There’s a bar in Siem Reap called Angkor What? bar. Pause for laughter.
Siem Reap has become a busy tourism hub mostly due to the Angkor Archaeological complex. Fun fact: Angkor Wat is just one temple in a huge complex of hundreds of temples. It’s a humungous temple though.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love history, especially visiting history. I love exploring ruins and touching history. I know American history is interesting and I’ve visited a few colonial sites in the US, but it’s not the same as that first time I visited really, really old history. I stood in awe in a doorway in a castle owned by Charlemagne, in France.
So Ankor has always been on my bucket list. For a long time I didn’t actually think I’d get there. I couldn’t imagine finding myself in Cambodia. I also couldn’t imagine myself leaving my job and moving to Thailand, so it’s a year of making the unimaginable reality.
Like most super awesome ancient world wonders, it’s teeming with tourists. For good reason though, it’s awesome! (Ok, I know I need another word, but it fits. I really was in awe, pretty much the whole time.)
While it’s more cost effective to find a buddy to share the cost of a tuk tuk to Angkor, I didn’t meet anyone in time. One of the reasons I like traveling on my own is that I don’t have to wait for or compromise with anyone. So I went on my own and marveled at Angkor on my own terms. Some people rent bicycles. Putting my lack of riding skills aside, I cannot imagine biking all over that place and having the energy to explore everything.
You could spend days at Angkor and probably still not see everything. For $40 you can get a 3-day pass that can be used at any time within a 7 day window. And it has my picture on it.
I visited the big 3 temples as well as a few smaller, but equally great, ones. The big 3 are: Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Ta Phrom. These are the most well-known. Bayon is the one with the faces, and Ta Phrom is famous for the big trees growing through the ruins of the buildings. It’s also featured in the Tomb Raider movie with Angelina Jolie. The part of me that still wants to be Indiana Jones when I grow up was really excited. I went to Petra when I was in Jordan, which is where Indiana Jones found the Holy Grail, and now I’ve been to a temple where Laura Croft fought bad guys. Someday I’ll get to the pyramids in Egypt too!
The scale of everything at Angkor is incredible. Like so many wonders of the ancient world, everything is huge. Everything I saw was big and intricately decorated, and built to last. I think modern skyscrapers are lame in comparison. Yes, there are piles of fallen stone and missing bits. But overall, it’s still here. And everything was done by hand. No electric tools, no fancy machines or moulds. Every giant stone was moved, cut to size, decorated, and put in place by hand.
One of the incredible things about the temples at Angkor is the detail. Everything was intricately carved by hand. Almost every surface is covered in carved decoration. Even the very steep stairs are decorated. Spots that you wouldn’t see unless you were on the floor, or looking for it, are decorated. There are few bare spots.
The giant faces at Bayon are comprised of several several puzzle-like pieces. The nose is made up of 4 pieces that fit together, same with the eyes, etc. Like I said before, there are places where the jungle takes over. Tree roots wind through walls and doorways. Grass and moss grow over stairs and paving stones. I heard a tour guide say that the trees are a certain type of parasitic tree. They cannot grow in the ground on their own, they need something else, like a wall.
The zillions of other tourists didn’t even bother me much. How can you fault so many people for wanting to see this. A lot of travelers are looking for more “authentic” experiences in places that are “off the beaten path.” I get that, but some places are a huge draw for tourists for a good reason. I’m not, not going to go to the Colosseum or the Vatican or Niagara falls or Stonehenge, just because other people are there. Those places are worth being squished by crowds for.
Post full of photos to follow.