So Joyce and I now find ourselves in Siem Reap. A bustling tourist town that manages to retain the same Cambodian charm – and friendly people – we have found everywhere else in this spectacular (if a little hot) country. In fact, i’d go as far to say that Cambodia is the friendliest place I’ve ever been. Period. Even when people are trying to sell you something there is a genuine smile, an honest joke and time for a laugh. Something I feel Thailand has lost.
We are in Siem Reap for the same reason that the millions of other tourists come to this energetic little town. Angkor. The incredible temple complex and archaeological park.
(The very brief histroy bit) The Khmer temples were built between the 9th – 12th century, with the temples built in the latter half of this period being Angkorian. The kings who ruled were want to change their beliefs; some temples were constructed Buddhist, others Hindu. However; as the kings changed, so did the temples. Hindu became Buddhist. Buddihist became Hindu and so on, till the last king when all the temples were at last converted to Buddhism. But then the Khmer kingdom collapsed and the temples were lost to the jungle, only to remain known to the locals, until they were rediscovered by the French naturalist and explorer Henri Mahout in January 1860.
Despite the early morning battle – the tourist tussle – as the sun rises over Angkor Wat its majesty is displayed in full. It doesn’t matter about the tourists – the shuffle of hundreds of little feet on gravel and stone, the clicking of an infinite number of cameras, the low morning chatter in a multitude of languages – as the sun rises, it all just melts away.
That said… There are a lot of tourists – I’m not complaining I’m one of them – I am part of the problem, not the solution. And once the sun is high on the sky, beating down, and you just want to experience the temples unobscured… Well, it can be mission impossible. But get off the main track, go early, and you can do it.
Over a couple of days we’ve seen a lot of temples, the most famous of which – Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm – were unavoidably busy, but many others only a handful of people visit. The contrast was great and if you have the time I’d recommend experiencing both.