Wednesday, 29 August 2012


You’d think that after several days exploring the pagoda-studded plains of Bagan, we would be a little templed-out. Instead, we decided to test our threshold for religious edifices by going straight from Myanmar to the famed temples of Angkor in Cambodia. Actually, we didn’t go straight there- we stopped for two temple-free days in Bangkok spent eating and drinking with friends, but for the sake of my temple-to-temple narrative, let’s just pretend that didn’t happen.

The temples of Angkor, constructed between the 9th and 12th centuries, are some of the most visited sites in Asia, while their crown jewel, Angkor Wat, is considered to be the grandest, most important religious building in the world, rivaled only by the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.

As you can imagine, our expectations were high.

Using the surprisingly developed town of Siem Reap as our home base, we bought a three-day pass to visit the various temples in the Angkor area. One could easily spend a week exploring the temples, of which there are many in varying degrees of preservation, but we thought a week of temples would be bordering on overkill. Three days ended up being the perfect amount of time to leisurely explore the main sites. We saved Angkor Wat for last, reasoning that it would be the grand finale and that anything that came after it would seem anti-climactic in comparison.

The first day, we hired a tuk-tuk, which is essentially a carriage pulled by a motor bike, and left at 4:30am in order to hike up a hill and catch the sunrise over Angkor Wat and the surrounding jungle. 

Our first, hazy glimpse of Angkor Wat

Once the sun was up, we continued our tour, taking in several of the better-known temples and trying to time our visits to avoid the oppressive tour groups of Chinese and Japanese tourists that threatened to overtake us in a wave of umbrellas, cameras and cheesy poses with the obligatory two-fingered peace sign.

Despite the hordes, the temples were incredibly impressive. While Bagan’s main draw was the sheer number of temples in a relatively small area, Angkor boasts quality over quantity. The main temples are massive, and although many are half in ruins, they remain ornately detailed with religious carvings throughout. 

There was the Bayon temple, with over two hundred enormous faces carved into its walls and towers, looking down on visitors with blank, enigmatic stares. 

The alleyway in Angkor Thom lined with image after image of intricately etched dancing deities. 

The mysterious, inaccessible ruins of Preah Khan, the soaring terraces of Pre Rup and the mind-blowingly detailed carvings in the well-preserved art gallery that is Banteay Srei.

Can you spot the ridiculous Frenchman?

While most of the temples have been reclaimed from the jungle that overtook them many centuries ago, a few, the best example of which is the eerie Ta Prohm, still have trees  growing from their walls, making the sites feel like an Indiana Jones movie set. 

Our second day of sightseeing (which was actually our third day in the area: Day Two was spent sleeping in, working out in our guest house’s rooftop gym, getting Cambodian massages and eating. Pretty rough day, if you ask me…), we hired another tuk-tuk to take us further afield to a site called the River of a Thousand Lingas. The site is a sacred place where the Angkorian people carved into a river bank hundreds of religious images, including lingas, or the ancient fertility symbols consisting of a phallic form, or linga, set in a yoni shaped like the female equivalent. In religious ceremonies, water was poured over the linga to pool in the yoni, creating holy water that represented the sexual energy of creation. 

If only Catholic mass was that hot…

The River of a Thousand Lingas included a little hike through the jungle to a waterfall, where we were able to cool off, while Japanese tourists pushed each other aside to take pictures of us. Of course they did.

On our last day, we again woke up for the sunrise over Angkor Wat, only this time we went by bicycle, peddling half asleep in the dark to the temple in time to see the sun come up behind those three famously rounded towers. It really was an awe-inspiring sight, despite the fact that we had to share it with about a thousand other people, most of whom had arrived by tour bus. 

Once the sun was up, the mass of human bodies retreated, assumingly for breakfast as part of their tour package, and we had Angkor Wat, the most important religious building in Asia- if not the world, nearly to ourselves.

And it was every bit as amazing as we had expected. 

First off, it is enormous- much bigger than it looks in pictures. Rivaling its impressive size are its painstakingly detailed carved frescoes and decorative carvings found on nearly every surface, which underscore the dominance of Hinduism in Cambodia at the time of the building’s construction. Scenes from Hindu epics line the outside walls, while more recent statues of Buddha dominate an indoor courtyard. The structure has been meticulously preserved and lovingly restored where necessary. The result is a place that transports the visitor back in time.

That is, until the tour buses come back after breakfast.

Just one scene from the extensive frescoes inside

Although Angkor Wat was a magnificent sight to behold, it was not the most memorable of our time in Siem Reap: that honor falls to what happened during the massage we got on our last day.

The massage itself was relaxing and wonderful, but what raised it in our esteem from an hour of bliss to a trip highlight all started with laundry day. You see, before our massage, we had dropped off our laundry, which included all of Vincent’s boxers, to be cleaned. Logic of deduction will tell you what Vincent had on under his shorts for the massage. As we got undressed in our joint massage room, Vincent took off his shirt, but kept his shorts on, assuming the masseuse could work around them.

How wrong he was.

Vincent’s masseuse, an adorable shy Cambodian girl of 25, asked him to remove his shorts for the massage. Vincent explained that he couldn’t take off his shorts because he wasn’t wearing any underwear.

“No underwear?” the girl frowned. She consulted with my masseuse in rapid-fire Khmer (the language of Cambodia), apparently discussing what to do.

Finally, she turned to Vincent, “Don’t worry, I have something you can wear.”  

She stepped out of the room and returned a moment later with something balled up in her fist. Proudly, she handed Vincent her solution, which he held up to examine.

It was a pair of tiny, black mesh bikini briefs with white floral embroidery.

“Are you serious?” Vincent bleated, holding up the panties, which would have been snug on me and downright lewd on him. “You want me to wear these?”

“They have been cleaned,” the masseuse replied, somewhat missing the reason behind Vincent’s incredulousness.

By this point, I couldn’t even pretend to hide my laughter. The horrified look on Vincent’s face was topped only by the sight of him once he finally acquiesced and donned the shrunken, flowery briefs. I will spare you an actual photo of the moment, but the mental image of Vincent in his miniscule panties would haunt me throughout my massage, causing me to burst out into barking laughter at random. My mirth would lead Vincent to start laughing, which would in turn make our two masseuses giggle uncontrollably. The whole massage was a disaster, with the four of us cracking up the entire time.  We finally managed to pull it together until Vincent’s masseuse made his bikini into a thong to massage his hips. It was game over after that.

When the massage was finally finished, we thanked our masseuses and apologized for acting like children. As we were paying and getting ready to leave, Vincent’s masseuse asked, without a hint of irony, if Vincent wanted to keep the briefs.

Sadly, he decided against it under the guise that maybe one day they would bring as much joy to someone else as they did to us.  In reality, I think he just didn’t want any evidence of what was, for him, a traumatizing experience.

And since I’m such a good wife, I’m supporting his recovery by immortalizing his humiliation in my blog. Love you, honey.

1 comment:

  1. MDR, le coup du string!
    J'ai fait un memoire de fac sur Angkor, alors ca fait plaisir de lire vos impressions sur cette cité, et les photos sont vraiment superbes!
    Vous avez l'air de bien profité de votre séjour, en tout cas, nous on s'éclate en vous lisant.
    Bisous de Suisse