Cambodia, Day Two (July 30, 2007)

Had an awesome breakfast for $2 apiece at the Star Rise Restaurant. I had a fresh baguette with jam, butter and two boiled eggs. Brad had crepes filled with strawberry jam.*

We hired two tuktuk drivers (not three, to their consternation) to take us to Angkor. First stop: the city of Angkor Thom and its driveway lined with larger-than-life statues. Once inside Angkor Thom, we headed straight for Le Bayon** which is known for eerie, enormous heads staring out from the tops of 37 towers. We were awed by the intricate carvings that you could run your hands over, feeling the gritty sandstone. Part of the temple had collapsed, and it was necessary to climb over fallen piles of rock -- although I felt strangely disrespectful doing so.***

We moved on to the Elephant Terrace which was lined with seven-foot stone elephants whose trunks curved out of the rock and touched the ground. The Leper King Terrace had a hidden passageway covered with images of multi-headed nagas (snakes). I was told the hidden wall represented the underworld.

Next was the Bapuon, an enormous mountain-temple that could only be reached by walking across a causeway on top of round pillars. The bas-reliefs at this temple were different from the others because they're arranged in blocks, like comic books. Brad decided to climb the steep,**** crumbling stairs to the top. He made it all the way up, as did Meg and Eric, but he admitted the views were not spectacular enough to risk that climb again.

On the way back to the tuktuk, we stopped at North Khleang, which was probably used as a warehouse. Each window was filled with small, narrow columns -- it looks as if there were originally eight in each window. Across the road, you could see the lonely prasats, towers that felt like deserted, haunted houses.*****

We stopped for lunch in the marketplace; I had a bowl of curried vegetables with rice, and Brad had fried chicken and veggie stir-fry with rice and a pineapple shake. We didn't realize how tired and dehydrated we all were until we sat down. It was unreal eating lunch while staring at Le Bayon -- or rather, while Le Bayon stared at me.

After lunch, it was on to Angkor Wat. I could hardly contain my joy as we passed through the outer enclosure to a spot where we could see the temple unobstructed for the first time. We decided to visit Angkor Wat over two days because there's just too much to absorb in one visit. We crossed the bridge over the moat; it was dotted with lions and nagas every few feet. Once inside the temple, we turned right and followed the bas-relief gallery all the way around the building. We saw The Churning of the Sea of Milk, lots of battles scenes from the Battle of Kurukshetra, monkey soldiers, elephants, turtles, the scene of the death of Valin (monkey soldier who dies in his wife's arms), the procession of Suryavarman II, the torturing of sinners in 32 hells, and the battle of Lanka.******

By 3:30, we could barely walk, so our tuktuk drivers Su (pronounced SUE-ee) and Mr. Vanna drove us back to the hotel, where all six of us passed out until dinner.

The ballet performance was at the Angkor Mondial, and the concierge at the Grand Hotel hooked us up with front row seats and what seemed like our own personal waiter. On the buffet: fried coconut meat, crepes, Thai noodles, sauteed greens with beef and ginger, papaya, dragonfruit, lychees*******, and so much more.

The ballet costumes were bright, silky and colorful, and the dancers had total control of their bodies. Brad and I cringed every time they knelt down while standing on one leg, and they could bend individual fingers back to their wrists. After the ballet, we all sat on the hotel balcony and talked until bedtime.
Brad's footnotes
* I won.
**Which means, literally, "the Bayon"

*** Meh.
**** Steep as in, "don't look down whilst climbing or you'll puke or become-disoriented-and-fall-and-die."
***** These were among the very favorite things I saw. So forlorn.

****** The Churning of the Sea of Milk is a beautiful creation story, and we bought a rubbing of this to take home and frame. But, I ask you, what could top monkeys dressed up in battle gear?
******* I don't know what they are either. Yet I think I ate some.

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