Angkor Wat is the most famous destination in Cambodia. Siem Reap is a wonderful, if pretty touristy, town and is the closest town to the National Park that contains over 100 different temples, the largest being Angkor Wat. Built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II, Angkor Wat is the largest religious complex in the world. If you want to read up more about it here is the wiki link. Basically…the thing is huge. Originally I thought they found like a large lake with an island on it to build the temple, but they actually created this giant moat to protect the temple. The thing is 625 ft. wide and wraps all the way around the temple. Local children use it as a very large swimming pool. The entire complex used to be covered in a bright red lacquer which I think would have been awesome to see.
Believe it or not, Angkor Wat was not my favorite temple we visited. My favorite by far was the Ta Prohm temple because of the crazy trees. Birds drop the seeds from these silk-cotton trees on the tops of the ancient temples. They are especially adept at growing their root structures long distances, when the roots finally hit solid ground the trees are able to go into massive structures. Some of the trees are so heavy that archeologists have started reinforcing the temples for fear of collapse. I feel bad for the old temples but the trees really make this site worthwhile. It was so fun to see all the places that were featured in Tomb Raider and since I have been traveling a lot I have become obsessed with the iPad game: Temple Run. So at one point I was being silly and I took one of the corridors at a dead sprint and made a 90-degree turn…temple floors ARE slippery when wet!
The last temple we visited was called Bayon. This one was very distinct due to the giant Buddha face carvings. There are 49 faces in the whole temple and I couldn’t help but get the feeling that I was being watched…but in a good way. I can really see how this would be a spiritual place for the ancient Angkorians.
On a less culturally sensitive note, I really enjoyed the air conditioned comforts of our hotel and the night life in Siem Reap. I highly recommend the traditional Cambodian dance show performed tableside at Temple Balcony. Later, I naturally gravitated to the bar with the best pun name on Pub Street (the main tourist spot in Siem Reap), "Angkor What?". They served mixed drinks by the bucket (literally in sand pails like your nephew plays with on the beach) and this led to our first crazy night of the trip. We were bar hopping and dancing on tables. The next day, we woke to find we each had souvenir blue teeth from the copious amount of Blue Hawaiians consumed the night before. I don't recommend nursing a hangover while climbing temples in the 100% humidity so maybe save the rager for your last night.
The next night we decided to take it easy and just wander the night market. There were a variety of vendors that sold anything from jewelry to sex paraphernalia. The sales people's aggressiveness put Chinatown to shame. Every time I walked by a stall I got a, “OK Lady…you buy something pretty lady? OK Lady.” I did end up buying a few pretty things, some jewelry, some gifts, an Angkor Beer (locally made beer company) tank, and a painting. I also successfully avoided the fish pedicure people even though they assured me that the fish who are supposed to eat the dead skin off your feet were not piranhas.
One last thing about the trip was that on our way back from seeing our last temple we stumbled across some long-tailed macaque monkeys by the side of the road. They were cute but a little scary. Much less aggressive than the baboons I encountered last summer in Ghana but when our idiot driver pretended to be a big ape they all chased him away. Since I only saw one (tamed) elephant on my trip to the jungle, I was glad to get my wildlife pictures in somehow.
What was your favorite part of Angkor Wat?
Let me know if you have any questions before you go.
Go confidently travelers!
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