Cambodia’s Angkor Wat – A spectacular side trip from Saigon
Angkor Wat. It is most definitely worth the visit. I flew out from Saigon with a fellow teacher to to see the fabled temple complexes of which Angkor Wat is but one. Flights from Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap are not cheap (about USD$300) but after briefly contemplating the bus (6 hours to Phnom Penh and then a further 6 to Siem Reap) we decided against it.
In Siem Reap we stayed in a nice little hotel near the old market area. The old market area is the centre of Siem Reap an out and out tourist town. The lingua Franca is English, the currency dollars and the drink of choice beer. The ATM’s dispense dollars, locals can say hello in half a dozen languages and convert between dollars, riels, dong, yuan and euros in the blink of an eye. Siem Reap though is not unattractive or dull. Pub Street and the tiny nearby alley, The Passage, are a delight of great pubs and restaurants of the type you might find in Bali or Phuket.
After spending a relaxing evening eating and drinking we decided to book a car to see Angkor Wat.
Car price was $20 for the day and this covers the so-called “small circuit” and includes the key temples of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Phrohm and Bayon.
What struck me was how large an area all these temples spread across – this is no walking tour (except within each temple complex). The temples themselves are either Buddhist or Hindu in origin. Many were destroyed by invasions from Siam (modern Thailand) or the Muslim influenced Champa of Central and South Vietnam.
The temples are intricately carved and tell tales both true and mythical. Many of the temples have been carefully reconstructed but care has been taken in some parts, particularly at the photogenic Tomb Raider made famous temple of Ta Phrohm, to keep the splendidly massive trees that have grown through, over and under some of the temple complexes.
Angkor’s temples dwarf those I’ve seen elsewhere in Asia and whilst Indonesia’s Borobudur has a similar feel and architectural style it doesn’t come close in size or grandeur to the main temples of Angkor. Angkor is a must see destination, the local town is fun to hang out in and the temples are intricate and varied.
At the end of the first day of the small circuit I sat amongst the ruins of Mount Bakheng. Around me crowded many, many tourists. Cameras clicked and people jostled for the perfect photograph of the sun setting over the distant temple complex of Angkor Wat. Everyone faced the setting sun as if in some modern day version of sun worship. The spider infested jungle crowded around us. Below I could see elephants gamely bringing more tourists up the mount. It seemed to beautiful, so artificial, so surreal, so tacky, so noisy, so peaceful. I pulled out my iPod put on some Cesaria Evora and just chilled out as I watched the sun set over the plains of Cambodia. I felt alone and peaceful amongst the clicking and jostling crowd.