Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Angkor Wat

Charming though Siem Reap might be, its Angkor Wat that everybody comes to visit. The perennial danger with all such world famous icons is that they may fail to live up to all their hype. Fortunately there's no worry with Angkor Wat, it easily matched my expectations & even exceeded them.
It costs $20US for a fancy day pass with your photograph, which is checked at every temple site. But you really do need a guide to effectively explore the sprawling complex of temples. Every tuk-tuk driver in town offers a tour of Angkor Wat but you often get a garbled & incoherant account so its best to have a professional guide like the one I booked with Travel IndoChina. I was picked up & returned to my hotel, there were just 5 of us, tickets were included, so no queuing, the guide was cleverly able to get us away from the big crowds & he took us to a decent place for lunch.
At its height the city of Angkor Thom was the Khmer Empire capital but they ruled over most of Thailand, Laos & Vietnam. Chinese & Indian traders originally brought Buddhism, Hinduism, writing & science to the region so the Khmer culture developed along the lines of an Indianised princedom. Both religions appear in the temples at different periods under different rulers.
Today the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor Archaeological Park is located within a 400 square kilometer national park & has 40 temples - Angkor Wat is just the most famous temple.

Its still a jungle location but its been cleared from most temples because of the damage the tree roots do. But there's still a jungle ambience with swarms with butterflys, dragonflys, the constant squawk of parrots, troops of baboons & there are even (domesticated) elephants that ferry people on the traditional routes between different temple gates.
The Tx Prohn temple has been left with the classic strangler figs which seem to crawl all over the buildings so is the most atmospheric of all the sites, when its not too busy.

Its too amazing to decribe effectively so I'll rely of images. Over 2 million people visit Angkor every year so a good tip is to visit towards the end of the low/rainy season (October) as the crowds are much smaller, or try to arrange a 6 am dawn arrival.

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