My new roommates had tempted me with a trip to a ruined temple and waterfall but then changed their mind, so I had to make my own plan for today. Awake at 4.30 or so, as others got up for a temple sunrise visit, I slept in and then had to make my plan over again, because I’d forgotten it. Oh yes! Run out to Angkor Wat, see how I got on with following the half marathon route that goes round several sites.
With my sense of direction, that plan survived only the first mile, and though the road I was on was peaceful and tree-lined, I knew it wasn’t the straight one to Angkor Wat. It curved, for a start. Plus after four miles I still wasn’t there, and should have been, I thought. I stuck at it, and was rewarded – the West gate hove into view. Apparently, the temple is unusual in facing west, others in Cambodia face east; west is for death, prompting the idea that maybe this is a mausoleum. It’s definitely quite something.
Pausing for photos, I took my iPod out, but there had been steady drizzle and both it and I were wet, not a great combination for swiping a screen. I managed it eventually and took some low quality pics; but threes something about knowing I was there that makes them special. Emboldened by a chat with a tuk tuk driver – “good exercise – tuk tuk back?” “No, I am still fit,” I convinced myself to run on, passing a gate to which the lead up was decorated with Buddha heads. The gate to Angkor Thom, it turned out, the final capital of the dynasty. Tourists were feeding monkeys by the side of the road – bananas from a young entrepreneur, I used my attempted International sign language for ‘I’m running, I carry no money’ when he offered me some. I’m pretty sure he wanted payment, and for me to feed monkeys and wasn’t turning himself into a marathon style feed station. I passed a spot that offered elephant rides for $20, disappointed not to see an animal, but ran past one carrying a couple later (yay, saw an elephant). I ran on, determined to find something else, and was rewarded with what I took for another temple but was actually the inner stone dwellings and shrines of Angkor Thom, all that is left since the other buildings were made of wood, long since perished. It formed a nice square, so I ran round, taking slightly incredulous (maybe even impressed) stares from my fellow tourists, and the occasional shout of good luck from a Cambodian. Lapping it, I wasn’t sure enough of my location to take a side track, so went back on myself, by now soaked through and well over seven miles in. The road back to Angkor Wat seemed longer this time, but I made it without slowing too much, and took a quick left then right for the road back to town I’d meant to take in the first place. It was a long and gruelling last few miles, my thighs still not recovered from accidental exercise last Thursday, and 13+ miles really being too much for a midweek run. I was seconds shy of two hours as I switched the watch from ‘point me home’ to ‘how far you go?’ and stopped it.
I didn’t continue just to complete the second hour.
After recovery pool – paddle, water and food – tasted Thai to me, some overlap there, understandably – I headed to the National Museum of Angkor, which is magnificent and gives an overview of the rise of the great empire. It’s possibly overpriced at $12, but it’s well put together and has air conditioned galleries. By now the sun was back out and it was warm outside.
The first room is filled with statues of the Buddha, such that visitors should become familiar with the phrase ‘Buddha sheltered by Naga’ (many-headed cobra), and given a fabulous aspect by being surrounded by hundreds of small, intricately carved Buddhas, each in their own highlighted nook. The captions are mostly helpful, though there’s always a moment where I lean in for elucidation and am met with, for instance, a description of the golden four Buddhas sat back to back as ‘four Buddhas seated back to back’.
There’s a gallery on the religion. Having been to (the edge of) the temple I can see the appeal of a mystical religion like Buddhism, the stone structures are simple bit beautiful, and carved at a time (12th century on) when we had 1066 and all that and were on the verges of the Dark ages, for which Christianity is to be thanked. But any religion is bound to lose something in explication.
“According to Indian philosophy, India is seen as the universe”
“Buddhism divides the cosmic realm into three realms: the Haven, the Earthly realm, and Hell”
The ‘universal’ perspective of religion, there.
The Angkor period was long, with some short reigns presumably but there are a number of long-ruling kings, with a span of at least 16, and up to 48 years, the latter in two cases, Jayavarman II, 802-850 and Suryavarman I (1002-1050). Angkor Wat was constructed under the rule of Suryavarman II (1113-1150).
I was tired and wandered back, booking a place to stay in Bangkok for Friday and Saturday-just the days to be in a busy city as a non partier. Relatively so, at any rate, though happy hour here sees beer at $0.50 (rather than $1, phew, glad to get the saving) and, well, no Brit worth his salt looks at that without assuming 5-8 is the time to be in the bar at the Siem Riep hostel.
I feel much more in tune with Cambodia now. Phnom Penh is slightly edgy, but I wasn’t really there long enough to give it a fair crack. Today, running through the stunning gardens outside Raffles, along the paved areas by the river and in the road, waving at bike, scooter and tuk tuk drivers, seeing old next to modern and swanky buildings and wandering through the market claiming I would come for a massage tomorrow after my run (and getting my third charming mime of running back in return) I felt at home. I might go for that massage, too. I’m not here for long enough really; some kind of exercise related break here would suit-Polly from the Poland trip has cycled in Cambodia and loved it, and that half marathon here in December is very appealing. Average temperature 30 every month; it’s one to do, not to try for a pb at.
Reading: Rudyard Kipling, Kim, thanks to Radio 4’s Good Reads podcast.