Temples and More Temples

Chon charmed us into using his taxi services today, but for $25.00 for a day, it is a deal. The temples would be difficult to get to without a car or Tuk-tuk. Tuk-tuks are motorcycles with a carriage to seat four attached. There are hundreds of them around and each driver will beg to give you a ride. They are very inexpensive and show the devastation of the economy here. They are desperate for work, so we felt compelled to use Chon for our day’s travels to the temples to give something to the local community. Chon is supposedly a trained tour guide, but has not taken the license exam yet. It is only offered every 2-3 years, depending on need and presumably costs $3,000, which he has not been able to afford. One portion of the exam is a language exam and I suspect his English is not up to par for that particular exam. Although we could communicate, it was difficult at times. When he was giving us information about the various temples, he was at a loss for words to fully explain what he wanted to say. First order of business was finding a place to eat breakfast. Chon drove us to a restaurant on the temple grounds, where we could get the much needed coffee and some eggs. Coffee in most places is Nescafé, not brewed coffee. There is no Starbucks around. Chon looked a bit irritated that we needed to make this unscheduled stop, but once we were on our way, he returned to his happy self. As you enter the temple grounds, you have to pass a check point where you show you entry pass. At each temple, there is again a control checking passes to make sure no one passed through the first check point. Fines for not having a pass while on a temple grounds is $350.00. We drove through lovely forested areas before coming to a wide and lovely lake. Chon explained this was the moat for Angkor Wat, but first a primer. The Angkor area is the heart and spiritually center of the kingdom of Cambodia. Yes, they still have a king. Angkor was where temples were built from the 9th to the 13th centuries when the god-kings built temples to honor themselves or their parents. Angkor Wat is the largest and also has the distinction of being the world’s largest religious building. It was built by Suryavarman II in 1112. The temples switched from Hindu to Buddhist, back to Hindu and then Buddhist again depending on which religion held dominance at the time. Now it seems, most of them are rededicated to Buddha. Now I have to admit that as magnificently superb as these temples are or were depending on their current state, I have never been one to pursue Asia studies with any great interest. I am more interested in the modern people then their ancient culture. After being to Thailand where the temples are bright and colorful with gold dripping down every precipice, these are colorless grey or blackened stones. What one needs to appreciate and I do are the intricate carvings on these stones. Gods, goddesses, demons, dancing girls, servants, and pictures of daily living are all memorialized in the stones. Depending on the religion of the time, determined which gods and demons were displayed. Just as the pyramids in Egypt, it boggles the mind how they constructed these temples without modern equipment. Then the intricacy of the carvings that go on for the length of a city block with such exactitude is awe-inspiring. To this day, no building can be built in Siem Reap that is taller than Angkor Wat, much to the dismay of the chain hotels. This was the same in Philadelphia at one time, when no building could be taller than William Penn’s hat on city hall, but when that law was changed, it ruined the skyline. Chon took us to three of the major temples, each different and significant in their own way. By 2:30 we had had enough and returned to the hotel. He wanted to pick us up for a dinner buffet with Cambodian dancing, but we declined. Fortunately, we were wearing our Crocs; the temple grounds are sandy and our shoes and feet were covered in red sand. Crocs go right in the shower with us to clean off. The air conditioning in the room kept us in for a few hours before heading out again. We went back to the Austrian restaurant for a beer and to use their WiFi, but it was not keeping a signal. After they rebooted their router twice, we gave up and left. Dinner was at the Red Piano, a charming two level restaurant painted in a tomato red with dark wood beams and oversized pictures of the Wats on the walls. When we left, we were barraged by tuk-tuk drivers and finally accepted one’s offer to drive us the three blocks back to the hotel for $1.00. When we arrived, our driver Somat, wanted to be our driver for the next day, but we had arranged to meet Chon again, so we told Somat we would hire him for the day after.