ABOARD AMADARA- Angkor Wat is imposing in the dark, in the dawn and in the full light of day. I know because we saw it and so did a thousand or so other travelers.
Five a.m. comes awfully early but as early as we were, many more had arrived before us. The line to get in was long and the confused muddle of vehicles just as tangled as we had encountered mid-morning at Angkor Thom.
Traveling in a group meant delays, late arrivals meant getting new tickets and first light had struck the towered Hindu temple before we arrived. Nonetheless, steam rising from the lake and the hordes gathered along the shore was memorable.
So was the tour of it. Built in 1113 over a period of 37 years, Angkor Wat is in a much better state of preservation than Angkor Thom. It faces West rather than the traditional East, in part in a show of respect to the former king and possibly as a mausoleum for himself.
Originally it was surrounded by a moat that stabilized the foundation during the rainy season. Relentlessly symmetrical the temple is surrounded by galleries of glorious bas-relief. The 21 gods battle, fetching apsara women dance and curvilinear forms soften the sandstone.
It is easy to see why more than 5,000 people visit daily. For you photographers who want the perfect picture, arrive by 5 a.m. in March and September when the first light of day is perfectly aligned with the temple.
We exited via the Elephant gate just as commoners came and went 1,000 years ago. Elephants, too. Higher castes – Brahmins, the king and his family and royal courtiers had their own separate gates.
Thanks to a savvv guide, we gentle walkers climbed he least onereous steps, took short cuts to see what must be seen and returned to the bus area via a shady route along the woods where monkeys gather rather than the grand concourse where there was no shade.
Good thing, too. Heat today was stifling and reaching our vehicle meant we would each be handed icy cold wet wipes and bottles of water and reach the sanctuary of air conditioning. As I have many times in the past, I thanked Dr. John Gorrie for his invention.
After a late breakfast and a bit of a rest, three of us chartered a tuk-tuk for a half day (at a whopping $10) and headed into town for some shopping. Alas, it was Sunday and many of the places we had our eyes on were closed.
We stopped at Artisans of Angkor, a fair trade business partially owned by the artisans themselves. Established in 1998, skills in silk weaving and painting, wood carving, sculpting and other crafts are taught to young Cambodians, many of whom are handicapped, so that the traditional images and products will carry on. The store is well worth a visit as its merchandise is first rate.
Lunch was a delight. The Sofitel concierge recommended Chanrey Tree for the Cambodian fare we craved. Prahok Ktish, a Cambodian delicacy of fermented fish, pork and thinly sliced river fish braised with coconut cream with baby eggplant and served with blanched vegetable crudité, was the hit of the day. So were the $4 margaritas.
Tomorrow we bus to AmaDare because the water levels aren’t high enough yet for her to cruise to us. Bon voyage is expected.