We were supposed to climb Phnom Bakheng for a view of Angkor Wat at sunset, but Choeun’s warning that 3,000 other people may choose to do this today makes it sound quite unappealing.
Instead we climb up at the very end of the day to capture the best light on Angkor Wat.
There are elephants available to take you up to the ruins and, had the rides been half the cost, Lane and I would have taken advantage of that option. But the trek up is easy and pleasant enough and by now we have scrambled up enough ruins that navigating these steep stairs once we reach the temple isn’t too difficult either.
Phnom Bakheng itself is a rather dilapidated ruin, as those things go here, but it offers amazing views over the countryside, a nearby shrine, the distant hills along Tonle’ Sap, the waters of West Baray (a vast ancient reservoir), and – of course – Angkor Wat.
We sit, admire the views, and relax until the local TV news camera shows up. (Really.) The crowds can’t be far behind.
We share the route down with the elephants.
I love the Indian elephants. They are so beautiful, with their mottled faces and placid demeanor. Dave and Carolyn walk ahead of me and Dave pats each elephant as it passes. Meanwhile, Joe makes sure that I am safely at the edge of the trail, as far as possible from these huge beasts.
As we come to the end of the trail, I join Dave and pat one of these gentle-seeming giants as it lumbers past. It’s flank is hard, rough, and unexpectedly hairy.
It IS a bit scary, although I doubt the elephant even notices my touch.