While other ruins often take just a few hours to explore (for example Machu Picchu was just over half a day, and Tikal took us about four hours), the temples of Angkor Wat take days to explore. They actually sell three, seven and 10 day passes to view the ruins because a one day pass simply isn’t enough. We bought a three day pass and still only managed to see the main temples during our stay.We spent several hours at the main temple of Angkor Wat, seen above. It’s the largest and most well restored temple in the area. The hallway that surrounds the temple is covered with intricate carvings, as you can see below. The photo just shows one side of the temple – there are four equally huge hallways covered in carvings.
Sadly, I wasn’t allowed to climb to the top of the inner temple because I was wearing shorts. (Women have to cover knees and shoulders to enter the temple, and wrapping a sarong around your waist isn’t enough to get past the picky staff.) Poor planning on my part. John was able to go up (even with his knees showing) and said the views were pretty great. I think he downplayed it a little so I wouldn’t be sad about missing out.Self portrait evidence that we were there…
Our favorite temple in the complex was Bayon, where dozens of faces of the king peer out at each cardinal direction.
Still full of rubble, this temple felt really authentic and had an interesting energy to it. Even though the place was crawling with tourists it still felt somehow like we were discovering the temple for the first time.
I could not stop photographing the faces. There are so many of them, and they’re both eerie and calming at the same time.Of course the temple was also once full of intricate carvings. Some of them still remain fairly well intact, but this place must have been incredible when all of them were still fresh.The inside of these pillars is dark and creepy, with just a few stones covering the roof and letting in a little light. It almost feels like they could collapse at any time. Almost.Us again…We now interrupt the endless photos of temples for a shot of an adorable puppy playing with a massive centipede. Yeah, that happened.Ok – back to temples! There are several other huge temples in the area, many of which you can climb to the top of via some very small stairs. We climbed a few, but once the heat of the day really set in (over 100 degrees and humid) we couldn’t muster the effort anymore. Most of the views were just of trees anyhow.
Amidst all the temples there are terraces full of carved figurines and loads of ruins that haven’t been reconstructed yet.
There are also several smaller side temples that we stopped at just quickly on our way through the area. If one of these was plopped down in the middle of nowhere it would be massively impressive, but it they get a bit out shined by the scores of other larger temples.Other temples being those like Ta Phrom (also called the Tomb Raider Temple because they filmed part of the movie here.) The trees have overrun this temple and are growing all over the place.Much of the temple is still rubble, but some of it has been reconstructed and restored.These trees are enormous. This is just one section of a root system that has to be supported so that it doesn’t collapse.For a sense of scale, note that in the photo below if John was standing on the rubble there his head reaches to about the spot where the hole is above the pillar. This tree is big.
During our short time in Cambodia we also visited the War Museum, where a civil war veteran toured us through a yard full of old tanks and weapons while recounting tales from the war and showing off his various scars and schrapnel injuries. It was an eye opening experience to learn about the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge and learn about how Cambodia is still picking up the pieces today.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, we also saw the circus. Phare is an NGO that trains Cambodian kids in the arts (including painting, music, acrobatics and performing arts) in order to restore some of the culture that was destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. They put on shows around Cambodia to raise money for their school, and we saw a fantastic performance in the vien of Cirque de Soleil. The performers were wildly talented and so incredibly joyful – it made both of us absurdly happy. Such a great thing to see.
With delicious food, interesting culture and endless temples, we thoroughly enjoyed Siem Reap. I wish we had swapped some of our excess time in Thailand for more time in Cambodia. Alas, we only had five days before it was time to leave Southeast Asia and go to Nepal. After one last overnight stop in Bangkok we said goodbye to the tropics and headed for the Himalayas.