Le Grand Détour

Temples d’Angkor – Jour 3, Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Prohm

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[20 décembre 2015]

france_french_flag A 9 heures comme prévu, Chanra nous attend avec un grand sourire en bas de la guesthouse. Il est vraiment gentil ce gars et aujourd’hui il a emmené une glacière avec de l’eau fraîche gratuite pour nous. Ce que nous apprendrons plus tard, c’est qu’il a dû s’arranger pour s’absenter de ses cours d’université pour pouvoir nous conduire aujourd’hui.

Nous avons une journée chargée devant nous avec des effets wahou en pagaille avec les temples suivants :

  • Ta Phrom : le temple rendu célèbre dans le film Tombraiders où les arbres géants ont littéralement englouti le temple, avec leurs racines comme des serpents immobiles. Nous avons beau avoir déjà vu des photos, être au milieu de ces arbres est une expérience incomparable. Nous circulons de galeries en galerie en faisant de notre mieux pour éviter les touristes, notamment dans nos photos. Il faut dire qu’il s’agit de l’un des 3 temples les plus visités d’Angkor donc forcément nous ne sommes pas tous seuls !
  • Takeo : Susie reste en bas tandis que je grimpe tout en haut de ce temple en forme de pyramide, escaladant littéralement les escaliers abruptes. Le temple en impose mais il n’a jamais été terminé et ne contient pas de décorations comparables aux autres. Je redescends car il est temps de rentrer dans l’enceinte d’Angkor Thom.
  • Angkor Thom où le summun de l’architecture et de l’art Angkoriens sous le règne du fameux Jayavarman VII (1181-1219). Des dizaines de temples dans cette villes qui a compté plus d’un milion d’habitants à son apogée… Pourquoi cette folie des temples peut-on se demander ? Hé bien parce qu’à cette époque, chacun des rois voulait faire mieux et plus grand que son prédécesseur, sans compter que les souverains ne devaient pas se contenter que d’un seul temple, non : il fallait en bâtir pour chaque membre illustre de la famille ainsi que pour ces ancêtres mais également pour les dieux (Shiva ou Vishnu). Et dans le genre, on n’a jamais surpassé Jayavarman VII qui a lancé un nombre de constructions incroyable sans compter les grands projets d’infrastructures publiques comme des systèmes d’irrigation très avancés pour l’époque.
  • Nous démarrons notre visite d’Angkor Tom par la Terrasse du roi lépreux qui présente une double façade dont une est cachée, avec des bas-reliefs somptueux. Puis c’est l’enclos royal et le Phinamaenaka où nous rencontrons brièvement James et Madison du cours de cuisine. Nous pénêtrons ensuite dans le Baphuon, décrit comme le plus grand puzzle du monde où les experts doivent jouer avec plus de 300 000 pierres dont les plans préalablement établis ont été tous détruits par les khmers rouges… La dimension de ce temple à trois niveaux est impressionnante. Je grimpe ses escaliers ultra-raides pour atteindre le sommet, m’élever vers les dieux en quelques sortes, en compagnie de nombeux moines venus pour la fameuse cérémonie aux 3000 moines. Elle rappelle d’ailleurs le Tak Bat laotien ou thaïlandais mais sur une énorme échelle.
  • Bayon : nous commençons à avoir faim mais nous décidons d’aller voir le grandiose et mystérieux Bayon avant de déjeuner avec Chanra. Bayon où les bas-reliefs aux 11000 figures qui racontent les conquêtes, les scènes de la mythologie hindouiste ou la vie de tous les jours au Cambodge de cette époque. Bayon et ses trois niveaux. Bayon qui, de loin, ressemble à un énorme tas de pierres mais dont la magie opère dès que l’on atteint le second niveau avec ses 216 énormes visages au sourire énigmatique qui nous regardent… Bayon, le temple du roi Jayavarman VII, encore lui, qui voit tout, à qui l’on ne peut rien cacher. Wahou ! Personnellement c’est mon coup de coeur de la journée, même après Angkor Wat.

