Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Globe Wandering: Cambodia: The Temples of Angkor

The first time I visited the Temples of Angkor was in 2004.  I remember finding a quiet place where I sat against a mossy wall and wrote in my journal, quite overcome with the architectural grandeur and history of the great city.  There were very few visitors to the temples that day and much of our time exploring was done in solitude.  It was hot and dry and insects buzzed in the trees of the surrounding jungle.

5 years later I visited the temples again and was shocked at the amount of restoration that had taken place and the scaffolding that covered huge chunks of the ruins that were currently being rebuilt.  The onslaught of visitors was also quite shocking and I found myself confused and overwhelmed by the tourist traffic through the buildings.  It didn't detract from the architectural greatness, and, in some instances, seeing the restoration changed the experience for the better, but it was a far cry from my initial experience and a firm reminder of how quickly things change.

I was expecting, based on my previous experience, the temples to be crawling with visitors when we traveled to Cambodia last month.  It wasn't, though.  There were people, yes, but it was still possible to find quiet places and to experience parts of the old city in solitude.  And we could still hear the insects buzzing in the trees in the surrounding jungle.

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Angkor Wat is the worlds largest religious building, and the hundreds of surviving temples that comprise the complex are sprawled across miles.  The task of exploring the Temples of Angkor is a daunting one and the idea of seeing them all in a day or two is simply not possible.  But with a three day pass you can see quite a bit in a fairly relaxed manner.  I like to do the small loop by bicyle on day one, the big loop, by car or tuk tuk on day two, and then see some of the more far flung temples on day 3 (if you haven't had enough).  Having said that, it does get pretty hot out there, and ditching the bicycle idea in favour of a motorised vehicle means you can do more in less time, and if you start at Angkor Wat for the sunrise then you can finish the loop by mid morning and have your whole day freed up for either more temples or other activities...

Small Loop

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is a source of national pride, and for good reason.  The largest temple in the world, its architectural ambition is matched by few other places on earth.  

Angkor Wat is impressive at any time of day, but it is more so at sunrise.  It was overcast on the day we visited, and the sunrise was a bit of a non event, but it was still gorgeous.

Angkor Thom + The Bayon

Angkor Thom, the walled city, is impressive from the moment you enter the gates - gods and the demons are engaged in a tug of war across the causeway providing visitors with the first photo opportunity.  At the center of the city is the Bayon where 54 towers are home to 216 faces looking out across every angle.  These faces are particularly impressive on a blue sky day, but their majesty and scale can not be taken for granted even on an overcast day such as we had this time.

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm is my absolute favourite temple - an incredible fusion of nature and architecture and a reminder of the power of mother earth.  The first time I visited Ta Prohm 12 years ago it was quiet and I spent my time alone, wandering through the ruins and running my hands across the staggering tree roots that were eating the temple.  It is difficult to tell, in some places, whether the trees are destroying the buildings or holding them together.

Restoration of this, the jungle temple, is now underway and parts of the ruins have been rebuilt.  But the jungle remains and one can easily imagine what it would have been like for the European explorers who first set eyes on these temples.

Big Loop

Preah Kahn

Neak Poan

Ta Som

East Mebon

Pre Rup

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