I know we've been getting up early but today way even earlier than usual because we were going to catch sunrise at Angkor Wat. That meant that we had to get up at four o'clock and get our butts out the door faster than we would have liked. Angkor Wat at sunrise can be a zoo because it is such an iconic image and today was no exception. When we arrived there were a lot of people streaming across the bridge and into the temple complex. Mr. Mony jumped out of the van and lit a fire under us to get moving.
We walked about as briskly as you can without breaking into a run and arrived at the reflecting pool early enough to get a spot. It wasn't a great spot but it afforded a good view and a nice reflection in the water. I got my gear set up and proceeded to wait. And the wait went on while we fended off mosquitoes but soon you could clearly make out the temple against the clouds. The sky changed from an inky blue to a shade lighter and soon you could hear cameras clicking away. I don't know what you expect to get when you use the flash on your point-and-shoot but they were firing like mad too.
As the sky lightened we got a little color, a blush of peach right at the horizon but it lasted only a couple of minutes and we were left with a blue-on-blue cloudy sky. It was a nice sunrise, not an epic experience but better than fog. And so it went; as the sky got brighter people started to leave and after about half an hour most people were gone. As the crowd thinner we moved closer and closer to the prime spots. With the help of a neutral density filter I was able to prolong the appearance of sunrise for another ten minutes before we gave up. At the same time as I was taking picture Francene, the kooky lady that she is, set up her portable gym to get a couple shots of her using it as promised to the manufacturer for free instructional information. I could hear Francene and Araceli giggling the whole time :)
With the sunrise, both real and simulated, over we made our way into Angkor Wat. Mr. Mony took us down immense hallways where the walls were carved with scene of battles and heroic triumphs. Most were in exceptionally good condition and many were worn smooth and dark from years of being touched for luck.
Slowly we proceeded from the first to the second terrace where we could see the five monolithic towers. We walked a circuit of the terrace, stopping to take pictures of the temple and the visiting monk, until access to the third level was opened. Unfortunately Francene was indecently attired for the upper level but Araceli and I made the climb and walked quickly through. It was getting crowded and there was a lot of scaffolding up that got in the way of some of the best lit views.
The sun was getting hot as we rejoined Francene and Mr. Mony and continued our tour. Araceli and Francene had their fortunes told but I was too busy taking pictures to get in line and by the time they were done I wasn't in the mood to wait even longer, not with the day we had planned. So we continued through the temple while Mr. Mony described what we were looking at and ultimately made our way through the thickening press of people to the entrance so we could move on.
Before we could go too far Mr. Mony suggested we stop for breakfast. I can't tell you how many breakfasts we have missed and how hungry you get trekking all over Cambodia in ninety degree heat coupled with ninety percent humidity. I had an omelet and toast with a banana shake and once we all had food in our bellies it was back in the van and off to Kbal Spean.
Kbal Spean is an archaeological area that flanks a river and is known as "The Valley of a Thousand Lingas," lingas being the phallic symbol of the Hindu god Shiva. It was not a particularly long hike up to the river but it was steep and hot even in the shade. We made our way slowly uphill and at times were descended upon by clouds of butterflies that would land on us.
When we finally made it to the top I think all of us were drenched in sweat but awestruck by all the carvings. Apsaras, celestial dances, could be found carved into rocks and the bumps that signify lingas made up the bottom of the riverbed in some areas. Gods looked down on us as we followed the river downhill. Eventually we made our way under a waterfall and in that water our sins were cleansed by Shiva's divine influence.
Fortunately the cleansing also cooled us down and made the hike back to the trail head a significantly more pleasant experience. When we arrived back at the van it was decided that we needed to have some lunch. And what better place to have lunch than at a high-end Cambodian furniture store? Actually the food wasn't bad, it wasn't great but it hit the spot and they did have some beautiful solid teak and mahogany furniture. I've always wanted a dining room table with a four inch thick slab of premium hardwood for a bargain price. Araceli and I did look for a guest gift for Francene's husband and we found something we liked but failed to reach an agreeable price with the store owner.
Two days ago I must have been confused because I thought we already went to Banteay Srei but we went to another temple with a similar name. Today we went to Banteay Srei and it is considered one of the nicest temples in Angkor Wat because of the extensive detailed and superbly preserved carvings in pink sandstone. It is a much smaller temple than most but it is stunning and as such it garners a remarkable amount of attention. I had great difficulty taking photos here because people were constantly walking in and out of my frame. Oh well, I can here to experience the country not just document it and how could you get annoyed in such a beautiful place?
It was getting late in the day and we were losing steam so we started on our way back into Siem Reap. As we made our way down the winding and bumpy road Mr. Mony asked us if we would like to see how palm sugar is made. None of us wanted to miss a learning opportunity so we pulled to the side of the road and found a family making palm sugar candies. They take the flowers from the palm trees and squeeze the juice out with a large flat nutcracker-looking device. That juice is them put over heat and reduced down into a syrup. The syrup is in turn poured into little molds made of palm leaves and allowed to cool. When it is done you have palm sugar candy! Apparently it is harder to get the juice from female flowers but it is sweeter than the male counterpart.
With our teeth rotten from sampling palm juice and palm sugar candy (Araceli bought some), we went back to Siem Reap. Lunch was kind of disappointing so Araceli and I decided to take Francene to the Khmer Kitchen where we had a very nice dinner earlier in the week. We started with fresh spring rolls which were okay but tasted a little fishy. After we a green curry with fish, a Cambodian soup, and garlic tofu. All three were excellent and I think we all felt stuffed when the meal was over but in that good contented way.
Bellies full to bursting we then had to take Francene shopping for clothes to wear to a Cambodian wedding. Apparently the clothes she brought for more formal occasions are inappropriate for a wedding so there was no alternative. We started at the mall which was rather underwhelming but we did find a little boutique with more trendy Japanese clothes that had a few possibilities. I can't believe that Francene is such as easy shopper because although we made her try on more than one it was the first she decided to buy. With the dress taken care of we then had to find her some accessories and for those we went to the Night Market.
At the Night Market we found some jewelry that would be a nice compliment to Francene's new dress. There were a couple good choices and rather than make a decision she opted for both pieces; I suspect that she is going to go for the more daring piece only because it is fun and I think it suits her personality better. By the time we finished I don't think it took more than forty-five minutes to find everything for the wedding on Sunday. That is some high speed shopping!
Our goal accomplished, Araceli and I walked Francene back to her hotel and then took our leave. It was a long action-packed day and we were exhausted. So it is now time for a shower and some sleep.
Canon 1D X, Canon 100/f2.8L IS
100mm, f4, 1/250 sec @ 500 ISO