Nous décidons d’inviter Chanra à déjeuner avec nous dans un tout petit restaurant local. Ce déjeuner sera l’occasion d’une discussion passionnante sur sa vision du Cambodge et aussi sur sa vie. A 32 ans Chanra lutte pour subvenir aux besoins de sa femme et de ses 2 filles. Enfant d’une famille pauvre de Battambang qui travaillait dans les champs, il a décidé de s’en sortir en étudiant et en venant à Siem Reap, le 2ème pôle économique du Cambodge. Devenu conducteur de tuktuk à son compte et suivant en parallèle des cours d’université avec une spécialité en littérature anglaise, Chanra travaille comme un forcené. Il veut monter un business de tuktuk avec un site web. Nous découvrons un gars adorable qui a la force et l’énergie pour sortir par le haut d’une relative pauvreté mais qui ne nous cache rien de la situation économique et politique du pays. Nous partageons avec lui ce que nous avons appris du Dr Richner hier soir et il nous confirme les faits et les chiffres. Il nous prévient que l’on s’apercevra du niveau réel de pauvreté du pays lorsqu’on s’éloignera à quelques 10 ou 20 km de Siem Reap. Nous nous sentons très humble devant ce petit bonhomme qui veut s’en sortir par tous les moyens et qui croit en la justice. Je lui donne quelques idées pour développer son business – j’échangerai d’ailleurs plusieurs emails avec lui à ce sujet.

  • Angkor Wat. Il est 15h lorsque nous terminons notre déjeuner, pour finir l’après-midi en apothéose avec Angkor Wat, le plus grand édifice religieux du monde, tout simplement. C’est énorme et comme pour le Taj Mahal, il faut déjà atteindre le temple avant de le visiter… Pour cela traverser les douves de 190 mètres de large (!), passer la grande porte, parcourir les 800 mètres de l’allée principale pour pénêtrer dans le temple proprement dit. Nous en faisons d’abord le tour pour parcourir près d’un kilomètre de bas reliefs en superbe condition qui racontent de nombreux épisodes historiques et religieux. Puis nous grimpons les escaliers pour s’approcher du paradis.
  • Susie commence à fatiguer avec sa béquille et la douleur à la cheville se fait plus intense. Heureusement qu’il s’agit du dernier temple de la journée.
  • Tout à Angkor Wat respire la démesure. Et la foule ne fait pas exception d’ailleurs… Nous arpentons les galeries en épuisant au passage la batterie d’un de nos appareils photos. Malgré l’échelle de ce gigantesque temple, je crois que je préfère l’atmosphère plus intime du Bayon.
  • Je décide de faire la queue pour monter au dernier étage et atteindre ainsi le nirvana où seules 100 personnes sont admises à la fois. Oui, le nirvana est un endroit très sélecte 😉 La vue est splendide mais comme le dicton qui dit que c’est au sommet qu’on voit le moins bien le mont Fuji, le nirvana n’est pas le meilleur endroit pour admirer Angkor Wat ! Non, pour cela il vaut mieux ressortir pour profiter de la lumière du soleil couchant sur l’esplanade principale. Ce que nous faisons, prenant ainsi de magnifiques photos de ce temple, témoin du génie Khmer de l’époque. 300 000 ouvriers, 6000 éléphants auraient été nécessaires à sa construction. Rien que la logistique du transport des pierres sur la rivière depuis la carrière située à 50 kilomètres du site défie l’imagination.

Nous jetons un denier regard sur Angkor Wat alors que le soleil nous a déjà fait ses adieux pour la journée et remontons dans le tuktuk. Ah Angkor, que c’était bien !

Le soir venu, nous échangeons nos adresses email avec Chanra, immortalisant au passage cette belle rencontre d’une photo, un peu floue malheureusement. Merci de ces moments partagés ensemble Chanra, nous trinquons à ta santé !

Le soir nous dînons khmer pour un repas goutu mais dans une ambiance un peu trop touristique.

Retour à la guesthouse pour régler plusieurs aspects administratifs et faire les sacs car demain, nous nous levons à 5h15 pour de nouvelles aventures – et pendant ce temps le blog prend encore du retard !

english_flag [20th December 2015] Chanra was again waiting for us when we came down from our room but at 9am this morning (we’re getting lazy!). Our aim today is to see la crème de la crème of Angkor temples: Ta Prohm (nicknamed the Tomb Raider temple), Ta Keo (an unfinished temple that is thought to have been abandoned after a lightning strike during construction — seen as a bad omen at the time), before passing through the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom to the terrace of elephants, Phimeanakas temple, Baphuon temple, Bayon and then finishing, after lunch, at Angkor Wat for the sunset.

