Cambodia... it was such a rich experience... we saw so much, and what we saw was so complex... I need to talk to you about my favourite temple (Bayon), about Angkor Wat, and the extremely delicate and exquisite Banteay Srey, about our balloon ride, and our visit to Tonle Sap lake... about the jungle and Ta Phrom, and about the jungle, waterfall, lying Buddha, butterflies and monks at Phnom Kulen... as well as about shadow puppet theatre, traditional dances, and maimed and poor people. Too much.
So, we have to start somewhere, right? During our first day (well, actually second, but on day 1 we didn't do much except walk around town, Siem Reap) we visited the most famous temple of all at the Angkor site: Angkor Wat. It's the biggest temple in the area, it's the best preserved, it's imposing, and it's surrounded by a huge moat that puts most European medieval moats to shame.
We approached the main entrance, to cross the moat through a bridge flanked by the long body of a naga (a mythical serpent), into the west porticoes, where Vishnu, with his multiple arms, welcomed us into a world of apsaras (nymphs, some 3000 of them all in all, carved in every possible niche), of intricate flowery patterns, of towers and architectural magic rising from the jungle.
From there, we proceeded towards the main temple, passing to ancient libraries on both sides, and a lily pond which offered probably the best picture I could imagine of Angkor. It was almost as if someone had decided that the pond should go exactly there, and that lilies should have grown just like they did... It offered a beautiful spot to stand, relax, and take in the grandeur of the building, in preparation for entering it...
Once inside, it was just walking around, gawking, amazed at not just the size of the place, but the exquisiteness of the figures carved: the nymphs, their skirts, their faces, the patterns of flowers, scenes of gods and battles from the Ramayana, kings... The closer you got to any part of the temple, your eyes would grow wide in amazement at the amount of detail you'd discover: like some fractal, you had a complex and beautiful figure to start with (the whole of Angkor), and whenever you selected a part of it to look closer, you'd discover more richness, more detail, again, and again, and again. Until finally, we reached the peak and centre of it all, at the top of the temple, where your view opened to the jungle outside, encompassing the whole of the place, from within.
Angkor Wat could keep you busy for hours (well, it does, but I mean, hours and hours and hours...), and yet, after this wonder, we still headed for our second stop: Bayon, the temple that would become my favourite one of all we saw in our 5 day trip to Siem Reap...
But that'll be next week!