Angkor Wat is the biggest Hindu temple complex in the world. It is ancient, magical and mysterious. The entire complex is an amazing feat of engineering and a work of art. I have had a fascination with it since my teens, long before Tomb Raider was filmed there and Angelina Jolie adopted her Cambodian child. We arrived at the tiny airport in Siam Riep, where there was an very long queue and no air conditioning. It was suffocatingly hot. But arriving at the Angkor Century Resort & Spa was like discovering an oasis. I would highly recommend this hotel. It is opulent and has enormous rooms, fantastic food and an amazing swimming pool with great poolside service.
We had a guide to take us around the Angkor complex because it is really big and you can’t really do it in a day. You need to buy a pass from the Apsara Authority. We got a three day pass for US$40. The amazing carved friezes at the main temple are really worth looking at. There is so much intricate stone carving work, it almost defies belief. Something else you don’t want to miss is climbing to the top of Phnom Bakheng, a temple mountain, and viewing the gorgeous red sunset. It’s a great way to end off a day of exploring.
There is so much wonderful history to Angkor, but I won’t go into it here. Even for those not really interested in ancient architecture and cultural history, it as a ‘lost temple’ allure due to the fact it was abandoned and completely overgrown before being rediscovered. A lot of restoration work has been done, but some parts have been left to nature. You feel a lot like Indiana Jones when exploring the overgrown temple of Ta Prohm, which incidentally is where the Tomb Raider movie was filmed. It has almost become one with the jungle, and has an amazing atmosphere.
Other highlights of Siam Riep include browsing the markets, a ride in a tuk tuk, or a visit to Tonle Sap, a large lake which is a UNESCO biosphere. There is a floating village which is quite an eye-opener. You can take a boat trip and see the local way of life, from farmed crocodiles to children with pet monkeys, and everything in between. There is great poverty in Cambodia, and quite a violent 20th century history. When hiking in the hills en route to visit some strange phallic carvings in a riverbed (can’t remember what they were called) we were told to stay on the path as land mines are still a problem.
Cambodia has rich cultural heritage, fascinating history and warm, friendly people. It is a beautiful country and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to visit.