Monday 15 April 2013

The most beautiful playground

We felt it was time to immerse our young children in a dose of Asian culture, and booked five days in Cambodia to see the famous temples of Angkor Wat. Later, not until we were packing, we leafed through our guidebook, noticing that April is known as the ’killer’ month, with temperatures easily topping the forties.

A touch of heat won’t scare us, and we take off early, having been up since five anyway, thanks to Jasmijn, our lively two year old. The early morning air is cool and sweet. Mr Ouch, our trusty tuk tuk driver awaits, to chart us around in his cart. The tuk tuk has two red benches, behind a small motorcycle. With the hot wind in our hair, red dust everywhere, we attempt to keep small hands and penguins on board all week.

Over a wide bridge we enter Angkor Wat, and its beautiful park, through impressively ornate gates. Tijm scrambles onto a pile of sandstone blocks. ‘Come on Linde, let’s climb!’
The temples, with their galleries, steps and towers are great for clambering and roaming. The most beautiful playground in the world.

We all climb higher, winding up to the towers, and around every corner it gets even more beautiful. We admire bas-reliefs and statues, carved in
 sandstone almost a millennium ago. Dancers with elegantly curved fingers, grimacing lions, enigmatically smiling Buddha’s. I point at at immensly steep stairs, leading to the top of this part Buddhist, part Hindu temple. So steep children are not allowed to climb, and I read aloud from the guidebook; that they are so steep, because the road to god is hard to follow. 

‘Why is the road to god so hard?’ asks Tijm.
I sigh and think. ‘Because you get to god by being good,’ I suggest, ‘and because for most people it is easier to be naughty.’
Tijm nods, and I am happy he asks no further. Not today. Not on this inspiring site.

The next day, at a side temple of the Bayon in the Angkor Thom complex, we see more stairs, equally steep but not so long. No sign or fence is to be seen, and Tijm just has to go up. Linde follows, and when she returns Jasmijn, only just two, sings ‘now me too, daddy.’
When she is safely back on solid ground a group of Korean tourists applaud her, Jasmijn posing proud for their flashing Ipads. The Koreans laugh, but don’t dare mount themselves.

Tijm and Linde have moved on, on top of a pile of rocks. 

I run, before accidents happen, to the kids or the thousand-year-old building.
‘Come on, mama,’ Tijm shouts, ‘I am at level three already.’
Not long after we all reached level thirteen and it is game over. The most beautiful game we ever played.

We see more temples, many more, every morning until the heat gets too much and Mr Ouch tuk tuks us back to our hotel with the little pool in the courtyard. There we wait out the heat of midday, until it is time for a quiet tuk tuk ride and sample Cambodian cuisine.

After much more climbing, over tree roots and stones, sauntering, dangling from lianas, it is not until the last day they sigh, please, no more temples. Enough.
Too tired to walk in the heat our tuk tuk drives us around for a final tour, round and round, until we saw it all.

Then we are back at Siem Reap airport for the flight home. We saw so much. We climbed so high. The best part of the holiday? 

The kids exclaim, unanimously: The tuk tuk, off course.

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