Cambodia’s Angkor empire may have long since disintegrated, but the legacy left behind in its temple complex is nothing short of wondrous. It’s easy to see why this single site has become the backbone of the Cambodian tourism industry and why people flock here in their thousands each year. Some make it the centrepoint of their visit to the country, while others treat it so sacredly they would spend an entire trip there; like the vacationing archaeologist we met who said he’d want 10 days to do the place and his profession justice, so for that reason, was skipping it altogether for now.
We decide to conquer Angkor in one hot slog of an intense day, hiring our own tuk-tuk and driver who picked us up at 4am, hovering patiently at the gate of our hotel while we woke our sleeping receptionist who’d promised us a packed breakfast. It’s slightly eerie at that time of morning, but as we inch further from the hotel in the dark, we start to spot other tourists in their own tuk-tuks, in the same bleary-eyed, cold croissant blur as us. Thinking about the queue that we might find at the ticket desk, it starts to become a kind of mental race as we try to pass them, and we quietly celebrate when our tuk-tuk has the strength and speed to overtake another.
Tickets purchased (complete with awful early morning photograph), we join the stampede of early morning temple pilgrims all heading in one direction – to the King of temples, Angkor Wat, expectantly taking our seats on the lawn as if we are about to watch a football game. Once the majestic temple is completely lit, it’s time to set foot into its imposing doors, climb its rickety stares, admire its orange clad statues and monks, and trace our fingers across the intricate wall carvings.
Then it’s onto Angkor Thom and its dizzying array of bemused looking heads that are either smirking or serene depending on how long you look at them for.
Ta Phrom, known as the overgrown, jungle temple, holds celebrity status thanks to its role in Tomb Raider, but its little brother Banteay Kdei holds its own in the wild stakes, with an equally disheveled, enchanting atmosphere.
The unassuming Krovan is the cliched ‘last but not least’, and after hours of exploring in the sapping heat, it’s tempting to skip it and go back to the hotel to lie by the pool, but we’re glad we didn’t – it might be small but peek inside and you’ll see some impressive carvings.
Enough from me – it’s time for the photos to do the talking, so below is our journey through these awe inspiring, ancient buildings.