Willing myself out of the sweat of my bed in the early morning (if I didn’t have a roommate in the room I may very well have slept completely, 100% naked since it was that hot in the room) to see the soft lighting upon Bayon, I rented a bicycle for the day and hit the road. With a surprisingly well put together bicycle aka basket holding firm, seat raised to speck, and a single gear that accomplished my needs for only a buck, I was ready to go and bypassed Angkor Wat to dodge the early morning crowds. Bayon was just as mysterious as the first visit but now the faces couldn’t hide from the brightness of the sun revealing their well carved gleaming smiles. I enjoyed for once not feeling pressured to keep a certain pace to accommodate others. This is probably why I struggle traveling with most people. For those special, worthwhile moments, I want to pause and reflect on what is laid out before me and attempt to immortalize in my memory how blessed I am. I continued along viewing the Baphuon and Phimeanakas temples once again from a distance to relive their all-encompassing power and glory they must have had in their day. I was now able to view the entire stretch of the terrace of the elephants as well as the leper king’s terrace to expand my mind on how grandiose a place this must have been with the king and all his guests upon the terrace and the commoners out on the expansive space before it for many ceremonies including parades. The carved elephants seem almost too real as if they are ready to burst out of the stone and come to life. Unfortunately a concert on repeat was going on nearby blasting their monotonous music and this killing the vibe that was in place. Other lesser temples mostly unexplored felt lacking in comparison after so many of the other big players but I enjoyed the feeling of being in the woods with a temple all too myself. I wonder how many of the temples besides Angkor Wat stayed in use to help continue their preservation through centuries. A great deal of the temples have some presence of the forest within them. Nature has a curious randomness that sometimes comes out almost too perfectly such as a temple hidden from the waves of crowds with three prominent trees jutting out from the core of its base. I returned to the lesser known jungle temple at Preah Khan to witness its magic twice over and finally found the two storied and pillared corridor I somehow missed the first go around. The pillared structure seems out of place in Angkor as if stolen from the ancient Greeks. A long cycle ride around the east Baray waters I returned to Ta Som. At the entrance when I revealed my rare seven day ticket, the staff member aged no older than me tried to negotiate an offer just as another one of the Angkor staff had done earlier today. On his off day, he still wanted to find work and money. Knowing that I had probably already seen much of the core Angkor temples he tried to convince me to use his services to the outer temples. I knew and read about them but wasn’t willing to pay the price estimated to see them. I talked him down to basically his lowest dollar amount (it helps to show you want something but not to the point you would die without it; I had all the bargaining power, a true buyer’s market). So tomorrow I will be joining him on his motorbike to see Banteay Srei once again, Kbal Spean, and Beng Mealea. Only three temples sounds like a pittance but the kilometers he will be covering the average driver wouldn’t dare to do without a hefty sum. Far, far away from most other temples, I rode to Banteay Samre past true Cambodian villages devoid of the first world luxuries the center of Siem Reap has been afforded. I stumbled across a neat scene in which locals were already seemingly gearing up for the New Year’s celebration. The locals were playing their musical instruments (crude for Western standards obviously but held a cool, tribal sound). They were dancing and throwing up some water in the area moving around like a restless band as other locals and I took in the sights and sounds of this energetic and lively group. Banteay Samee is similar to Angkor Wat with its prominent lotus topped temples but much smaller in scope and more easily traversed when not overwhelmed by the size and complexity of a temple of that magnitude. The sky had been getting cloudier and darker as time progressed. The potential promise of rain quickly had me back onto the bicycle pedaling as much as the bike could handle. Being in the neighborhood I couldn’t help stopping at Prasat Kravan, a temple only the dedicated and non circuit driven visitors would bother finding. The temple didn’t look like much from the outside but within treasures lurked. The carvings that surrounded the walls of the insides of the shrines where modern Buddhas rested took me for a surprise. As many temples as I had seen over these past few days, I somehow found new artistry, further expression of these long gone people’s take on their religion and how they viewed their gods. I wish I knew exactly what tools they had on hand because I can’t picture carvings such as these being completed without great dexterity and fine equipment. Sadly, I passed on the opportunity to view Angkor Wat for the third time since the light was dim, I preferred to not cycle in a rainstorm, and food called me from afar echoing chants of rice, chicken, and vegetables. Before my main entree I hit the streets of Siem Reap for an appetizer. Being the only stand of its kind, I lucked into a green papaya salad prepared with all the works including the salty, fishy baby crabs tossed in. The man gleefully mashed the salad with unripe green papaya, peanuts, lime, sugar, salt, crabs, tomatoes, and whatever other magic got tossed into his
Green papaya salad with all the works, mashing it all up with his pestle in a wooden mortar. I went back to Happy Angkor Pizza for unhappy food since the food is so cheap and delicious compared to the many other places on offer. I drank another beer using it as a tool to guzzle down the necessary flow of room temperature H2O that I had been lacking throughout the day (since noon I had no money on me after spending it on an expensive lunch and water; so when I told hawkers I had no money I wasn’t bullshitting them). After returning the bicycle to the darkened, seemingly closed shop, I bought another beer and banana chips to wind down the day. No bars and nightlife for me. Maybe I am an old man at heart but for the most part it just doesn’t do anything for me. I love dancing and looking like a maroon as if no one were around but I prefer sitting around with a close group friends for the night rather than getting drunk and poor at bars. As crazy as it is to say, tomorrow will be my last time seeing the temples of Angkor. As quickly as the time as passed, I have enjoyed every bit of it but I will be content to leave as there are only so many temples a person can see over a stretch of a few or several days.