We arrived in Cambodia for a short stay to visit the famous Angkor temples. One of the seven ancient wonders of the world, this temple complex has been on Alayna’s travel bucket list for many years, and it was finally time to check it off!
Angkor was the capital city of the Khmer Empire, which was prominent in Cambodia in the 9-15th Centuries. Built in the Cambodian jungle, by a self-proclaimed “God-King”, the city flourished and was considered a mega-city for the time period with recent research suggesting it supported over 1 million people. There are over 1,000 temples in the 402 acre Angkor area, making it the largest religious complex in the world and two of the main temples are UNESCO world heritage sites. The most famous temple, Angkor Wat, was built between 1113-1150 by the king to act as his personal temple mausoleum. Originally a Hindu temple, it was converted to Buddhist temple in the 12th Century and had new temples and architecture to match.
Of course, the tourists flock to this site – us included. The nearby town of Siem Reap is full of hotels, restaurants and bars where you can get burgers, pizza and beer. Fake trinkets and bright clothing line the souvenir shop roads and you feel like you’re somewhere in Las Vegas as opposed to Cambodia. Tuk Tuks carting around hoards of Chinese tourists, with large cameras, clog the roads and the muggy, hot air is suffocating. Doesn’t sound that enjoyable, but there are always ways to combat it to actually enjoy yourself!
Step 1: Rent a motorbike so you can set your own schedule. For us, there is nothing worse than having to get on a bus with tons of other tourists and being forced on a particular timeline. Renting a motorbike allowed us to get up early and beat the crowds to the most beautiful temples. Arrive around 7-7:30AM and you share the temple with about 10 other people. Come back around 10AM and you have to compete with probably about 150.
Step 2: Avoid the heat. Getting up early also lets you enjoy some of the cool air from the night. By 9AM it’s hot and you do not want to be on the top of a temple. We usually finished exploring by this time and went back to our hotel for breakfast and a nap.
Step 3: Temple Fatigue. Apparently it’s a real thing, and we’re feeling it a bit. It’s when you see so many temples that you aren’t really that impressed with them. We only did a few temples a day and although they were each interesting, we both cheered a little when we saw the last temple of our entire trip today.
The temples themselves are unique and carry with them their own feel. Overall we felt like the whole place was a little eerie. The dilapidated ruins looks as though they’ve seen many things, with faces carved into the stone. Small passages lead throughout, with fire pits and chimneys that are now home to bats. Trees and their long roots have overtaken many of the walls and structures, intertwining nature with these ancient structures. Within moments of walking into some of the temples you think: “Yep, they definitely did human sacrifices here..”. Mark joked about willfully participating in a sacrifice – twice. It can be quite spooky in some of those hallways. The trees are quite impressive, with huge trunks and many vines.
Our favourite temple was Bayon temple which has over 200 serene, smiling, stone faces that can be seen from just about every angle in the temple. Ta Promh Temple was another favourite, which you may recognize if you are a Tomb Raider fan, as it was filmed here.
With the past few weeks filled with temple exploration, we are ready to hit the beach. We fly to Thailand tomorrow to begin our scuba diving lessons (our Christmas presents) and enjoy the sun. One good thing about this being a tourist town is that we saw our first Christmas decorations! We’re listening to Christmas carols as we write this, but in reality it doesn’t really feel like Christmas. We need some cold, snow and hot apple cider. For now we’ll settle for a mango smoothie and maybe in Thailand we’ll find some turkey and a pie. Christmas is almost here!