If you’re in Peru, you go see Machu Pichu; if you’re in Egypt, you see the Pyramids; if you’re in China, you see the Great Wall. So on, and so on… Well, if you’re in Cambodia, you go see Angkor Wat—one of the most magnificent and mysterious historical sites in the world—and the surrounding Temples of Angkor. The Khmer Empire between the 8th and the 15th centuries ruled Cambodia, its borders are much like as you see it today. Throughout their rein, like many other empires in history, they had various capital cities come and go at different locations. So today, you can have the pleasure in exploring many of the remnants of the once great Khmer Empire as their temple ruins are scattered throughout the country.
Lonely Planet says three days, at least, are what you need to properly explore the Temples of Angkor in Siem Reap Province. With that little bit of wisdom from the guidebook Ashley and I gave ourselves three days. On the first day we went to see some of the earlier temples (Roluos Group), which also happened to be the smaller ones. This was great because we managed to see three ruins on the first day, with plenty of light left. Lonely Planet also thought it best to go to the smaller ones first and save the “bigger hitters” for last. This was good advise, too, because on the third day we went to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom—the “big hitters”—and we were floored. Certainly, if we explored Angkor Wat first, the other temples wouldn’t have seemed nearly as great.
At Angkor Wat, Ashley and I didn’t say more than a few sentences the whole time. We were so astonished at the size, grandeur and craftsmanship that words escaped us—hell, we even forgot that we were hungry and went the whole day without food. One of my professors in college taught a class on culture and urban form in Asia. As part of his job as an academic he travels the world to research historical sites. Angkor Wat, he said, is the most magnificent and spiritual site in the world. No question. Not even the Vatican compares, he added. Without going into all that, all I can say is when you visit these wonder of the world type sites, you just stand in amazement thinking, how could man do this? Or, can you imagine what it would’ve been like? They’re just mind-blowing places to visit—that is all.
Anyway, Siem Reap has the most and best temples to look at. Some of the temples are so colossal in size that it would take a ruin enthusiast a whole day to explore. Perhaps more, even. One temple, Angkor Thom, is a whole ancient city and could take you hours to walk around and you still would not see all that it has to offer. Other temples are straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. They’re located deep in the jungle and have tree roots slowly swallowing the stone walls whole. There are bats, too, and strange bird sounds along with eerie shrieks coming from dense jungle. No Belloq to take our looted artifacts, thankfully. You know? Belloq? The French archaeologist, Belloq—Indiana Jones’ rival. The guy who always rains on Indi’s parade? If you’re still not sure then someone has to brush up on Raiders of the Lost Arc.
Below are the pictures of Ashley and myself during our three days of Indiana Jones-ing it throughout Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor.
Roluos Group temples
Angkor Wat just after sunrise
Ashley climbing around inside Angkor Wat
Looking out from inside Angkor Wat