The following is going to be really long and filled with pictures, but I don’t care because I took over a hundred in three days and they’re all spectacular. So you’re just going to like it, deal?
If you ever come to South East Asia, it soon becomes evident that the consensus is you are required to see Angkor Wat, a series of ancient jungle temples in Cambodia, to the point where yes you should take that flight from Laos for your last week on the continent to see it. And frankly I’m included in that number after having visited- I mean, have you seen a better place in the world to play Indiana Jones? I even had a dorky hat!
Because we begin, it is important to note that when people say “Angkor Wat” they’re often referring to a greater area known as Angkor Wat Archaeological Park, a bunch of temples built by various Khmer kings about a thousand years ago. Angkor Wat proper is the largest of them, which looks like this-
From the inside, Angkor Wat looks like this-
When built around the year 1100A.D., Angkor Wat and its surrounds were the largest city in the world (Europe wasn’t much to write home about in this era). The temples were also all originally Hindi and show a heavy Indian influence due to numerous Indian traders around at the time, but later became Buddhist when the population converted.
Anyway, once you’re done with Angkor Wat you can travel through the Banyon Gate…
And check out the Banyon Temple, filled with enigmatic faces-
And don’t forget to admire the carvings…
And do that again and again and again, for three days. A large fraction of people are too exhausted after the first day but I loved it, and ended up exploring for three. I fell into a great rhythm whereby every day at nine my motorcycle taxi who I hired for $12 a day would pick me up, I would clamber all around a temple until I’d seen enough while he waited in the shade, and then we would move on to the next one. When not in the temple itself you usually get accosted by at least one Cambodian child trying to sell you cold water or postcards which was a bit heartbreaking. Poverty is never very far off in Cambodia.
Anyway, a few more favorite pictures-
One of the most beautifully preserved temples, a decent motorbike ride away from most of the temples.
One of many monkeys wandering around the area, who are smart enough to steal water bottles from tourists and drink from them. Because these would not be proper jungle temples without monkeys.
Having fun exploring a temple still overgrown with trees, which drip down the temple walls with their roots. Everyone feels obliged to mention that this is the very same temple where Tomb Raider was filmed, which I’ve never seen but I mention because the guy who took this picture told me I was having a Laura Croft moment.
On the note of restoration, well, beyond the main temples hardly any has started really due to lack of funds. The ones currently being restored are being done in conjunction with aid from another country (Japan seemed the most prominent), but the ones still awaiting funds for restoration just have wooden beams propping up the walls that look ready to collapse. Oh, and because this is Cambodia you can walk anywhere and there are signs telling you to please not touch anything, but it’s not like anyone’s stopping you.
This is apparently the most famous place in the Tomb Raider temple, as proven by the fact that all the Westerners needed a picture of this overgrown tree (as opposed to the dozens of other trees, lots of which looked a lot cooler). The main temples are indeed very touristy, from backpackers like me who hired a motorcycle taxi to round German couples named Boris and Helga who talk too loud to Japanese tour groups who only put down their cameras to flash peace symbols for other people’s cameras. The trick is to make sure you spend time at the lesser-known temples, which are often just as spectacular albeit a little smaller. But often you can have the temple to yourself, sitting in a musty old windowsill. I did that a lot, imagining what it must have been like to be in the middle of bustle and noise a thousand years ago, what the reaction would have been if I told them no one was around anymore except a girl from a continent that hadn’t been discovered who was enjoying the history for a few minutes.
And then I would wander off again, looking for the X marking the spot and mindful to not tell the evil monkey of my plans. Indiana Jones has got nothing on me!