Ta Phrom was probably one of my favourite temples, there was a one-way system diagram on a sign on the way in, but you don’t necessarily have to stick to it and I’m pretty sure we didn’t. When we got stuck behind a group of tourists we simply changed direction. The guidebook says that the jungle has tried to repossess the temple and there are quite a few impressively-sized trees pushing up through the stones of the temple. There are also quite a few probes dotted about here and there to measure the movement of the stones and some of the more “at risk” parts have manmade cables around them to keep them together.

Chanra once again met us on the other side of the temple from where he’d dropped us, in order for us not to have to walk back round to the front, and we were off again to the next temple.

I didn’t go into Ta Keo, the unfinished temple, and Stéphane confirmed on his return that I’d made a good decision as the steps were incredibly steep and it was tricky even for someone normal (without crutches and a sprained ankle!). But it’s still frustrating not being able to do everything.

So, once back on the road again, we headed towards Angkor Thom. There are two passages on the way where the road is only wide enough for one vehicle and there were a great deal of vehicles going the other way.  Which meant that we got stuck twice in traffic jams as the non-stop streams of vehicles were coming away from Angkor Thom (containing mainly monks or groups of ladies dressed in white with scarves tied around them diagonally). We realised that they must all be coming from the event that the monk had told us about yesterday. It must have just finished.

The second traffic jam was at the Victory Gate entrance to Angkor Thom — which is only just wide enough for a mini-bus to get through. On our side there were a couple of policemen standing and watching. After 15 minutes waiting, with cars constantly pouring through from the other side, Stéphane asked Chanra what use were the police if they didn’t stop the traffic coming out to let some of the traffic from our side in, to fluidify the traffic as it were. Chanra seemed embarrassed and got off his bike to come closer. “I don’t know, but you mustn’t ask them or they will get angry and try to find some fault on your vehicle in order to fine you. They don’t like being told what to do or if they are wrong”.  End of conversation.

After another long wait there was a small gap in the traffic coming out and so the bikes, mopeds and tuk-tuks that had all pushed to the front of the queue starting heading through the gate. The policeman and pedestrians in amongst them. The policeman then went and waited near the cars on the other side of the gate…I guess waiting until there were no more cars coming in…rather than stopping the traffic himself!

Inside Angkor Thom there were cars, vans, bikes and mopeds everywhere. There were people milling about everywhere too — sitting at the side of the road eating, wandering along chatting and being loaded into mini-vans and cars. The inbound traffic was rerouted across a car park and through some of the ruins in order to create a mini one way system (clearly just for the day). Chanra didn’t really seem at ease through the ruins which were more than a little rough for a remork tuk-tuk, but he drove it beautifully and pulled up near the end of the Elephant Parade for us to walk down towards the Bayon temple where he would pick us up when we were ready.

We were starting to get peckish, but decided to get on with the visit first and eat later with Chanra. After a quick toilet stop (where I was shat on by a bird — animals pooing on me is beginning to become a rerunning theme) we headed to the north of the Terrace of Elephants where we found the Terrace of the Leper King which is a terrace hidden within a terrace. The carvings here are very impressive, though the inner terrace is another example of unfinished work as the last of the engravings are a little like pointillism!

There was a large area in front of the elephant terrace with plastic chairs and a kind of stage where we presumed that most of the monk action had happened but, as it was now, all that was left was a few groups of monks wandering around the ruins.

As we were just starting to explore we spotted James and Madison again (the Australians from our cookery course). They’d bravely hired bikes for the day and had cycled to the temples to see the sunrise. We chatted briefly before heading our own ways to explore the rest of the temples (though we saw them shortly afterwards lounging in the shade of a tree at the foot of one of the temples…looked very relaxing!).

I let Stéphane go off and explore another temple (which would have, once again, been impossible with my ankle and the crutches). It’s called Baphuon and has quite a funny story behind it. The archaeologists had just finished listing all the stones and pulling it apart in order to rebuild it more securely afterwards. Every piece had been numbered and documented. Then the Khmer Rouge happened. The documents were lost or destroyed and so when Cambodia was once again safe and work could restart on building the temple it was like a huge jigsaw puzzle! They must’ve had drawings or something to do on though otherwise it would really have been impossible!! Though all around this temple there are groups of stones and engravings…maybe left over when they finished, like the screws in DIY packs!!

