Angkor Wat, Artisans d’Angkor, and Banteay Srei
It is 4:00am and already tuk tuks can be heard on the road. It is the beginning of a daily ritual, the exodus of cars, busses, motorbikes and tuk tuks with tourists from all over the world to witness the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Flashlights are a must while walking on the uneven causeway across the 200 foot wide moat, representing the ocean of the Hindu cosmos.
By 7am the sun paints the sky with pink feathers and it is time to start exploring this incredible sandstone structure. This is the temple mountain of early 12th century King Suryavarman, the god king or devaraja, who identifies himself with the Hindu god Vishnu, the foremost solar deity.
It is the long galleries with bas-reliefs carvings, which give us an idea of what was regarded as important at least to the royal court at that time. Indian epics such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana or the Story of Prince Ram, the Hindu creation myth of the Churning of the Sea of Milk, which is in the gallery most recently restored by the German government in cooperation with the Apsara authority in charge of the management of the Angkor Archaeological park.
We see the king seated on his throne, holding a snake, his importance indicated by the numerous umbrellas held above his head. Brahmin priests are on the left; courtiers on the right. The generals proudly stand on their war elephants, accompanied by soldiers marching shoulder-to-shoulder holding their round shields.
Yesterday was the full moon and a special day observed by Buddhists, which means the upper level of the temple is closed off. Today it is open again and all who want can climb to the top with the 5 peaks of Mt Meru, where the gods reside. It is a steep climb, which gives a part overview of the temple and its surroundings. But don’t forget, what goes up must come down: slowly, slowly; step by step, a triumphant feeling of accomplishment on reaching the last step.
Suddenly we feel hungry and are eager to return to the hotel to use the buffet and talk about our experiences with our fellow travellers. A last glance at the wide moat and we are on our way.
Two visits are planned for the afternoon: the Artisans d’Angkor and Banteay Srei temple. Artisans d’Angkor is a series of workshops where students are taught various crafts such as painting on silk, lacquer-ware, stone and wood carvings, and production of copper objects which are finished off with a layer of silver. This institution has also been instrumental in reviving these traditional crafts since the 1990’s, giving rural youth the opportunity to learn skills to take back to their village. It is also a perfect place to do some quality shopping.
Banteay Srei, or the Citadel of Women is a small sized beautiful temple in pink sandstone, which was only discovered in 1914. It lies away from the bigger temples and takes about 45-50 minutes to reach from downtown Siem Reap. It is a truly a gem: fine detailed carvings of Hindu stories in high relief. This sanctuary dedicated to Shiva, as indicated by the remnants of a recumbent bull carved in stone, was recently restored with funding from the Swiss government. Its foundations improved and strengthened the three towers and other structures will stand firm for decades to come.
It was time for our farewell dinner at the Aha restaurant near the old market. Basically our group took over the whole restaurant to celebrate are incredible journey through Vietnam and Cambodia along the Mekong and beyond. Tapas starters of unagi sushi with wasabi cream, rice dumplings with tzatziki…..I think you get the idea of this culinary feast. One more important temple to visit in our explorations of Siem Reap, but that is tomorrow…….