|I'm now over a week late writing this journal. I'm currently in Luang Prabang in northern Laos, but still haven't finished writing about Cambodia!
This entry is about the temples of Angkor near Siem Reap, that I visited over 3 days (Jan 17, 19 and 20).
Angkor is considered the largest collection of ancient religious buildings in the world. They are hindu and buddhist temples built roughly between the 9th and 12th century by various kings, and are spread out over a vast area, some as far as 35 kms away. There are dozens of them. Of course they are all ruins (having been rediscovered and dug out by European explorers a century or so ago – sorry no time to check my dates). One of their unique characteristic (beside their size and sheer number) are the intricate carvings that cover the walls, colums, etc. Some of these carvings spread out for over a kilometer around enclosure walls, like at Angkor Wat.
I'm putting up a few pictures to give you an idea and will probably add more next week (as of tomorrow I will be computer-less for 3 days as I'm going to the Lao countryside and there is no wifi there, and probably not even reliable electricity).
On my first two days of visits, I went by tuk-tuk. For $12, my driver would take me to different temples and wait for me while I visited. On the first day I was out for 8 hours and on the second day only 6. The cost was $12 for a day no matter the number of hours. On both days I started out really early (5:15 am and 6:00 am respectively). Unfortunately, the sunrise behind Angkor Wat didn't materialize on day 1 (overcast sky) and I was really disappointed, especially when I discovered that part of the famous facade was obscured by scaffolding and green tarp! In the low morning light, the famous facade looked nothing like all the wonderful golden images I had seen over the previous years. I was tired and really sad/pissed off. And the crowd of tourists was just unbeliveable. So in short, not a great first experience with the temples. Fortunately the crowd thinned out while inside. But picked up again at the next temple (Angkor Thom).
Two days later, determined to have at least one quiet experience at the temples, I arrived at the atmospheric ruins of Ta Phrom at 6:35 am. Eureka! There were only a few tourists beside myself as the Russian and Chinese tour groups hadn't arrived yet! These ruins are special because of the large trees growing out of the stone, with their roots entangled in the bricks, so this was probably my best experience of all.
On my last day, I joined a day trip (by mini-van) as I wanted to see a temple that was too far away for the tuk-tuk. This also allowed me to socialize a bit more. I met this Malaysian Chinese guy who was travelling alone as well, and we chatted throughout the day, and even ended up having a drink and dinner afterwards.
Overall, those were three sweaty tiring days, even though I saw a lot and took way too many pictures. But seeing these ruins alone in a quiet atmosphere (as opposed to bumping into people constantly) would probably be en entirely different (and more amazing) experience. Glad I finally managed to see Angkor though. They're predicting even more tourists in the years to come. I think Cambodia is going to have to start regulating the number of visitors (even if they make less money) or eventually the site will lose popularity due to the hords. Or perhaps I'm wrong... perhaps it will be just like the Pyramids of Giza and people will keep coming anyway...