Siem Reap, the Smiling God

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Ta prohm, Angkor wat, Siem Reap

Ta prohm, Angkor wat, Siem Reap

I gallop a scoop of chocolate ice cream wondering how should I best describe the haunting feeling that bubble up every time I think of the lost civilization of Angkor Wat. Believe it or not ice-cream stimulates my grey cells, it makes me think.

I take one of the bumpiest but admittedly one of the most fun ride of my life. Cambodians are a bunch of funny innovators (something like Judgadu Indians), they took the concept of tuk-tuk from Thailand and did a complete re-engineering. Cambodian tuk-tuk is more of a carriage attached to a motor bike, than actually a tuk-tuk, probably assembled in their own backyard garage. Things get really exciting when the riders put their foot down on the gas paddle, the carriage takes a wild swing. Now, you see where my sense of excitement for Cambodian tuk-tuk comes from?

Siem Reap is an interesting place, on one hand you have the Angkor Watt while on the other you have Angkor What? The town has lively night scene, but more on that later.

I stay in a hotel near the center, the old market of Siem Reap, the location is perfect and there is a beautiful canal nearby. I change my hotel next day having found a cheaper and a seemingly better hotel on ibibo. I came to this hotel through an agent that I met on the border crossing, and since it was already dark by the time I reached the city I went with the given option. That and the tuk-tuk ride from the shady bus station way outside the town was free. No regrets!

The hotel guy offers me a tuk-tuk ride to the temple complex, we negotiate and fix a price. I know I need two days of tuk-tuk rides to cover the whole area but I book only for one day. Let’s take on day at a time.

Procrastination at its best.

I shift to the new hotel, and do I like it? You bet! Rooms are way better and then there’s free tea and coffee… Did I mention free breakfast?

I ask the reception for the temple tour and he quotes me a much lower price. Hmmm… I had been taken for a ride… And quite literally so.

Let’s switch on the damage control mode. On the map, I choose all the temples which are located faraway. Gotta get the maximum bang for my buck.

Angkor watt is actually a part of a much larger temple complex called Angkor complex. Allocate at-least two days to cover the highlight of the area.

There is no better start to the intriguing Angkor complex than the mysterious Bayon. This is a temple you can’t possibly miss, in every direction you look there are giant stone faces with even more gigantic, enigmatic smile. The smile which borders on serene Mr-know-it-all-and-the-one-with-infinite-wisdom to outright creepy. Entirely depends on how you see it.

Smiling face, Bayon, Angkor wat, Siem Reap

Smiling face, Bayon, Angkor wat, Siem Reap

Fact check: so, just what is the connection between Bayon and Cleveland, Kabbalah, and Milton Friedman? It’s the number 216 = cube of 6 = 6*6*6 ~ 666. What am I getting at here? Well, I leave it up to you to interpret.

If you think I am done, here is one more for you, just who this giant smiling face belongs to? Is it the famous Khmer king King Jayavarman VII or is it the Buddha himself? There is no right or wrong answer but it’s a strong possibility that the king considered himself to be a devaraja.

There is quite a lot to explore inside the temple but the most interesting place is the terrace where you can get up close with the faces. Click selfies (and family pictures) to your heart’s content.

I bow to the Shiv linga which still had fresh incense stubs around it. I find it amusing to hear the guide explaining Shiv linga and the Santana dharma rituals to his tourist client. Equipped with only bookish knowledge of what west thinks Hinduism to be, he misses the essence of it all.

I go to Preah Khan next, my tuk-tuk driver is not very happy, as it is bit further away. He tries to convince me to go Angkor Wat but I stand firm on my request.

People of Cambodia

Smiling people of Cambodia

Think of Preah Khan as the elder cousin of Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider, anyone?), both are unique in their own right. Preah Khan is much bigger and more fun to explore, on the other hands Ta Prohm is quite a hit among the Black and White photographers.

Both Preah Khan and Ta Prohm are slowly being consumed by the nature (or perhaps they were always like that). Some might say otherwise that the nature and man are living in harmony together but I think the roots of the Spung tree are slowly crushing the temple structure.

Let the nature run riot, let it express itself freely and reclaim the land that we built the foundations of our concrete empires on…

It’s always been man vs nature, and so far we have done a pretty decent job of destroying the nature. So, yeah, congratulations to ourselves. Sadly, we don’t realize that it’s a fight we can never win, if nature loses, we lose.

Do you wonder what would happen if human civilization suddenly disappear off the face of earth?

There Will Come Soft Rains

Posted by Vidyut Rautela - The Himalayan Tsunami

Travel Blog. Writer. Novel: The Himalayan Tsunami

3 Replies to “Siem Reap, the Smiling God”

  1. Nice post. First pic of Ta prohm is captured beautifully.


    1. Sapna, the place is even more beautiful in person. Do visit if you get a chance!


  2. […] Out on the road, I negotiate with a tuk-tuk driver, and quite expertly so. I fix him for less than half the price I paid the day before! I am getting better at this stuff very quickly. Part of the reason I could fix it at a measly price ($8 U.S.) was that the temples I plan to go are located very near to each other, as I covered the far flung ones the day before. Remember my strategy? (Also read: Siem Reap – The Smiling God) […]


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