Siem Reap 3: Bayon and Beyond

I mentioned the stress in my legs from all the walking, first at the airport and then at Angkor Wat. So the first order of business after getting back to the hotel was to get a massage. Plenty of cheap, tourist-oriented massage shops in the neighborhood. Not much English spoken there, nor do Esso’s translation skills, which serve me so well in Thailand, apply. But we manage to make it known that I want my legs worked on, and I like it strong (i.e. for serious unkinking, not just relaxation).

The young woman assigned to me attacked with a will. Soon I was saying, take it easy! We have a whole hour, you don’t have to break everything at once! I was joking, of course; usually, I welcome some pain, as a sign that tension is getting un-stuck, and anyway, I knew she didn’t understand. But actually, in retrospect, maybe I should have made my distress more clear.

We left the shop, and after walking 30 meters or so I felt one knee slip out of joint. This was exactly the sensation that began my ordeal three years ago, with a reprise last year.  No, not again! Every time I plan a trip with lots of exciting walking tours, my leg goes haywire.

At least this time, I have included a strong anti-inflammatory in my travel kit, so I can get through the next day without too much pain. But I dod have to limit my exercise; some of the tour will be curtailed.

Mondol picks us up with the tuk-tuk and we head for the next can’t-miss destination: Angkor Thom. Like Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom was a great walled city, of which only the stone structures remain. It was built just one generation later, basically just across the river. But it’s four times as large, and contains many temples.

We reach the river where a modern bridge, flanked with ancient sculptures,, faces a fabulous ancient gate. But before we cross, this is a popular spot to stop for photos, and local entrepreneurs have decided it’s a great place to offer elephant rides to the throngs of tourists. So sad: only two elephants, constantly overloaded and beset by crowds and noisy traffic. I make eye contact with one in a quiet moment, and say aloud, I’m sorry you have such a sad life. I wish it could be better for you.

Maybe Someone was listening. Two days later, I read in the news that the government of Cambodia has decided to ban the elephant rides in the park, and relocate the elephants to a sanctuary. Wow! Such a relief!


Cross the bridge, park across the road from the most famous temple, Bayon. We tried to come early, but it’s already crowded with tourists—and monkeys, who know where the action is.

The most famous feature here is the array of carved Buddha heads, facing in every direction. No one knows what it means. I would ask the heads myself, but there’s too much traffic to hear an answer, if they were to give one.

The architecture, even in its fully-restored state, is not friendly to a compromised knee. These temples were designed for gods, not people. Passageways have barriers to climb over every few steps, and the climb to the central sanctuary (which looks a lot like the one at Angkor Wat) is steep. Plus, crowded, so hard to see things well, and even harder to relax.

After following the crowd inside and climbing to the upper level where the sanctuary is, I need a rest. I see a crevice in the wall, just big enough to slip inside for some cool privacy, and maybe even a place to sit undisturbed. When I see what’s inside, though, I forget about sitting: it’s a crypt for some forgotten saint, with it’s own chimney to connect to the heavens. I just take that in for a special moment.

The rest of the morning, while Mondol takes us to more landmarks in the vicinity, I took it easy. One famous temple is built in the middle of a small lake, in the middle of an island, in the middle of a large lake. I let Esso go see that, while I stopped on the causeway to admire the lotus blossoms and listen to some native music.

17 Lotuses


After lunch, I made more effort for another less-crowded temple in the forest. It’s in pretty good condition, so you can see the magical effects intended by the architects.

(saga continues, next post)

3 thoughts on “Siem Reap 3: Bayon and Beyond

  1. Your beautiful photos bring back sooo many memories of my own trip… it’s like I’m back there again!

    Yikes… take good care of yourself… you have more hiking adventures ahead!!


  2. I’ve been enjoying your narrative, and one of the things it’s bringing up for me is that my love of history has been almost exclusively Eurocentric. I have absolutely no idea of who built these cities, what motivated them to build all the elaborate temples- none of it. Got me curious, though, and thanks for that. Take care of the knee. Strong anti-inflammatories will only get you so far, I’m learning. j


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