ABOARD AMADARA- Khmer Building Boom
The 12th century was a very good time for builders in Siem Reap. Temple building was at its height and every new monarch wanted his own royal abode and city, not to mention temples dedicated to his gods, himself and his parents.
Which makes it a very good time for the tourism industry today. The Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom complexes are on most travelers’ bucket list and today it looked as if many of them were checking off those two.
This is the low season; afternoon monsoon rains flood the landscape and it is hotter than the hinges of hell all day. In short, the time of year when tourism should be at a low ebb.
Not so at Angor Thom where we began our morning. The approach is semi-organized chaos as buses, vans, cars, tuk-tuks and everyone they carry merge at the south gate to buy entrance tickets and have their photos snapped for them; $40 for a two-three day pass good for all of the temple complexes in the area.
Angkor Thom is huge, three kilometers by three kilometers. Most, like us, hit the high spots – Bayon Temple, Terrace of the Leper King, Terrace of the Elephants and Bantey Srei – and they are packed with tourists, not to mention the souvenir scarf, shirt, pants, postcards, picture books and refrigerator magnet sellers.
If it were not for the magnificence of the towers, walls and carvings, everyone would be lounging in the shade or under an air conditioning vent.
It is worth the effort. Bayan, a Hindu temple, is at the exact center of Angor Thom City and its multi-faced towers were designed with the very lucky number 9 in mind.
The Elephant Wall and its platform was where the king greeted visiting dignitaries and the Terrace of the Leper King got its name from locals who thought lichen growing on the king’s statue made him look like a leper.
Bantey Srei, with the banyan trees taking over the temple is everyone’s favorite, possibly thanks to Angelina Jolie and “The Tomb Raider” movie filmed there.
This is not an easy complex to maneuver through with its crumbling, irregular steps, narrow passageways and head smackingly low doorways. Fortunately, AmaWaterways has a category they call “gentle walkers,” who are directed and assisted through shortcuts and fewer, less treacherous stairs.
By noon we were wringing wet and tuckered out and a hotel never felt better. Neither did the head, neck and shoulder massage I skipped lunch to work in.
By 2:45 p.m. we were back on the bus headed into the countryside to see Bantey Srei, the temple most refer to as “the pink one.” Actually, it is made of a very fine grade of reddish sandstone and the carvings have held up amazingly well.
The drive through rice fields and villages was an eye-opener for many of us who are spoiled by the norms of American excess.
A stop at a school supported by AmaWaterways was a treat, but we were all ready for a shower and a bit of down time.
Just a bit, though, because a private dance performance featuring the beguiling Apsara, the dance portrayed on many temple walls, awaited us.
Can you have too much of a good thing? This cruise may hold the answer.