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Angkor Wat-tage Overload

So many temples, so many tourists . . .

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Our trip to Siem Reap by road from Phnom Penh reinforced one of our initial observations of Cambodia and her people: this is a special place. Unlike most of the terrain we have covered since leaving Tibet, Cambodia is a sudden expanse of rural beauty. The rice paddies do stretch for miles around, but instead of many small dingy road towns and tourist trap shops, the country is dotted with endless palm trees across the flat-scape of paddies, punctuated by tidy rural villages comprised of huts with frontages of pink or white water lily ponds bordered by banana trees and inhabited by friendly smiling locals going about their daily business farming, cooking palm sugar or tending to their children. In contrast to her growing neighbor Vietnam, we quickly notice a distinct reduction in the number of motorbikes, in favor of cheaper bicycles, which only further enhances the idyllic scenery. While Siem Reap, the gateway to the magical realm of Angkor Wat, held the promise of 5 star luxury hotels and amenities, our overland journey showed us the real treasures of this recovering nation and reminded us yet again how lucky we are to be able to journey to such places.

Jacquie, me and my parents at Bayon temple
Monks wander and wonder just like us

Our ultimate destination in Cambodia was, Angkor Wat, the “City of Kings”. Stunning ancient temples and spires set amongst the jungles of northern Cambodia are set upon by legions of tourists eager to snap photos, climb around, and look for spots where nobody else has trekked. Which is impossible. This complex of ancient ruins covering some 60 square miles and serving as the Khmer kingdom’s capital from 802 to 1295 A.D. are truly a remarkable site to behold. In actuality it’s dozens of sites to behold, from Angkor Wat which lends itself as the very symbol of Cambodia on her national flag, to fascinating jungle scenes at Ta Prohm (also used in movies like Tomb Raider and Two Brothers). Many temple sites have been restored to pristine condition with nicely kept grounds, while others have been maintained as they may have been found 146 years ago, in cool jungle settings, with trees growing over them, obliterating them in places, and in others wrapping their roots around structures looking like so much wax dripping down a huge candle and pouring itself over ancient stone.

A few scenes from our first day touring the temples

The intrepid photographer
Close encounter . . . ?

From Sunrise to sunset there are perfect places to go, and must-see views to be had, and everyone else knows them too. While the number of temples, spires and Buddha representations seem to be innumerable, the number of tourists easily outnumbers them, 10 to 1. And yet, there are moments of magic, when the crowds melt away in the mid-day sun, or the sheer amazement of certain structures make the noise of buses, tuk-tuks and minivans packed with every nationality (led by the Koreans, Japanese, Chinese and Americans) fades to an imperceptible hum. Such are the qualities of this area that you can scant believe it was built a thousand plus years ago.


My Mom and Dad take an elephant to one of the hilltop temples

Despite being pillaged during years of conflict and by Khmer Rouge, or French archaeologists after it’s “discovery” in 1867, the area offers many amazing vistas, and many temples are inscribed with beautifully intricate reliefs depicting anything from glorious battles, to scenes of everyday life a thousand odd years ago. One could be lost in the details of a single wall, and spend days shuffling along foot-by-foot enraptured by the pictures. Of course, at $20 a day, or 3 days for $40, it makes sense to cover as much ground as possible. And this is best achieved by Tuk-Tuk. While we spent our first day with my parents in a mini-van and a guide (both nice to have when travelling with a group of 4), Jacquie and I set out on day 2 around Angkor via Tuk-Tuk at 5AM to catch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. In many places, we have ventured out earlier than seems reasonable, and waking ourselves at 0445, this felt like one of those days. Surely we would be rewarded by a quiet, wondrous sunrise? But no – as during the day, the crowds descend early, and as we pulled up to the gates of Angkor, behind us down a straight strip of road a mile long, all you could see was headlights bumping toward us to capture the same view.

The view at sunrise . . . oh so early!

Our sunrise adventure at Angkor Wat

It is honest to say that our build-up and hopes for the event were higher than what we actually witnessed. In our minds, we would witness a crimson sky burning beyond the towers of Angkor Wat, the hushed tones of monks traipsing in the background our only disturbance. In reality, the crush of onlookers jockeying for prime pond-side space and noise of the multitude of different touring nationalities was more than we expected. Yet, the event was worth our early morning endeavors despite the loud company, to witness the natural glory of sunrise to behold this amazing man-made wonder.


Posted by lloydthyen 22:54 Archived in Cambodia Tagged round_the_world

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