Words will fail me as I try to describe the beauty and the magnificence of the thousand year old ruins of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. But I will try anyway. And hopefully the pictures will fill in some gaps.
The three day passes to the Angkor Archaeological Park, a World Heritage Site, were $62 each and would grant us access to more temples than I can count on two hands. For $20 a day, we hired a private driver who took us from one site to the next in a tuk tuk.
We woke early on day 1 to take our tuk tuk to the ruins before sunrise. This would be our first introduction to the namesake temple, Angkor Wat, and we had heard it was well worth the lost sleep to experience it as the sun peeked up above the ancient structures. Truth.
Our driver dropped us off about a mile from the viewing area, and we made our way along mostly dirt and stone paths in the darkness with hundreds of other people, guided by cell phone lights and the occasional lantern of a tour guide. At one point we stepped onto a floating bridge and that was a great surprise to our senses.
Our hosts had packed a breakfast for us and we sat on the dusty ground waiting for the temple to come to light as the sun began to rise. It was breathtaking. And difficult to get a picture that didn’t include hundreds of cell phones and cameras that were held in the air. Thankfully Trent was among the taller of the tourists and he snagged a few great shots.
For a small donation, our friend Zeph who is visiting from Denver received a blessing by a Buddhist monk.
Many if not most of the Buddha heads throughout Angkor temples have been cut off and sold.
It took us a few hours just to make our way through the grounds of Angkor Wat, and we easily could have spent more. Every surface was decorated with beautiful carvings.
From there, our driver took us to nearby Bayon Temple. Not as big as Angkor Wat, Bayon is known for the hundreds of gently smiling faces that decorate the columns, temples, gates, and towers. Having visited the Artisans Angkor workshops the day before, we knew how many hours it took just to carve one very small statue (4 to 7 days or 40 hours).
It was incredible to me that we were allowed simply to walk and climb through these ancient temples and take pictures. Of course, the park officials kept people from a few off limits areas, and enforced proper behavior, but we saw no one who wasn’t being careful and respectful.
After looking at the Angkor and Bayan temples for about 8 hours, we had not spotted Angelina Jolie or Harrison Ford, but we were exhausted, so we headed back to the hotel for a swim, and a massage.
The following day we spent about six hours visiting other smaller, less famous temples in the area. Although smaller, they were just as impressive in their architecture and artistry. Every time I turned around there was another impressive view or intricate carving. One could easily spend a week or two exploring the ancient sites tucked into the jungles of Siem Reap.
Many of the statues and carvings have been desecrated over the centuries, pillaged for profit.
The restoration of these World Heritage sites is an ongoing project, involving investments by foundations from across the world.
We feel incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to see them first hand. If you ever have the opportunity to visit, don’t pass it up.