: by then, I’d completely broken his spirit.
Y’know, I did feel a little betrayed that these nice cats who’d genuinely seemed to want to be friends for friendship’s sake turned out to be just two more hustlers out trolling for gullible tourists. But in truth, I’ll always be grateful to ol’ Won for learning to me his pronunciation of Camb-ohhh-dia.
So, back at West Gate, I realised what I’d not on the trip out, having at the time been preoccupied and such. Namely, that it’s probably my favourite of the five gates (East, West, North, South, and Victory). Not for the gate itself, which is fairly pedestrian. But rather, ‘cause it’s got the best ambiance, all tree-shrouded and enveloped in the cicadas’ and birds’ jungle symphonics and all.
Thought I’d then pop in and see what was doing at Angkor, but instead got sidetracked at the monkeys.
I’d thought I’d read somewheres to not feed the monkeys. But here, there were a bunch of street vendors selling crap to feed to them. So I guess it’s allowed. Still, this can’t be good:
Looks like a bears-in-Yellowstone situation waiting to develop.
But one can’t help love the little fuckers.
Took some footage as well.
Does this shot kind of remind you of the Patterson film?
Kinda sorta? Anyways, it’s of what I am reminded.
Did end up riding around to the east side of Angkor, and was able to witness the beginnings of a nice-lookin’ sunset there over the moat.
Okay, yesterday, Friday, the temple band put on a fucking epic performance. Er, don’t know why I keep calling them the “temple” band, as it’s actually a pagoda…
They were just outside their noodles, jamming like as if possessed by demonkind. Usually, they play for…well, basically they let it rip whenever a busload of Japanese tourists shows up; which is about every half-hour or so. They play a song or two, and then take a rest for a while.
But on this day, it appears I’d arrived in the middle of their attempt to reel in the world’s record for longest Pagoda Jam. They just kept going and going and going! I was about ready to begin speaking in tongues, I don’t mind confessing.
Every time I reasoned to mine own self that there’d be no point in taking footage ‘cause they’d stop soon after, they just marched on and on. So finally I did take some footage.
About fifteen minutes after, they stopped…for ten seconds or so to switch up instruments; after which they were again off and running. After some time, they took about one minute to let one of the band-members smoke a cigarette. Don’t know what got into ‘em this day; but, shit, I was one ecstatic little goddam tourist!
Later, I wondered why it would be necessary to stress that one doesn’t serve mongkey or worm?
I mean, if you seen worm on the menu, would you up and leave the restaurant? Nah, you’d just order something else. But, oh well, the guy was really happy; so (I say) more power to him and his sign.
As I write this, Saturday night, we’ve just finished with a quite good thunderstorm. Was supposed to’ve mounted my assault upon Banteay Srei this day; but my assbone is in a bit of a state of rebellion right now after the previous days’ riding. So I decided instead to take the weekend off and be a lazy bum.
May possibly finally go check out the Angkor National Museum, whose sign promises, “All the legends revealed!” I think I saw it might be like ten bucks or something, however. That’s too damned much for a museum; don’t care how many legends it reveals.