Siem Reap is quite flat which is a good thing especially when you rent bikes with no brakes and no horns! But as WE have the right away in all circumstances and in all directions it didn’t seem to matter too much except that everyone else has the right away too. I kept pedalling away along the dusty ochre roads with Noa straddled on the back seat bouncing up and down with each bump as I chanted my road mantra ”Don’t look, don’t hesitate and do pray” over and over again.
Just before 7h00 through the main entrance, we entered Angkor or ”Holy City”, the capital of Cambodia’s ancient Khmer empire, a mystical masterpiece dating as far back as 802 AD with God – King (devaraja) Jayavarman II reigning. A golden hallow of a rising sun filled the sky illuminating the 1.5km lotus sprinkled moat protecting the early 12th century royal temple of Angkor Wat comparable to the Machu Pichu, the Taj Mahal and undeniably the Pyramids of Egypt. Under the power of King Suryavarman II, the protector of the sun, Angkor Wat with its perfect symmetry is adorned with three-tiered pyramids crowned by five lotus shaped pillars towering 65 meters into the heavens above. Oriented west, the direction symbolising death, this royal monastery was dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu and was thought by many to be a funerary temple. Angkor Wat’s exterior walls are densely carved depicting mythological and historical Hindu epics.
From Angkor Wat we headed north beginning our 17 km tour on our rickety bikes with no brakes chanting our road mantra for protection. The late 9th century Hindu hilltop temple, Phnom Bakhengof, was our first stop, then cycled past Baksei Chamkrong’s single 12m tall brick tower built by King Harsharvarman I in the 10th century and onward toward Angkor Thom, built in the early 13th century. The paved path leading to the South Gate of Angkor Thom (meaning BIG City) tells a story, a mythic battle between demons and gods coined in the Hindu epic ”Churning of the Ocean of Milk”. Before the actual gate, we were escorted along a widen pathway lined with 54 giant stone gods to the left and 54 giant stone demons to the right (many beheaded during the civil war). Funneling through the squeezed entrance of the South Gate where dozens of overloaded mini-vans, motorcycles, tuk tuks and the crazy ones on bikes with no brakes took turns passing. The south gate, one of 5, ascends vertically 20m and is crowned with the 4 faces of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the ”compassionate spirits” each facing the cardinal directions under the construction of King Jayavarman VII in the early 13th century.
We zigzagged successfully through the bottle neck pedalling on a road that opened onto a long stretch of just more dust and bumps before tumbling upon the most divine and omniscient of the temples, BAYON, clusters of 4 gigantic headed statues towering 15 meters into the heavens. Smack in the middle of Angkor Thom, we discover 54 gothic towers decorated with 216 faces of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara or as some contemporaries see them, replicas of the egotistical legendary King, Jayavarman VII himself. At almost any vantage point, a dozen or more heads are visible at any one time provoking a feeling of being watched or for those that see the glass half full, a feeling of being protected.. Mysterious, alive, serene, protecting and powerful, this Buddhist stone temple of the late 12th C.E. draws us into its trance. Coincidentally, Bayon, which we discovered later, symbolises ”between heaven and earth” ( the name of our yoga centre, for those that have forgotten).
Continuing on our way to Baphuon, the Royal Enclosure, Phimeanakas, Preah Palilay, Tep Pranam, the Preah Pithu, the Terrace of the Leper King and the Elephants, the Central Square, the North and South Kleang and the 12 Towers of Prasat and finally exiting through the Victory Gate of the eastern wall. Ta Prohm was our last extended temple stop. Made famous to westerners by Angelina Jolie casting in the film ”Tom Raider” and also the sentimental film ”Les deux Frères”, Ta Phrom is an intricate labyrinth of stone temples intertwined with overgrown silk cotton trees and massive fig. The overbearing roots seem to have taken over this Buddhist mid 12th C.E. temple which was dedicated to the mother (or possibly Mother Nature) of King Jayavarman VII. Ta Phrom is a display of the power of nature, the desire of humans to conquer it and Mother Nature’s uncontrollable forces.