Ah, Angkor Wat. Glorious, ancient temple surrounded by jungle. Actually, Angkor Wat is just the biggest, most famous of a huge complex of temples, palaces and other ruins that have been eaten by the jungle and painstakingly cleared and partially restored by many, many people from many countries. Either way. It's amazing.
There are so many different ruins, in different states of decay and covering by jungle. The best part, to me, was that you can walk around in practically every part of the ruins....there are some parts that are marked off-limits because of the danger of collapse, but for the most part you can wander in the laberinthyne passageways and rooms of the temples. Since I was there in the low season, and visited some of the outer temples, there were many times when I was practically alone in the ruins, so I felt like I was exploring for real. There are countless intricate sculptures and engravings on the walls, and Buddhist and Hindu statues at every turn. I felt like Indiana Jones...actually, I felt like I should feel like Indiana Jones, but mostly felt like I was on Legends of the Hidden Temple, that old Nickelodeon show, since I never really watched much Indiana Jones. My favorite temple was Bayon, which has giant faces coming out of the walls, and lots of fun places to explore. It would be a great spot for an epic game of hide-and-seek, but there were too many Korean and Japanese tour groups and the sun was too absolutely baking to attempt it.
On the way to Siem Reap, the town that plays base camp to the temples, I rode a bus with a big group of Koreans who were on a "soccer mission trip." I talked to some of them for most of the ride...they were a friendly bunch who spoke pretty good English. I also met a Chilean woman, who I ended up sharing a room with at the hostel, since they only had double rooms. She was really nice...we spoke in Spanish the first night, but I never really saw her again, as each was out when the other was in the room. Siem Reap is an interesting place...full of cute cafes and restaurants, even the markets seem more like a boutique, in the middle of impovershed Cambodia. Most of the places, though, are Cambodian-owned, and clearly it helps the economy. It's just wierd. The whole country uses the dollar as de facto currency, since the riel, the official currency, is not exchangable out of Cambodia. They'll give you change in riel as they don't have American coins, but anything over $1 is almost always American money. It was a bit annoying, as I don't have dollars. I've been travelling with the Korean won I had to withdraw during that whole immigration thing and didn't have a chance to transfer home.
I rented a bicycle the next morning and headed towards the temples. Just after I had looked at my first temple, as I pedalled past rice paddies, palm trees and water buffaloes, a voice came from a tuk-tuk (kind of motorbike-pulled taxi) passing me. I heard my name, and looked up, and it was Sandie, a friend from Korea who had lived in our building. I knew that she and her boyfriend Bryce would be traveling now, and would be in Cambodia approximately when I would be, but I hadn't heard from them in weeks. Now, they had shown up in a tuk-tuk in the middle of the temples of Angkor. They stopped, and we chatted for a few minutes, then made plans to meet up later.
I ended up spending the next day with them, touring temples in a tuk-tuk, which was a luxury compared to my exhausting but fun bike ride of the previous day. It was nice to be able to spend time with people I knew. That afternoon, it started to rain when we got to a temple. We waited it out under a roof at a food stand, next to some vendor stalls. It was pouring outside, and we ordered hot coffees. Sandie and I browsed the stalls, and I started bargaining for a tank-top. The vendor was a man in his late 20s/early 30s, and he was very gregarious. The bargaining went something like this:
Vendor: "$3. Very good price. Best price."
me: "$3? That's a little expensive. I'll pay $2."
Vendor: "$2? No! How about $3 and I give you a bottle of water."
Me: "No...I have water. (pointing to my bottle of water on the table."
Vendor: "Ok, how about $3 and a coke?"
Me: "Nooo....I just ordered coffee."
Vendor: "A beer would be nice."
Me: "Haha, ok. $3 for the tank top and a beer."
I had to. It was so funny. And random. The beer? Crap. Some beer I had never heard of that was barely carbonated and tasted like apple juice. But, it was funny.
Once the rain stopped, we went to the temple, which was another rambling set of ruins and corridors and doorways getting eaten by the jungle. But, it started to thunder when we were in the depths of the temple, a good walk from the exit. So, when it started to really pour, we waited it out in the temple, taking shelter in a doorway out of the dripping roof and talked about religions...I tried to explain the theory of Buddhism (which is so different from the practice), and then we ended up discussion how religions differ from the theory, and basically everything and anything about Buddhism, Islam, Christianity....it was fun.
We ended up having to cancel our plans for the sunset, since it was cloudy and rainy. We walked around Angkor Wat one more time, then headed back to town. I left the next morning for Phnom Penh.
"Words have no wings, but they can travel a thousand miles" (Korean Proverb)
Welcome to Flying Words, Jon and Aileen's blog of our adventures in South Korea! We will be in South Korea for a year, starting in mid-July, teaching English in a private school. We just graduated from college this past May, and are looking forward to having some adventures before continuing our education.
We started this blog to keep all our family and friends updated and to share our photos and stories. We hope this is entertaining for you! We will miss you all, and are very thankful to have the internet to keep us in touch.