Saturday, October 15, 2016

Messages From Myanmar #22

Messages From Myanmar #22
15 October 2016

Hello there, Rodger French here.

Photo Update Alert:
 Angkor Wat

I am a big believer in the philosophy, “Sometimes you just get what you get.” This proves a particularly useful attitude when considering the touristing possibilities this planet affords. Though our world is, as Carl Sagan described it, “… a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam,” it still takes no small effort to get to many of the places one should visit while one is still able.

There is, of course, a distinct advantage in residing within (relative) striking distance of these assorted wonders, natural and human. When we lived in Buenos Aires, for example, there was never any doubt that we would visit Machu Pichu in Peru. Hell, we were on the same continent, how could we not? Now that we’ve taken up temporary residence in Myanmar, the same holds true for Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Angkor Wat itself is one of many temples/cities erected by a succession of Khmer kings, both Hindu and Buddhist, between the 8th and 13th centuries. The level of scholarship brought to bear on the study of these magnificent ruins is extensive and somewhat daunting, and, should you thirst for detail, I recommend the book “Ancient Angkor” by Michael Freeman and Claude Jacques. But I do have photoz (linked above).

Anne and I flew on AirAsia, a “low cost carrier” (motto: “You thought water was free?”) from Yangon (via Bangkok) to Siem Reap, the town nearest the temple complex. Tourism has been very, very good to Siem Reap, and the main road from the airport is fraught with large hotels and tour buses. We stayed at a quite tasteful, kinda swanky place in town, where the very obliging staff arranged a car, a driver, and a guide for our visit to the Angkor World Heritage Park.

The day was hot… like, jungle hot, and the park was very crowded with visitors from all over the world, even though this is reputedly the “slow season.” Certain locations, in fact, resembled anthills as people queued to clamber up temple steps, the better to take selfies. Most of them were nice enough about it, although I did find myself occasionally longing to snatch someone’s stupid selfie stick and whack them about the head and shoulders with it.

But that would have been undiplomatic.

Our guide was well informed and most attentive as we spent the better part of six hours schlepping among various ruins. It was actually a bit overwhelming and I’m still processing the experience. What I can tell you is that A.J. and I are sincerely grateful that we had the privilege of seeing such an estimable place. In my travels, only Machu Pichu and the Forum in Rome compare in terms of personal wonderment.

[Royal Sidebar: Of all the Khmer kings, my favourite is Jayavarman VII (1181-c.1220), the last great king of Angkor. Among his many architectural contributions was the construction of 102 hospitals spread across the empire.]

The following day, we elected to go to the Angkor National Museum in Siem Reap. This is actually a private institution, but they’ve done an excellent job gathering together tons of sandstone statuary and other items previously squirreled away by the government and private collectors, thus creating a very fine and comprehensive exhibition. Indoors and air-conditioned, too.

From the museum, we took a “tuk tuk” (a rickshaw pulled behind a small motorcycle) downtown to score some lunch, after which we headed back to our hotel, because it was just… too… hot… for meandering gringos. Later that afternoon, as Anne got a pedicure and I a Swedish massage (excellent and reasonably priced), the heavens opened and a thunderstorm of majestic violence let loose. It was wonderful, although it no doubt made selfies inconvenient.

And now we’re back in Yangon, plotting our next adventure: Hanoi and Hạ Long Bay in November. After the U.S. elections. When we’ll all need a vacation.