Finally, we went to the destination that most people can not wait to see. Angkor is an entire area just outside of Siem Reap, known for its many temples and ancient buildings. Angkor Wat is the most famous, a huge with many buildings, open courtyards, and colonnades on three sides of the main building. It was inhabited by Hindus initially, it is now where Buddhist monks live.
The grounds and main buildings are massive in scale. Even with thousands of visitors daily, you are not overwhelmed by their presence. Crossing the wide moat, you enter through a large opening in the outer wall to an expansive grassy area. There is a reflecting pond, which is quite low now, almost devoid of water, since this is the end of the rainy season. However, you can still see some reflection of the three towers from the main building.
The colonnades (or walkways) wrap around three sides of the main temple, with wall carvings depicting battles, heaven and hell, farming and many of the typical themes of the era. Many of the carvings were rubbed to a dark patina by visitors’ hands before the area was roped off a few years ago.
Several in our group found the walking in the escalating heat too much for them. They went to a shady spot to wait for the rest of our group. It sounded appealing, but we persevered and continued to see more of the temple. Truthfully, we were underwhelmed by this temple, despite its notoriety. We thought the temples we saw yesterday, although smaller in scale, offered a better glimpse of life in the 9th century.
The heat was now becoming oppressive and quite humid. Just being in the bus was a welcome respite, with great air conditioning. After lunch, we drove to Tonle Sap Lake, just to the south of Siem Reap. It is known for growing rice in the dry season and fishing in the rainy season. Since this time is close to the end of the rainy season, which will begin in July, it is difficult to imagine the amount of water that will fill this lake and its tributaries.
The best way to tell is to see that the houses on the road to the lake and alongside the canal to Cambodia’s largest lake are on stilts that are as much as three stories above the road. The water can rise 35′ or more. At this time, it is very shallow, with the propeller on the boats on a long screw that is kept at the top level of the water. If it goes any deeper the existing boats can get stuck in the mud. There are also many houses that are built on barrels so they float with the water level.
We saw the locals drying out the rice they harvested on tarps on the ground, then filling huge bags with the dried grains. In some cases, they filled large tractor trailers with maybe a couple hundred or more 100 lb bags of rice. Some residents caught what looked like sardines, although the main catch is catfish and talapia.
Our hour and a half trip on a rickety fishing boat down the canal to the main part of the lake was very interesting. The current muddy water is replaced with the rain water that comes in the season, making the water a clear blue-green. The elementary school floats on the water, and there are even solar panels on the roofs of the floating houses. After many years of harvesting the rice by hand, this year, our guide said that he saw several John Deere tractors getting the land ready. This was the first time.
An hour or so of rest, then off to our final dinner. We went to a large restaurant, filled with many other tour groups. We saw Gate 1 travelers, but we were sure that there were other groups. The highlight of the dinner was the entertainment. The traditional Cambodia dancers in authentic costumes were elegant and told a story with each dance. The women are particularly beautiful, with skin like porcelain with the grace that comes with many years of training. It was a fitting end to our trip.