Our final stop in Angkor Thom was the Bayon temple. An amazing place. When seen from afar, it looks like a heap of rubble. Up close though there are bas-relief engravings all around the outside wall depicting all kinds of scenes of life from the period when it was build. Inside and upstairs there are huge Buddha heads looking in all directions…it sets my imagination going. For example, you turn your back and then these huge columns with faces on each side all turn and twist to create new faces or simply pull a face behind your back that you can see only if you take a really quick selfy!

When we found Chanra again he told us a little about the bas-reliefs and, when we said that we’d done the tour to see them all, he said that he knew as he’d seen us going around. He’s got good eyes, though I guess a Susie on crutches is fairly easy to spot!

We told Chanra that we would like to eat lunch with him today and so when we spotted a couple of “local” style restaurants at the side of the road we asked him to stop. He explained the difference between this type of restaurant and the real “tourist” restaurant where, according to him, the prices are the same. The tourist restaurant is clean, air-conditioned and hygienic. The “local” restaurant is not hygienic and probably just as expensive…we still opted for the local restaurant though.

Over lunch we discussed a lot with Chanra and he told us that he is studying English Literature at university which explains his very good level of English. He has lessons on Saturday afternoons and Sundays, though today he had chosen to drive us around rather than to go to university…I felt really guilty. I hope he manages to keep up with his course, though I got the impression that he said he would start again next year…

He explained that he originally comes from Battambang (where we’re heading tomorrow) where he grew up on a farm. He didn’t want to be a farmer all his life and not have any money and so he came to Siem Reap where he met his wife and had twin daughters seven years ago. He drives the tuk-tuk to earn money for his family and to pay for university, but he has a plan.

His plan is fairly simple, he wants to earn money from his website. I have trouble believing that his business plan is very solid though. The website, he says, has lots of links for products from other sites and, when people click on the link and buy the product, the target site knows they’ve been redirected from his and he gets some commission. He also asks us how to make it appear higher in the Google search results…not an easy question to answer!

His dream, he says, is to be able to make money from his website and to buy a car in which he can carry his family around. Sounds simple enough, but if it was that easy then everyone would be doing it.

We told him all about last night’s concert and how it confirmed what he had been telling us about the corruption in Cambodia.

Time flew and before we know it it’s half past three. Time to attack Angkor Wat.

The Cambodian god-kings of old each strove to better their ancestors’ structures in size, scale and symmetry, culminating in what is believed to be the world’s largest religious building, Angkor Wat.

To get to the Wat you first have to cross a long bridge over the moat (which is 190m wide!). Once inside the first gate there is a walkway that takes you up to the front door of the temple itself. It’s a beautifully, hugely impressive structure. There are also bas-relief here, though we didn’t do the whole tour before heading up the steps inside. The very top floor is only visitable by 100 people at a time (they have necklaces that they pass from the people coming down to the queue of people waiting to ensure that this limit is more or less respected (monks don’t have to wear these necklaces and so can go up in addition to the 100 “normal” people. Slightly like Disney or Alton Towers there was a sign in the queue telling us that the wait was currently 45 minutes. Stéphane decided that he still wanted to go (we won’t be coming back here in the very near future) and so I went and found a seat in the shade where I could put my leg up and get lots of comments from the passing guides who were waiting for their clients to come back down from the top floor visit. One of the guides was saying that he didn’t think that the top floor should remain open to tourists much longer as it’s making the temple wonky (as only half of the top is open to visitors). He also predicted, though I disagree, that if they close the visit to the top floor then Angkor Wat would close as no-one would come. Crazy man! Stéphane, in any case, said that it was interesting but that actually you can’t see Angkor Wat from inside Angkor Wat so it’s better seen from below!

The sun was starting to set and so we headed to the other side of the northern pool (as the southern one is dry) and took a few (dozen) photos as the sunset.

Chanra was happy to see us when we got back and took us back to the hotel where we quickly got changed before he finally dropped us off in town. We gave him a little more than we’d agreed and told him that it was so he could head home now and spend time with his family. We took a last photo with him and got his email address so that we could send it on to him later on.

We had dinner in a very touristic restaurant in town. It was ok but nothing special and it was pretty expensive. We walked back to the hotel. I’m glad as it shows that my ankle is really on the mend…now I have blisters on my hands from the crutches though….can’t win them all I’m afraid!

Ta Phrom:

Ta Keo:

Angkor Thom (and the Elephant Terrace):

Baphuon temple (the jigsaw puzzle):

Bayon temple:

Angkor Wat: