Monday, 19 March 2012

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat
Referred to by many as 'the eighth wonder of the world', Angkor Wat, in the heart of Cambodia, has been written about so much that there's little I can add, except perhaps a personal perspective.  It is one of those places.  It features on many people's 'bucket list' - I know it did on mine.  Hear the name and you immediately have an image in mind of the iconic conical towers, maybe with a lotus flower filled lake in front of them.

Neither my husband nor I have any particularly deep interest in Hindu or Buddhist history or architecture.  We visited Angkor Wat, as I suspect most people do, with a superficial knowledge of what it is all about and armed with a guide book to fill in the gaps.

Crossing the bridge to Ta Prohm
When planning our trip to Cambodia, we debated about how many days we should set aside to explore Angkor Wat.  Many sources we consulted suggested that three days would be about right and up to seven wouldn't be too long if you had a particular fascination.  Wanting to maximise our 'beach time', we settled on three nights in Siem Reap, giving us two full days to explore the temples.  As it turned out, we did it in one day and spent the other shopping in town and relaxing by the roof top pool at our hotel.  I don't think we rushed it or missed anything.

So, what did we do in our day?  Well, our tuk-tuk driver ($15 for the day) picked us up from our hotel at 9am.  First stop after getting our tickets ($20 for a day pass) - Angkor Wat itself.  It was certainly impressive, but cheapened somewhat by the number of wedding couples, fashion models and tour brochure poseurs being photographed in national costume amongst the pillars and passageways of the first level!  We saw everything recommended in the guidebook and climbed to the top of the third level from where we got a great view of the surrounding countryside.  We had lunch at one of the many cafes in the grounds and resisted the temptations of the numerous souvenir sellers.
Kapok tree

Our next stop was at Bayon, part of the Angkor Thom complex, which we clambered up and over and through and photographed from every angle before walking over to Baphuon which is approached by crossing a 300 metre causeway.  Again, we took photos, but this time, i have to say, we didn't climb to the top.  From there, we walked along 'Elephant Terrace' which I was disappointed to discover wasn't made up of statues of elephants all along its length, but, instead, had them as supports at intervals.

After meeting up again with our tuk-tuk driver and having a cold drink, we were taken to our next two temples, Thommanon and Kraoi Romeas.  These were smaller than the previous ones with fewer steps to climb.
Our balloon

Our next stop was at Ta Prohm.  The world and his wife were there and we were stuck in a tuk-tuk jam for a few minutes!  We were dropped off at one entrance, walked through the temple complex, and were picked up at another.  Never having seen Tomb Raider (though I probably will now!), I wasn't prepared for the sight of the banyan and kapok trees growing through the temple walls.  It was quite incredible!  Consulting the guide book as we walked around, I discovered that Ta Prohm is known as the 'jungle temple' and has been used as the location for several films, most famously 'Tomb Raider' starring Angelina Jolie.  it was certainly my favourite temple!

From there, we were taken to Banteay Kdei, another impressive temple, the visit to which included a pleasant walk through woodland to a resevoir which Cambodian kings used to use for regattas, or, at least, that's what we were told!
Angkor Wat from the balloon

Our last scheduled stop of the day was at Phnom Batcheng, the highest temple in the area and the recommended spot from which to view the sunset.  The ascent to the viewpoint is best made by elephant (the unappealing alternative is to walk, but the path is so steep in places that you have to go on your hands and knees!).  Unfortunately, we arrived too late to secure a seat on an elephant, so we missed out.  Instead, we returned to where we'd begun the day - Angkor Wat - and went for a ten-minute 'ride' in a hot-air balloon which was tethered to the ground, but which, from 200 metres up, afforded great views of the temple and the surrounding countryside.

And so we returned to the hotel.  We feel that we saw as much as we wanted to.  For me, the Angkor temples, whilst incredibly impressive, are not as aesthetically beautiful as, say, the Taj Mahal or the Pyramids or any of the great cathedrals of the world.  They are, without doubt, a terrific testament to man's ingenuity and engineering skills and, if you manage to escape the crowds, they have a certain spiritual calm, but, for me, they won't merit a place in my top 20 'must-sees'!  Just call me a Philistine!

See all of our photos here.

4 comments:

  1. The environment was muggy and air dirty as many of the streets are unpaved. Moving our two-wheelers out of city towards Angkor was a heart-pounding effort as visitors is very intermittent with little organization.
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  2. The comment under the article is strange.
    Yes you are in the lowland tropics, which is, of course hot and humid. Siem Reap is a very nice town, with wide avenues and grand buildings near the river and a funky downtown area with lots of nice hotels, restaurants and bars. The air is definitely not dirty - it's way out in the country.
    There are 1/2 million visitors a year.
    Sounds like you were in the wrong town!
    Yes, Andrea, you seem to be a philistine, as you admit. The temples are both a stunning work of devotion and incredible works of art.

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  3. hi! how much is the cost for the hot air balloon? We are planning to visit Cambodia for 7 days next year (probably 1st week of April 2013). Btw, great blogsite. Bookmarked you already. Thanks. keep it up!!!

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    1. Hi - thanks for reading and for the feedback. I think the balloon ride was about $15 each, so not cheap, but worth it for the views!!

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