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Wednesday 29th Septmeber - Siem Reap
By Claire
Monday, 4th October 2004 06:25

The alarm didn't go off this morning, but I'd been waiting for it for hours, so that wasn't a problem. Suoy was waiting for us, and he took us out to Angkor Wat - we were there by 5.20. It was dark and shadowy as we crossed the causeway and took a few silhouette pictures. The sky was beginning to lighten, and it was lovely and quiet - the thousands of people who had turned out to see this were al feeling hushed, which made a nice atmosphere. The inner causeway was packed with people, and we found a place by one of the ponds to wait for the sky. Hundreds of weird frogs were making electronic burping noises, and the water in the lilly pond was bubbling with insects. Everywhere we stood, things scurried across our feet, and the ants bit. With no respect for the Buddhist nature of things, I squashed them all.

The sky became a marbled confection of cream and peach, with a watery blue behind us. The moon, opposite to the sunrise, was still full and bright, and might make a nice photo - we took pictures anyway. Then we moved to the other side of the causeway, as the water here had no lotus flowers in it, and would give a better reflection. There was some thick cloud on the horizon, and we were about to give up taking pictures, resigned to the idea that we wouldn't see the sun until it was too bright, when, for a single minute, there was a glowing orange orb in the sky, the water lit up, everyone started making excited noises and moving again, taking pictures, and then it was gone. The long, thin things in the pond jumped a lot, the frogs carried on burping and more things bit me. We took our photos and went back to the car.

Suoy took us to Preah Khan next, and the light was fabulous for photos. A light mist was still rising, the sun was low, creating shafts of white, and there were no other peple in sight. Hundreds of tiny, tiny frogs hopped across the sand, and it was still early enough in the day that the passage of worms in the dust could be seen, long, thick twists and turns, a maze of paths.

Preah Khan is related to Ta Prohm, sort of a non-identical twin. This one also had a glorious profusion of passages and doorways, trees growing through walls and plenty of hidden corners. We had the entire place to ourselves. There was a lot of grassland, incredibly green, and although some of the interior scenes were too dark still, the outside was bright and glorious. I walked over some stones and into a grassy patch for a photo and when I looked down, only seconds later, my feet were lost in a black cloud of ants. Like a horror film, although I don't think the insects feature that often in films, there was no skin visible at all. It was only when they started biting that I decided to move, so I took my shoes off, ran through the grass and rubbed at them. Most of them went, but I was finding ants on me for the rest of the day.

Suoy took us out to Neak Pean, a temple in a lake. Disconcertingly, a man was swimming in one of the pools, and collecting shellfish in a basket floating on the water. It made taking pictures harder, but it was such a small place that we didn't spend too long there. By the time we left, though, the children were out in force, and the inevitable cry of 'Siiiiiiiiiiiir, you wan cold driiiiiiiiiink?' rang through the air. A crowd of children selling silk and books and bamboo flutes followed us until we were safely in the car again. Off to Ta Som, another impressive place where the carvings were in fantastic condition. There were wonderful series of doorways leading onto more doorways, but the best bit was the gate at the back, with a tree growing out of it, the stone completely entwined with the roots. A child of about six, who had been unsuccessful at selling bamboo recorders sat in a corner and played 'Frere Jacque' (however you spell it) for twenty minutes before turning to 'Jingle Bells'. It was a bit surreal, but that added to the fun.

East Mebon was the next temple this morning, and it was barely 9am. It was getting warm, and we'd already enjoyed the coolest part of the day. East Mebon had elephant statues on all the corners, and large towers all over the place. Before we could investigate, an Englishman in safari gear and holding a 50-year old camera ("this baby spent twenty years in Africa with me") talked very slowly about his love of photography and the amazing innovations that digital photography promised. I nodded, agreed with everything he said and then managed to take a few pictures. By this time Mikey had made friends with the locals, and a few five year old girls were playing hide and seek with him on top of precarious stone mounds. The carvings here were lovely, with men riding three-headed elephants, and tiny mythical creatures playing in foliage.

It was much hotter now. We climbed slowly down the steep steps and drove on to Pre Rup. This temple was made mostly of brick, and the thought that we were standing in a monument created out of clay fired over a thousand years ago was humbing. A huge place, Pre Rup had steps and terraces and towers, some with the addition of ferns and small trees, and ovely views. At the entrance, I had to fend off some six-year-olds trying to sell me bracelets. They were impressing upon me just how many my dollar would buy me, and the air was filled with children counting to ten or twenty in a way that sounded like they'd learned the words but didn't know what they were doing. The merest glance in the direction of a child would result in a handful of bangles thrust into my face and the counting would start again. I was strong and refused everything, but when they all ran away for a second and came back with handfuls of flowers for me, tucking them into my bag and my pocket and even into Mikey's water bottle, I gave in. A short time later, Mikey gained a guide once again, who ignored me as I ignored him. The boy followed Mikey round for twenty minutes, noticing whatever Mikey was looking at and describing it. At the end of the improptu tour the child begged for Thai baht, the currency of choice for the local children but had to make do with a handful of riel instead.

We were hot and tired now, so we made Bantei Kdei the last of the day. A lot of greenery, doorways and stone carvings were a nice way to reach a late lunch. Just across the road was a huge reservoir and we stood and looked for a while as children tried to sell us things. My defence of already having enough bracelets was met with 'Buy one more. One, two, three...' and a small child tried to block my way by stepping in front of me wherever I went. He even held his arms out to help him, and the fact that I could have picked him up and moved him didn't make any difference. I even ran a bit to escape but he found me and thought it was a game and we both laughed at the silliness of it all. As we approached the car, all the other sellers came out to greet us, and I called out that I wanted nothing. A voice beside me said, 'Nothing will cost you ten dollars, madame,' and I saw a boy of about eight grinning at me. I laughed, so surprised by that comment!

On the way back we stopped of at Prasat Kravan, a modern-looking trio of brick towers, containing some unusual brick sculptures inside that looked like people were pressing through the wall like one of those pin pictures or a science fiction film. It was a small place, we had a quick look and then headed back to Siem Reap. Suoy asked for twice as much for tomorrow as for today, and we balked a bit. He reduced the price and we agreed, but I felt a bit uncomfortable about it. Mikey and I came up with a foolproof plan for negotiating with him in the morning, and we did a quick email and CD burn and then went out for supper, dropping seven films in to be developed.

In Phnom Penh we went to the Foreign Correspondent's Club and saw that they had a sister restaurant here. I had a gorgeous steak and apple crumble for pudding, I picked up my photos (some good, some too dark) and we went to bed early and full.

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