Angkor, Cambodia

In January, 2005 Mel and I flew from Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) to Siem Riep, Cambodia. Siem Riep is the gateway to the ancient complex/city of Angkor, home to Angkor Wat among other things. (‘Wat’ means temple as anyone who has been to Thailand knows – they are ubiquitous there.) This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and deservedly so.

I had always been interested in seeing Angkor. But recent history here is sad, with the Khmer Rouge, nearby Vietnam war and so on. But recently, Cambodia has stabilized and this region, remote from the capital city of Pnohm Penh, is now safe for travel. Unfortunately, there are still vast mined areas in the region dangerous for travel. One sees amputees wherever one travels around this area.

Around the 12th century the Khmer civilization prospered here. Wikipedia states the region “flourished from approximately the 9th century to the 15th century A.D.” Reservoirs were built enabling a rice-growing agricultural economy, and a large city was built with the requisite temples and palaces and parade grounds. These were all grown over after the city was abandoned, which was ‘discovered’ by French archeologists in, I believe, the 19th century.

Do not travel to Siem Riep by boat from Pnohm Penh. We heard unanimous horror stories about this trip, which goes from Pnohm Penh up the Mekong to Tonlé Sap, a large lake in the interior of Cambodia quite near Siem Reap. The trip is long, hard, noisy and one arrives late and tired with touts at the pier competing to sell you lodging and transportation to Siem Riep. We found the flight very civilized, and the transportation from the airport into Siem Riep easy to arrange.

The only reason to go to Siem Reap is to visit Angkor. Fees are moderate. I think we paid US$20 each or so for entry, and another US$20 for transportation around the complex via motor-scooter-drawn carriage. These are referred to as ‘tuk-tuk’s, a term whose use seems to me to be stolen from its use in Thailand for the (terrible) two-stroke motor trikes that ply Bangkok and other cities there. Anyhow, here is our dude:

Our ride through Angkor

Mel and I admit we are not the best at spending lots of time at ruins (‘rubble’ as we have come to call them) and museums and such. We spent most of a single day touring the site and called it quits. Depending on your level of interest you could spend way more time here. I would guess the more patient traveller would spend two days exploring the site. One could spend a lifetime studying this place.

Angkor Wat (Angkor Temple) is the most well-restored complex within Angkor, and lies outside the walls and gates of Angkor Thom (the city proper). This is the first site one visits. Here are some pics:

View of Angkor Wat.

View of Angkor Wat temple, after a long walk across the temple grounds.

A hallway withing Angkor Wat

Steve walking in a hallway within the temple. The walls used to be painted.

An interior courtyard within Angkor Wat

A courtyard within Angkor Wat. The basin was filled with water.

Detail of wall sculpting – Angkor Wat.

After seeing Angkor Wat, we set out to see the city, Angkor Thom. One crosses a moat and enters through a gate. We entered the Victory Gate if I remember correctly. The bridge across the moat has amazing railings carved into Buddhas:

Bridge railing, Angkor Thom

Buddha images lining the bridge into Angkor Thom.

Inside are more temples. These have not been restored nearly to the extent that Angkor Wat has been. (More rubble!)

Detail of Wall Carving - Temple in Angkor Thom

Detail of Wall Carving – Temple in Angkor Thom.

A Buddha in the ruins - Angkor Thom

The temple grounds, though in ruins, are still used. Here a Buddha, draped in saffron robes, with incense burning. Angkor Thom, Cambodia.

Also in the city is a large parade ground and reviewing stand. The royals, I guess, used to sit on the stand and watch the processions go by:

Reviewing Stand with Elephant Carvings - Angkor Thom

Reviewing Stand with Elephant Carvings – Angkor Thom.

The last site we visited is an interesting temple which has not been excavated or restored at all, named Ta Phrom. It is quite overgrown:

Tree flowing over wall of Ta Phrom

The ruins of Ta Phrom, unexcavated.

We really enjoyed walking (and climbing and crawling) through Ta Phrom. It is nice to get a sense of how this place has decayed over the last 500 years in the forest, and seeing these huge trees flowing over ruins is magical.

Angkor is an amazing place, put it on your list.

The cultures of South East Asia are intriguing, and we enjoy traveling there very much. Traveling in Buddhist countries is a nice experience – people have a calm, even amidst a harrowingly busy city such as Bangkok. I guess it goes along with a belief in reincarnation – one has time, time to get it right. Western urgency is less prevalent.

Happy Travels!


p.s. I got some nice feedback from our friend Cathy Cavender – thanks Cathy!

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