2 September 2014

Capturing Cambodia: Temple Time

The 7am alarm on our first morning in Asia could signal only one thing... Temple time!

 'Fate' meant that our 3 days in Siem Reap exactly coincided with the Cambodia jaunt of our closest friends' own asian adventure - we couldn't quite believe it! So for 3 days we were able to do our holiday together; not only was it lovely to spend time with them, but being as firmly Eastophile as we are Disneyland connoisseurs, it couldn't have been more perfect for easing some of my dad's anxieties out in this part of the world! Let's just say, they got dad onto a Tuk Tuk… 

Dora: always exploring...
On that first morning the idea of exploring did seem a little strange, given the absence of our favourite Dora… but I reminded myself that she was probably off causing mountains of mischief for her babysitters; I did experience moments of wondering how quickly her "it's so fluffy" mask would come off. However, Diabetes decided to remind us all that it, at least, was determined to bring its own dose of mischief to compensate! The scene - in a car in Cambodia, nearly at temple, and suddenly Mr insulin pump gives a "low battery" warning. Stay calm. Simply get a new battery out. Ask around for a coin (used to open battery holder). Place new battery in.  Only the new battery didn't work. Stay calm. Get the other spare battery out. Place 'new' new battery in. This battery, also, did not work…

By this point, the stay calm philosophy had turned more into a have internal freak out that I am currently without a working 'pancreas', my pump has basically failed and oh my god what if nowhere in Cambodia even sells batteries! I have to admit that my communication skills weren't the best. My dad is probably panicking as much as me, mum is doing her best to try and explain to our Tourguide that we "need AAA batteries asap - no they're not for a camera!" Charlotte is trying to calm me; I am pretty much silent, and don't think I will regain the gift of speech until I am reassured that I'm not getting on a plane to Thailand or Vietnam, in order to get a new insulin pump… 

The calm before the storm… the actual
storm too, which struck in the afternoon!
Luckily, after having our "temple pass photos" taken (all the while me saying to Charlotte "mum does realise I have, like, no insulin right now doesn't she?!" Our Tourguide took us back to a Camera shop just near our hotel, where they (thank the lord) had AAA batteries and I changed it in the shop then and there. Wait. Breathe. Wait… hallelujah! New battery was working. Our hypothesis was that the airport security, or some security/electronic device during travel, affected the batteries in some way. Our new strategy is now - buy batteries as soon as we land!

I can look back now, and write about it in a light-hearted manner, but in that moment… it was terrifying. For a split second, I genuinely thought "oh my god I could die". Obviously, that would never have happened. I had injection pens with me; my diabetes team told me, as I mentioned previously, that if you have a big problem you get to Thailand and the medical services there can help you. However, it's a sobering experience. It reminded me how fragile everything is - how this mobile phone sized machine keeps me alive. On the other hand, I can turn this on its head and think thank goodness! How lucky that this amazing little device was invented in my lifetime - that I was one of the first people in my area to get one, and the youngest. Fortune over fear - that's my new outlook. 

Back onto the temples! In this post I thought I would cover Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat, the day one destinations. Mostly photos; partly because they capture it better than any words can, but also because I am aware many people may be screaming "oh just get on with it!" at their screen right about now… 

The photo on the left is the standard tourist "let's just get a
picture with everything - look, there's a statue!" It's not
as if we were embarking on a tour of one of the most famous -
not the mention draw-dropping - temples on the globe... 

So for a little bit of history - I do want to try and say something relevant among my rambles! On a serious note, though, It really was fascinating; one thing i've always felt was lacking in my (nonetheless amazing) British education is an understanding of the Eastern world. From history, to literature and science too, there is so much that is simply left unexplored on the syllabus back home. Even at University - I searched long and hard for some form of module on eastern literature, having read some wonderful Chinese poetry a few years back, and being a new Murakami enthusiast! Nothing. As with primary and secondary education, higher education seems to overlook it too. 
Armed with an iPhone, it was the true hobbit of the holiday; 
unassuming, it defied the doubters and held its own! 
*unless my pictures really are horrendous*

The Spean Thmar bridge leads up to the Temple of Angkor Thom. It goes over a
100m wide moat,  which originally extended 12km to protect the Capital from enemies.
Coming here was a revelation. The architecture is simply mind-blowing. Angkor Thom was the last Capital of the Khmer Empire, which was founded in approximately 802 AD. Angkor Thom was built in the 12th Century, when England was dominated by civil wars and squabbling successors. We built castles, the Khmer dynasty built…

…what can I say - we tried. Not quite sure we were keeping up with the Cambodians though… Now? Well, West is keeping up with the Kardashians. Literally. There was a quite poignant irony;  standing in the remains of a thousand-year-old empire, I felt such a sense of development, ingenuity and vitality.   Coming to this part of the world is really quite humbling. For all the West's blowing of its own trumpet, there is an oasis of culture, learning and beauty out here that you cannot replicate.  

Being the slight bookworm/ idle dreamer that I am, I couldn't help but get slightly lost in little familiarities in some of the surroundings. Exhibit 'a' = the one and only…. Harry Potter. Maybe it's just me who would find some resemblance between this archway and the mirror of Erizid… just me? Yup, thought so. 

When I saw this I instantly pictured the
moment in Philosopher's Stone, where
Harry and Ron sprint into the
Transfiguration lesson.

One more unexpected appearence in the temple was a real live elephant - I thought that was reserved for a Thailand adventure! You could in fact do the entire tour by elephant, which Mum and Charlotte were seriously tempted, before time ran away with us. I was a little more sceptical. After hearing media stories of the mistreatment of them, in addition to seeing photos of them treated like circus animals, I was hesitant even after being reassured by our tour guide that they are 'well treated'. I couldn't help thinking of the Santorini mules… that has scarred me for life, and contributed to me wanting to help any donkey plight I see - the most recent being Sidmouth donkey sanctuary, where I adopted a donkey called Millie. My own fluffy minion seemed a little jealous when I showed her the adoption photo.

Nonetheless, elephants came in all shapes and sizes… 

The carvings throughout the temples were quite extraordinary,
not just for their intricacy, but the sheer number of them!

Below is the 'love' temple; essentially where the ruling emperor would bring his multitude of mistresses, - concubines - which numbered some two-three thousand… busy life, ruling a kingdom. 

To look inside the temple, you had to ascend these steps… with a little assistance from a more modern contraption. This was much to the relief of my vertigo-inflicted father, and likely so to numerous health-and-safety indoctrinated Westerners. 

I personally would have quite enjoyed having a go at the stairs, were it not for the sweltering heat. Even  with cloud cover, we must have each gone through around several litres of water a day. We were also 'wrapped up', after being forewarned that certain places in the temple required arms and legs to be covered… suffice to say that only one such area necessitated this, leaving us feeling that we may have gone a little overboard with the midi/maxi garments. Nonetheless, it has made me realise that being a hobbit doesn't completely write off the maxi. The skirt in these photos is case in point - buy a midi and wear it a a maxi! 

Angkor Wat-a-view... I can't entirely take credit for this particular pun, as much as my inner English student wishes! Aaaaand on that note, from temple top I will end this particular post. It really was an incredible view. 


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