As we left Bayon, we saw lots of elephants ringing the temple, providing rides for tourists. I’m not an elephant expert, but my understanding is that riding the elephants is not good for them. Definitely the little benches they use are supposed to be particularly bad. Full disclosure: ST and I rode elephants bareback in Thailand (another story for another post). You definitely see elephant ride options all over Thailand and Cambodia. But there are also lots of true elephant conservation places that provide a safe place for elephants who have been mistreated – they will let you help take care of the elephants without riding them. I haven’t done this myself, but I understand it’s a good thing to do if you’re keen to see some elephants in a way that doesn’t exploit them.
Seeing these massive creatures up close is always amazing to me. It’s easy to see why the elephant is so important in cultures that are lucky enough to have them. The entire Elephant Terrace area is an homage to the elephant with wonderful bas-relief sculptures that honor the gentle giants. The Terrace runs along a wide-open section along the temple route, and there were little temples of all ages around, some tucked into the trees and others along the road. There was a race happening while we were there, though as hot as it was, running a race of any length sounds a little insane to me. I think it may have even been a marathon.
Toward the end of the Terrace, we came upon an entire two-story wall of carved Hindu deities, and the maze behind it was similarly covered in intricate carvings. The pictures only show a fraction of the detail here. Then we headed over to the market – all of the temples have a market of some size attached. This one had very vocal shop owners and lots of kids. We walked through the market, looking for our tuk-tuk driver. Many of the drivers rig up a hammock to hang out while their passengers explore the temples, and this struck us as a particularly genius idea.
But our Siem Reap adventures continue tomorrow with Chau Say and Thommanon, two ancient structures in varying degrees of restoration.
Title quote: Bill Murray