Finally, I had an opportunity of going to Cambodia to attend an international conference. Had it been held in the country’s capital, Phonm Penh, I would have turned down the invitation. But when I learned that the venue will be in Siem Reap, I immediately accepted the offer.
According to oral tradition, it was King Ang Chan who gave the name “Siem Reap,” which means “the flat defeat of Siam.”
The Cambodians of old referred to Siam or Thailand as “Siem” in honor of Ang Chan who won against a Siamese invasion, successfully capturing 10,000 invading troops and killing Prince Ong.
Today, Siem Reap is the country’s most popular tourist destination. It has a large number of hotels, resorts, restaurants and businesses closely related to tourism. Most of the visitors, according to our guide, are Korean, closely followed by Chinese, then Japanese and finally Europeans.
I and another journalist from Luzon arrived in Siem a day earlier than the scheduled conference. With one day free, we decided to take a tour of Angkor Wat, which was only about 20 minutes away from our hotel.
We told the person at the hotel’s front office that we were interested to go to Angkor Wat. He contacted someone by phone and after waiting for about 45 minutes, we were introduced to a certain Mr. Phan, who was to be our tour guide.
The tour guide offered us a decent bargain: US$74 for a tour guide, a driver, and a verhicle that will accommodate I and my friend. There was an added US$20 for our entrance fee to Angkor Wat.
We left the hotel at 9 in the morning and our first stopover was the Bayon, a well-known and richly decorated Khmer temple at Angkor. Its most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and massive stone faces on the many towers which jut out from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak.
Angkor-scholar Maurice Glaize, author of The Monuments of the Angkor Group, described the Bayon “as but a muddle of stones, a sort of moving chaos assaulting the sky.”
We were already a bit tired when we got out from the temple. Luckily, our driver was there to meet us, ready and waiting with bottled water for his thirsty travelers.
From Bayon, our next stopover was Ta Prohm, which was featured in Hollywood movie, Tomb Raider. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm has been left in much the same condition in which it was found: “the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor’s most popular temples with visitors.”
The trees growing out of the ruins are perhaps the most distinctive feature of Ta Prohm, and “have prompted more writers to descriptive excess than any other feature of Angkor.” Here’s one from Angkor scholar Glaize: “On every side, in fantastic over-scale, the trunks of the silk-cotton trees soar skywards under a shadowy green canopy, their long spreading skirts trailing the ground and their endless roots coiling more like reptiles than plants.”
The United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) inscribed Ta Prohm on the World Heritage List in 1992.
After taking more photos, we decided it was ready for us to have our lunch. Again, we walked for about a kilometer before we were able to see our vehicle. We immediately took a ride and told the driver to find a restaurant.
After eating, we rested for some few minutes. There were no people roaming around the temples. I believed the visitors were also eating their lunch or resting.
Our guide suggested that we have to take a nap first before continuing the tour. But the three of us decided to go ahead with the tour since we were planning to do shopping at night.
Our last stopover: Angkor Wat—finally! For the uninformed, it means “Temple City” or “City of Temples” in Khmer.
Perhaps, not too many know that in the beginning it was a Hindu temple. Then it subsequently became a Buddhist temple. Today, the temple complex is touted to be the largest religious monument in the world. The temple, at the top of the high classical style of Khmer architecture, has become a symbol of Cambodia. In fact, it appears on its national flag.
It has been said that Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple mountain and the later galleried temple, based on early Dravidian Architecture, with key features such as the Jagati.
It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology: within a moat and an outer wall 3.6 kilometers long are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. At the center of the temple stands a quincunx of towers.”
Among all the temples in the Angkor region, Angkor Wat is supposedly oriented to the West. Scholars, however, are divided as to the significance of this orientation.
For the most part, the temple is admired for “the grandeur and harmony of the architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs, and for the numerous devatas adorning its walls.”
There are several things while touring around the temples. One of them is riding an elephant. Another one is touring the place with a bike.
Some people go to Angkor Wat by hiring a tuk-tuk, a motorcycle with a cabin attached to the rear. Since automobile traffic is still not that bad— unlike in Bangkok, Thailand—tuk-tuk is the most common form of urban transport. You can hire a tuk-tuk and driver by the day. Be sure to negotiate first.