Only kidding! It's about both....
So we arrived in Siem Reap on Wednesday evening - having driven around in the rain for 20 minutes to find our hostel, we were happily satisfied with our choice - the Siem Reap Hostel.
We made a dash through the lessening rain to meet our Cambodian guide CoCo for dinner at a street side restaurant to celebrate his upcoming birthday.
Of course this means more than just dinner - so next up was X bar for shots and cock(s)....
tails - great as Stray gets a discount.
After the worlds longest game of pool we decided to up the ante and head to the infamous pub street - does exactly what it says on the tin - lined with pubs.
So this is where the Angkor What? of the title comes in. It's a loud late night drinking and dancing establishment which actively promotes graffitting the walls.
So of course we joined in!
There's my mark!
We retired at midnight to avoid turning into pumpkins and as we had to be up at 4.30am for sunrise at Angkor Wat - the main temple of the Angkor complex.
Unfortunately the tour guide didn't know where we were staying, so at 6am we went back to bed - probably a good thing as we had two ill girls with food poisoning and I had a hangover...
So we chilled out and did chores - visiting the pharmacy and post office and checking out the markets in town for suitable Christmas pressies.
Then we did it all again the next day - up at 4.30am for sunrise! But no good sunrise... Clouds dimmed the spectacular :( and we also weren't guided to the iconic spot where you get the reflection of Angkor in the pond - but I already have that shot on my living room wall at home thanks to Chloe in 2002 :)
After grabbing a quick brekkie at a nearby cafe we headed into Angkor Thom - the old city - the name literally means Great City. Angkor Wat was the temple for the city by King Suryavarman II at a later date, however the main city was inside the walls that mark out Angkor Thom, which was built in King Jayavarman VII's reign.
We crossed the old moat by bridge with deities represented on one side and demons on the other.
Once inside the gates we saw how the builders had shifted the stone blocks and created the perfectly smooth joints. All the stones were placed before any carvings or bas reliefs were started. The majority of the temples are built from sandstone - which was quarried 70km away and transported by water and elephant and man power. The other stone used for foundations and older temples without decoration was laterite which came from a quary 35km away.
Cameo demonstrating the use of levers!
All in all it was hard work to transport and build this city! Angkor Wat was built in 39 years - but not all the decoration was completed before King Suryavarman II died. The temple effectively became the King's mausoleum, with his remains placed at the base of the central tower and - according to legend - he brought the statue of Vishnu at the top level to life - becoming immortal....
We first stopped at Bayon temple - which is at the centre of the city - all roads lead here! It's a temple mountain in structure and covered in carvings of faces and decorative Bas relief carvings. We had fun posing here! Once we'd climbed to the top there was the opportunity to be blessed in the Buddhist tradition. Whilst some of the temples of Angkor were built to be dedicated to Hindu gods, they have switched several times between Hindu and Buddhist depending on the King of the time. Now all the buildings are sacred to Buddhists.
Next we visited Baphuon temple - which was part of King Jayavarman's palace originally. This temple is flanked by two ponds with a long causeway you walk up to access it - very imposing now so imagine what it would have been like when actively used.
We headed right to the top of the temple for the views - in fact we headed to the top of each temple we could! There are lots of stairs in these temples and most are super steep - since I was last here in 2002 they have added some wooden steps with hand rails to make the climbs easier - however people still fall every year....
The next temple along was the King's own private temple - it was also within the palace grounds and was smaller but still as high a climb up!
The rest of the palace was wooden except the entrance gate and the terrace outside. We saw the elephant decorations on the outside of the terrace - very impressive!
Next up - another climb to the top of a temple - this one was in the process of being restored and I can't remember the name of it. My main recollection was the lovely lady at the shrine at the top. She was very impressed that I said thank you in Khmer - Orkun - and positively effusive that I could give her the formal goodbye - Chum Reap Lea.
This is one thing that I will miss about Cambodia - the people are lovely. You make a small effort to speak to them in their language and show them respect, for example saying no thank you in Khmer with the respectful hands in front of the face and they will stop bugging you and we've seen some amazing smiles off Tuk Tuk drivers as response!
Anyway next on the temple list is one that is world famous - of course I mean Ta Phrom - or the tomb raider temple (they filmed it here) - the one with all the trees growing out of it. This temple was built by King Jayavarman VII to honour his mother and originally the inner sanctum was richly decorated with jewels and gold leaf. You can still see the damage where thiefs pried the jewels out of the stonework.
We mainly focused on the trees growing through the temple and the multitude of opportunities there were for posing lol!
The temple was heaving with tour groups - so we had to fight for each photo without a gazillion other people in it! One guy went at dawn to guarantee he had the temple to himself - and disturbed a snake in the gloom, scary!
So to complete our temple circuit we ended back at Angkor Wat. I think I've covered most of the history above so here are some pictures - including the iconic reflection one - this time with me jumping in it!
The Bas relief carvings at Angkor are stunning - however back in the day they would have been covered with gold and dazzling in the sun. Some of the carvings are decorative - like the ladies dancing. Others tell stories about the King and Vishnu, which include fighting elephants!
So that's where my second exploration of Angkor Wat ends.
We had a few days in Siem Reap so we also managed to check out the night markets and the circus, Phare. The circus is part of a training program for street children and was very good. The storyline we saw was based on a street kid's experience and the acrobatics were spectacular, I would definitely recommend it!