‘Wats’ in Cambodia Day 119: The Many Faces of Bayon

I woke up in a heavy sweat with a fan thanks to a fan barely accomplishing its purpose but no matter as I would finally get to skype some family and friends back home. Limited bandwidth and poor signals amongst many other reasons have prevented a steady line of conversation with this morning being no exception but all in all some communication from back home is better than none at all despite the boiling frustration that may ensue. Wanting to avoid an expensive, boring breakfast prepared by the guesthouse, I hit the city center in search of a meal. I desperately wanted a loaded egg filled crepe but none stood in sight so I reluctantly picked a street side stall that had many pots containing a variety of cooked meats and veggies, which hopefully retained enough heat from being recently cooked since no flame flickered below them. After picking and pointing (they struggled to even understand me asking them how much it costs) my dishes along with the necessary scooping of rice, I planted myself onto the dirty yet fairly clean curbs as far as Asian standards go equipped with a crude, miniature plastic spoon ready to dig into a meal that still held its fair share of mysteries. Considering the pickings were essentially random, the food was decent but I miss the fire and heat of Thai chili-infused dishes. After snagging a couple of grilled banana (and probably some rice meal) hockey puck shaped disks, I returned to the guesthouse in time for us to hit up some more temples with a new driver. Day two in Angkor began at Bayon after passing through one of the grandiose gateways encompassing Angkor Thom. Bayon is another one of those special temples that were it not for Angkor Wat being situated practically next door it would be the creme de la creme of everyone’s visit. The temple is a haunting piece of history with 216 god-like faces (looking oddly familiar to the building king of the time) smiling creepily from every which angle. The temple rose from the outer walls highlighting the daily life of the inhabitants of this ancient empire towards the many smiling faces yet closed eyes as if each were in nirvana or some elixir dream state. If anyone were to pick a temple to get lost in, this maze would be the one. It is a square shaped temple (as most temples at Angkor are or a rectangle) that as an occupant revolves around each side they see similar surroundings with a continuous flow of faces staring at you. For my own personal memory, the temple reminded me of a structure from Lord of the Rings in a spooky, ghostly place from which the infancy of Sauron’s return began. Next door Baphuon somehow stood larger but has a more fascinating backstory. The temple has a long raised walkway just like Angkor Wat for the heavy monsoon rains that sweep the area leading past two pools on opposing sides of the walkway before reaching the aforementioned temple. It rose like a pyramid but without the clean angled face of the Egyptian style but with odd numbered terraces. Much of the temple needed renovation and to be put back together before the Khmer Rouge came in power but all the records were destroyed when the evil regime came to power. No matter the obstacle, archaeologists and others rebuilt this immense version of a jigsaw puzzle into what we see to do with a large reclining Buddha built into the far outside, not quite noticeable if incapable of a keen eye. The terrace of the elephants and, to a lesser degree, the terrace of the leper King commanded its presence just north of Bayon running itself all the way to the far northern Angkor Thom gate. The terrace of elephants were used as a grand parade stage for the King and also as a place to mount elephants. The reliefs are covered fully with images of elephants set in a war-like struggle as well as statues of elephants and their iconic trunks jutting themselves out of the stone. More tomb raider style temples with many hidden carvings and not so hidden trees looming over the entire complexes continued the vast majority of the afternoon. We were even led to temples that felt more personal and quiet that despite their limited scale held their worth considering Chinese tourist buses weren’t readying their next air raid of this temple. With each temple, I enjoyed taking my time to search for and admire the artistry as well as the hidden meanings that I would struggle to comprehend without enough historical background of the religious purposes behind the carvings and the temples as a whole. After the immense estate sized pool built for the king, we had one last temple before reaching our sunset point. This last temple stood in the middle of the eastern baray (a large rectangle shaped water mass the size of a lake) on an island. The walkway over to the island led past several fishermen immersing themselves into the shallow yet distinctly murky waters of the at its sides searching for unknown life as the day’s catch. The temple was nothing special, a rather small presence on yet another island within the island. The round island temple looked like a Roman fountain with a few gods immersed in the water upon animals such as a horse stood in the middle of four square pools representing the great seas or oceans. For a snack, I got myself a coconut at first not believing the stated price. Most of the items being sold were one dollar a piece but I refused to believe a coconut much larger than my already oversized melon could cost so little. Since we had to get going I needed to make sure it was To Go (or as the rest of the world calls it: Take Away) so the girl mistakenly poured the all the coconut water into a plastic bag for me to drink out of before chopping away at the hard exterior so that she could unearth its meaty coconut flesh. The refreshing drink was worth it alone plus I had more than enough coconut to last me for a while. We summited the sunset temple a little more out of the way than the more crowded variety. The sunset was disappointing besides the fact it barely managed to shed enough of its deep orange light though the crowds. Besides the tree line panorama, we as spectators had nothing to look at. Bagan cannot be beaten as far as sunrises and sunsets go. Angkor has the temples while Bagan has the unbeatable panoramas for wide sweeping views best for sunset and sunrise. Our driver, who actually had clue of what was going on (maybe I am biased since the first driver and I never seemed to see eye to eye), dropped us off near Pub Street for eats. The Euros got happy pizzas while I ate a Cambodian dish with freshly cooked tomatoes along with the necessary cheap mugs of 50 cent beers. I only tasted a couple slices of their pizzas and found the happy to be barely noticeable. Whether it be from being a lightweight to the beers or the sneaking ganja, the night market was enjoyable despite the many people trying to get us to have a massage, ride their tuk tuk, or buy some cheap touristy item that they may or may not have made. Back at the guesthouse after the Euro couple went to sleep, I was minding my own business in the lobby when our first driver plopped down to ask when we planned on starting our day at the temples tomorrow. I told him eleven as the three of us had agreed. He then asked if one o’clock was okay but that was simply too late. I told him once again eleven to which he returned “so 12:30 okay” as if the words I had just spoken meant nothing to him. This process continued over and over again amidst many attempts to explain to him that this was the time we agreed on and there was no other way about it. The guy had been ticking me off with his ignorance so I was not willing to bend over backwards for him regardless of his roundabout reasoning. Eventually after ignoring him and feeding him the same scripted answer, he found someone else to bother. With that the night ended early after another mostly full day at the temples.

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