(August 25th) NICK: The previous morning I’d woken from a nightmare about being bitten by wasps. This morning it was a nightmare about being eaten by ants. I was so annoyed and frustrated, but tried not to lash out at Lily, or even show how upset I was. I think she could tell. On the doctor’s advice, we went out in the morning to get a different antibiotic medicine – the one I’d been using hadn’t worked at all. I was promised I’d be better. I didn’t know at the time that by the end of the day I’d be showing improvement. Finally.
LILY: I think I’ve been so detailed and this is tiring and…
1- First temple was very old, 9th century I guess. It was more red than the previous, which means different material. It was full of stories on the walls, with many more features. Each tower had a different story engraved on it, in 3D! And if you consider how old it is, it is mind blowing to think about all the work, technique, imagination, it is amazing what these people do for their gods – by the way, you don’t see houses or other types of buildings, because they weren’t as well built as the temples. Nick couldn’t follow all the stories engraved into the stone, I got about 80%. We took loads of photos of the details, and decided this was by now the best temple we’d seen. Then we went on to a series of others…
(See Drawings in Notebook)
1- Bad temple. More of the same. It starts to feel repetitive… it was very damaged. You could see the massive reservoir from the terrace. It was dirty but cute. It had another of those trees with roots on the ceiling.
2- Reservoir temple, meh! Cool, built on water, but ok. God became horse and swam to save soldiers. Nick said he should have become a whale instead.
3- Guru temple. Beautiful, small in comparison, seemed the same, Nick was trying to feed a spider. There was a doggy scratching, he looked like a leopard.
Then we pet a buffalo. He had humble eyes like Pisco! He was afraid of Nick, didn’t want to eat from his hand. Owner kept pulling him…
NICK: After the third temple, I got our driver to stop at the side of the road, and Saven went to go talk to a farmer to ask whether we could pet his water buffalo. It was unfortunately terrified of us. Later we got to stroke an elephant. Who knows if it enjoyed the experience at all. It had a couple of gashes. I suppose they aren’t so well treated, and they probably work the whole time.
LILY: 4- Final temple was the tall one, with a nice view. Different architecture, different King. This was more like a pyramid type one. Huge, but no details or stories visible. I was sad because I couldn’t take photos (my phone had run out of batteries) and we had lost the water bottle. There were lions overlooking at the view, and Nick felt so happy to look at the jungle and be itch-free. S was just sitting and silent.
NICK: In general over the last few days, I’d found it difficult to describe – or even differentiate between – the temples we’d visited (aside from Angkor Wat). Some were hundreds years older than others, and were in varying states of disrepair; some were elaborate, with walls intricately describing Buddhist and Hindi stories in engravings made up of thousands of characters, while others were either too weathered to see what once had been carved there, or they’d been built without much creativity; some were neat, solid, impressive buildings, others were hastily built so that the bricks didn’t seem to fit together properly; but in all of them the same three kinds of bricks were used, the same shaped towers… they blended with one another.
However, there was one thing that differed hugely; the empty space and nature within and around them. They had courtyards, walkways, reservoirs, moats and large open spaces, they were built on top of mountains, on islands, in jungles or out in the open, some were covered with trees or flowers, others just grass, or nothing at all. Perhaps this is why Angkor Wat stands out just so much – it’s not necessarily the size of the towers, or the thousands upon thousands of images carved into its bricks, but it simply has so much space and varying spaces to experience. To get there you need to cross a moat, walk across a huge field, up a long path with statues, past two “libraries” (although nobody knows what these two buildings were actually used for), through the outer wall, go past the swimming pools and galleries, before finally getting to the inner courtyard that surrounds the pyramid at the top. Yes, it was bigger and better preserved than the others, but it also had a lot more space to work with.
One other thing that was impossible not to notice – all the statues were missing their heads, which now were lost, destroyed, or living in the museums and mansions of art collectors around the world. The Vietnamese and French had helped themselves to artefacts during their two terms here. So much was lost, even though the Americans hadn’t bombed the temples.
LILY: Went to a nice new hotel. Nick swam, we ate there: a delicious steak and yellow noodles. Had some drinks, then Nick gave me a surprise massage.
NICK: That night we were staying in a new hotel with a pool. The food was okay, the drinks were nice, but the highlight was a Cambodian dish (I think “suku”, that was a bit like a porridge, made from coconut milk, heaping spoons of sugar, banana and small, transparent tapioca balls. Oh, and our bed was not just ornately decorated with the petals and towel swans, but someone had taken the trouble to write, in strips of banana leafs, “HAPPY HONEYMOON” on our bed. Imagine how long that took them. So pointless. However, my skin looked better and I was itching far less. Perhaps I was on the mend?
(August 26th) LILY: Temple, Buddha, river with lingotes, waterfall, temple, super tall temple, Angkor Wat.
NICK: I woke with better hands, but a couple of new patches of rash on my legs. Samoeurn picked us up early (we weren’t with Saven, the tour guide, anymore), and took us to the mountain to yet another temple.
From there, we climbed up a large flight of stairs lined with rows of beggars, hoping to receive some small bills. There were several people making a good business giving change to passersby in 100 riel notes, Cambodia’s second-smallest banknote (worth just under £0.02). You could buy a few hundred of them, then distribute them among the beggars and the boxes next to religious statues. When we got to the sacred site at the top of the stairs, Samoeurn convinced Lily to let a girl look after our shoes for $0.25. Lily thought the kids would have to give the money over to adults later. Samoeurn replied they use it for school.
Anyway, we were allowed to hit a crazy loud gong which really vibrated your body as it rang out. We saw the buddha, took a selfie, then went back down the mountain to a waterfall to swim. Lily wasn’t comfortable floating out towards the large waterfall. The water was too deep to stand in, and she was getting her cold allergy bumps, but a fish nibbling at her feet forced her off the rock she was perched on and into my waiting arms, nearer (but not under) the waterfall. On the riverbank we ate a strong fish paste with rice. Then bought a sweet coconut pancake and coconut shavings on sweet rice balls.
Then we drove to another temple. On the way, we bought a bunch of dark red bananas to snack on. They’d come in useful later, as we could feed them to a pack of monkeys. One had a horrific looking fresh gash in its cheek – probably the alpha male who’d seen off a challenger that morning. The others were docile, some cute and playful toddlers, but everyone was afraid of the scary one, including us.
We were running out of time before Angkor Wat closed, so we quick-walked up a mountain to the temple at the top of it, then jogged back down, and bundled into the waiting taxi.
We actually ran from the car park across the inflatable bridge, through the courtyard, up the stairs and to the base of the top tower. We got there at 4:27 p.m., with just three minutes to spare until closing time. It turned out the tower was closed all day on holidays. It was the lunar day, day of the Buddha, so it was closed. All that running for nothing.
We walked around Angkor Wat, now marvelling in its beauty, size, detail and level of preservation, then Lily sat on the steps of the library drawing it from afar. Back into the waiting tuk tuk, home to the hotel to print documents we’d need for Lily’s Thai visa application in Phnom Penh, then out to an Indian restaurant. Special thali mix plus a spicy butter chicken, roti, paratha.
Home again, packed and went to sleep absolutely exhausted. It had been a great day.