Well, Angkor Wat, you lived up to the hype

Trip Start Jul 07, 2011
Trip End Jul 31, 2012

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Where I stayed
Angkor Pearl Hotel

Flag of Cambodia  ,
Wednesday, February 1, 2012

We arrived in Siem Reap on February 1 after having spent the whole morning on the bus out of Phnom Penh, but luckily we booked with a half decent company so the ride was pretty smooth. Once we checked in we booked our tour for the temples of Angkor for the next two days. We decided that afternoon we would head into the compound to watch sunset. They have a really good deal at the park where if you buy tickets at 5pm, you can get in for sunset for free and then you can visit the next day with the same pass. Our tuk tuk driver took us to some mountain that was apparently the best place to see the sunset. Once we climbed up this mountain (a pretty easy 10 minute walk), we found ourselves staring at this massive line to go up to the top of the temple. Of course we waited, but then we started hearing they were only allowing 300 people to go up. Unfortunately, we didn't make the cut, and were turned away before we were able to go up. I guess it worked out that it was kind of cloudy, so the sunset didn’t look that good anyway. The next morning we were up really early for our 5:00am pickup for sunrise at Angkor Wat. We had booked a two day private tour and were really looking forward to learning as much as we could about this amazing temple complex. Angkor Archeological Park contains the remains of numerous temples that were a part of the Khmer Empire. Most of the temples were built under the rule of Jayavarman VII, who worked hard to unite the principles of Hinduism and Buddhism as a way to end the many wars that had occurred. It was amazing to see the way that images from both religions were incorporated (and then later destroyed) into some of the temples. Our guide Thy (pronounced "Tea") was incredible. His English was fantastic, and he knew so much about the temples. Even with a guide book, we would have missed most of what he told us if we had toured around ourselves.

We headed to Angkor Wat first for sunrise. We sat around for some time, but it was pretty amazing to watch as the temple suddenly came into view as the sun came up. Pretty amazing! We didn’t go into Angkor Wat right away. Instead we headed straight to the complex of Angkor Thom, a city which at one time contained close to a million people (keep in mind this is the 12th century). We went first to the Bayon Temple, which was absolutely incredible to see. The entire place is complete with towers that have more than 200 rock carvings of a smiling face. There was also this bas-relief, or mural carved into the stone that depicted everyday life, which stretches for about a kilometer around the temple. It was incredible to see that even after 1000 years the amount of detail that is still visible today. We also went to Baphuon, Terrace of the Elephants, and Terrace of the Leper King as well within Angkor Thom. We then headed to Ta Prohm (aka the “Tomb Raider” temple since it was filmed here). This temple was absolutely incredible to see. This was one of the most amazing temples we saw. This temple is essentially what happens when the jungle is left to its own devices for a couple hundred years. Huge trees and plants have literally taken over the place. The roots of these enormous trees are literally wrapped around the stones of the temple. A lot of them require scaffolding because if they fall down they will take out a large section of the place. We also hit Angkor Wat in the afternoon, the largest religious structure in the world. It really is the kind of place that takes your breath away. The only hard thing about being there is the absolutely ridiculous number of tourists that are present there.

The second day was an early start again, luckily not as early as the day before but still 6am. We headed out to some of the temples that were a little further outside the main section. We headed first to Banteay Srei or the “Pink Temple.” Sometimes even the “Lady Temple.” The reason it is called that is because people comment that only women would have enough patience to carve the amount of detail that you see here. The stuff we had seen already was incredible, but the intricacies here were unbelievable. Again, hard to believe that 1000 years later the details would be so clear. We also did a hike up to Kbal Spean, the “River of a Thousand Lingas,” which are the symbol for fertility. All along the waterbed are carvings in the stone. The water level was low here so we could see everything, but it must disappear in the rainy season. We went to see a couple more temples, whose names I cannot remember, but they were all pretty amazing. We were supposed to go back the sunset mountain again, this time earlier, but we decided to head back to Angkor Wat instead to retake some photos since it was later in the day and there might be fewer people. All in all, an incredible 3 days at the Temples of Angkor. I’m so glad we got to the see the temples now and walk around them. As much work as there is being done to preserve them, they are not going to be able to let people inside for too much longer as they really are starting to fall apart. On a sad note, Angkor marks our last big sightseeing thing before we head home. A couple days on the beaches in Thailand and that’s all that is left.
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