Temple Raiding in Ankor

Trip Start Feb 27, 2012
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Trip End May 19, 2012


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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ankor Wat is the reason most tourists come to Cambodia. It is the world's biggest religious monument, and the crown jewel of the now extinct Khmer Empire which once ruled much of South East Asia.

It turns out there’s actually a whole bunch of temples here! Dozens in fact, and though I’ve never been an ancient history buff there is something very cool – almost Indiana Jones-esk about exploring a 1000 year old ruins. At least when the place isn’t completely packed with bus tourists.

On all three days we spent a good chunk of the day exploring the flagship Ankor Wat. Upon first approaching the temple – with its enormous man made moats I did get a bit of a…. "yea so what?" kind of a feeling. Then you walk through what you think is the main structure but turns out to just be the front gates. Holy Shiva Batman! It’s a freaking temple city.

With every level you ascend the temple the more amazing the place becomes – the level of detailing on all the walls is incredible. What’s more, they built this thing in less than 40 years! Some of the Cathedrals in Europe took hundreds of years to build. The very, very top of the Ankor Wat however is just a wee-tiny Buddha shrine – well that and about 10,000 tourists (perhaps exaggerating, but the place really is a mad house). On the second day we got up early to watch the sunrise over the temple, what I enjoyed the most about this was seeing all the Kodak tourists setting up their shiny SLR’s in front of the lake to get that perfect cliché photo – give me a break… The rest of day two was awesome; Liz and I both explored individually and got hopelessly lost.

I won’t bore you with the specifics of every temple we visited but we went to a lot. Some big, some small, some flat, some tall. Each had its own personality. One was even the set for a famous scene in the Tomb Raider movie. Needless to say you could spend weeks here exploring, we only had three days but that was probably enough for us. On the final day we invested in a tour guide (only $25USD for the whole day) which was very worthwhile, we learnt a whole bunch about the temples that we didn’t appreciate by just exploring by ourselves such as Hindu/Buddhist beliefs and architecture.

When we weren’t temple gazing at Ankor we enjoyed ourselves around town in Siem Reap. On the first night we went to a buffet dinner and saw a traditional Khmer show. On night two we were supposed to go visit a floating village – as per the suggestion of our Tuk Tuk driver. This was a total scam – after been driven all the way out we discovered that a $40USD fee was expected for each person (to put this in perspective $5USD will buy you a three course meal here). We refused and demanded that our driver take us back to town. Surprise, surprise our driver happened to be friends with the guys who ran the joint and could give us a “discount” (in other words, our driver was being paid to take us to the village). We stuck to our guns; if travelling in Asia has taught us anything it is to trust our instincts and bail if something feels dodgy. Turns out we were right – I found out later on that the scam continued after the boat arrived at the village and even more money would have been coerced out of ever shrinking budget.

Upon arriving back in town we promptly fired our driver (who had been a rude dickhead from the start anyway). The next one we hand-picked for day three was lovely and restored our faith in Cambodians (most of them are actually lovely!).

On our third and final night in Siem Reap Liz organised a quad biking tour. We had a few hassles trying to convince the owners to let Liz have her own bike but in the end our newly acquired asia-stubbornness prevailed, we got our way and had a great time motoring around the rice paddies and waving to all the friendly locals.

Next stop: Thailand and Full Moon Party ridiculousness. I have really enjoyed Cambodia – warts and all, and think that we’ve both grown immensely in just in one short week from the experience here. Would I come ever return? Hmmm, maybe. This place still has a long, hard road ahead of it before it will truly be back on its feet.
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