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|
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.
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 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.