Sorry - have been a bit busy so am only just getting round to updating you on how we got on in Cambodia. It was absolutely wonderful - I was quite surprised at how similar it was to Thailand but also how different it was too!! The day-to-day life of the Cambodian people struck me as being a lot harder than that of the Thais. All the temples were just gob smackingly beautiful - I think I'm going to have to get my thesaurus out and look up the word stunning and then use every single alternative to describe what we saw!!
Anyway........the journey was a doddle (The flight was just over an hour) and when we landed we just sailed through immigration - we had got our visa's online (It was surprisingly easy....we just scanned our passport photo's into the computer, filled out a form and paid. When they were ready they were e-mailed to us and all we had to do was print them out and show them at immigration). We were met at the airport by our guide, Mr Lee, and our driver and taken to our hotel. OMG Cambodian traffic makes the traffic in Bangkok look well organised!! Technically driving on the right is the norm.........unless you want to drive on the left.......and that appears to be fine too. Priority seems to be in order of size, big smoke-belching lorries do what they want and everyone else gets out of their way, then in descending order: 4x4s, minibuses, pickup trucks, cars, motorbike and trailer combinations, motorbikes, ox carts and lastly cyclists, pedestrians, dogs and chickens. (The only exception to this rule were the Cyclo taxis which are given way to because people feel sorry for a six stone pensioner pedalling a half-ton tricycle).
Sorry, I've digressed.....
The hotel we were staying at was called The Freedom Hotel and I have to say that we were slightly disappointed - it was clean, comfortable and the food was good but it was quite far out from the main tourist area so had no bars within walking distance of it. (you know what we're like!!). We checked in, dumped our stuff and then headed out to do a late morning tour of Angkor Wat from the East Gate (Which is essentially the back door of the temple). One of the things that really struck me about the approach to the temple was the colour of the ground - I've never seen earth so red before....it was really quite stunning!! Angkor was everything we had hoped for and more - it's so impressive and HUGE and because we had gone in the back way we managed to miss most of the tourists so it felt like we had the entire temple to ourselves (that was until we bumped into a party of Korean tourists - there were only about five of them - Korean tourists I have discovered are incredibly loud!!). The galleries of carvings were unbelievable and everywhere you looked there were little details that just jumped out at you - We even saw a monk translating some of the writing on one of the walls and I managed to get a picture - the script he is reading is Pali (Pali has been around since the time of the Buddha and is regarded as the root language of all beings).
History (You know what I'm like - I just can't help myself.....if your not interested just look at the pictures :-D). Angkor Wat was built for King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. It combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture - the temple mountain and the galleried temple. It is believed to have been designed to represent Mount Meru which is the home of the gods in Hindu mythology. It is still the subject of much debate amongst scholars as most Angkorian temples are built facing East but Angkor Wat faces the West.
We had lunch at a little stall overlooking the temple - I don't any of us could quite believe we were actually sitting there looking at it!! After lunch we got back in the car and headed to our next temple, Bayon. Now, I have to say here that having just been to Angkor Wat I was thinking that I had already seen the best of the temples......I was so so wrong!!!
The Bayon temple was the last state temple to be built at Angkor (around the late 12th century) and it was the only one to be built primarily as a Mahayana Buddhist temple. It was built by King Jawavarman VII and it stands as the centrepiece for his Capital, Angkor Thom. The entrance to the temple was impressive enough - the road was lined with figures but when it comes to the actual temple words fail me and the pictures just don't do it justice!! The Bayon's most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and massive stone faces on the many towers which jut out from the upper terrace - each of the towers has three or four gigantic smiling faces and it's just incredible. Our guide told us that there are about 200 faces carved into the temple and he took this fab photo of me rubbing noses with one of them. It was very very busy but again Mr Lee managed to steer us round in such a way that we missed most of the tourists - by the time we had reached the top of the tower however there was nothing we could do to avoid them so we decided to call it quits (The level of noise really was quite incredible - Korean and Chinese tourists seem incapable of doing anything quietly!!)
Before we came we had arranged to go on an evening hot air balloon trip so that we could see Angkor Wat from above. I was pleasantly surprised because, although I am terrified of heights, I was absolutely fine (Chris and Tom were a lot less fine!!). We got some good shots of the whole area and some lovely ones of Angkor. Then it was back to the hotel for drinks and dinner - Chris went out for a walk and came back with a couple of bottles of wine so we had a look through the days photo's whilst sipping wine and then went down for dinner. Cambodian food is not quite as good as Thai but we did have the most stunning lemon soup which I will have to hunt down a recipe for!!