Cambodia 3: one touch of rosy sunset

February 25, 2010

John Wyver:

Tuesday 23 February: Siem Reap (with photos still to come)
Just near Angkor Wat is one of the oldest of the many other temples in the region, Phnom Bakheng. This was built around 900 CE and was dedicated to Shiva — it’s also the vantage point from which Lara Croft first looks out over Angkor Wat in the Tomb Raider movie (more on this tomorrow). Presumably because the temple is built on what’s pretty much the only high point in the area, it has become an exceptionally popular spot from which to observe the sunset. So regardless of the damage that we and, today alone, hundreds and hundreds of others are doing to the monument, Ian, John and I tramp up the hill carrying the stripped down camera kit (which is still heavy, and especially so at six in the evening).

There are elephants that will take you up the hill for $20 a ride, but that’s not for us. Intrepid filmmakers racing the fading light do not sit alongside mere tourists in a howdah. But, boy, the 20-minute or so yomp is strenuous (which might have something to do with having had just the five hours sleep in the previous 40 or so). At the foot of the temple itself, which is already bedecked with terraces of tourists staring out to the west, we grab a first piece-to-camera from John, and then take on the steps to the top.

The image above fails to do justice to the steepness and the narrowness of the steps that Ian and I first expect John to climb (on camera, of course) and then up which we have to scramble with the DSR 750 and tripod. There are hordes of others intent on the same task, and not for the first time today I reflect on how modest an impact any notion of health and safety legislation has made to date on the temples of Angkor. Not only are we clambering up vertiginously steep steps with no handrails or similar — but quite soon all of these people are going to be making their way down them, in one big crowd, and after the sun has disappeared.

The top of the temple, an area perhaps the size of four tennis courts, is crammed with the peoples of most nations you’ve ever encountered. There are hippies and well-heeled Yanks, loud Koreans (sorry, but they are), elegant young women from Japan and an occasional monk. An immensely helpful official guide (who looks shocked as he declines my proffered tip) helps us get the camera up safely and then shows us Angelina’s vantage point to see the towers of Angkor Wat. This is the shot we’ve really come for, although you can never have too many sunsets on any project. The light is golden, but we’ve shot sufficient and we elect to scramble down before the sun touches the horizon.

Walking down the hill, as tired as I can remember having felt for many many months, I fall in with a thoughtful German tourist who’s on a month-long tour of Vietnam and Cambodia. He strongly recommends the sight in a nearby park of large-scale bats which go by the name of ‘flying dogs’, and he seems disappointed that we are only making a film about Hindu temples and not a wildlife doc. I ask, are the bats dangerous? Not really, he explains, or at least not for ‘us’, since they only suck the blood of women. Can this really be true?

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