After many years of wanting to visit Angkor Wat, I finally accomplished my dream of seeing this ancient wonder. Even after coming back from the trip, the experience of walking around the temples still feel surreal. I always have great admiration on the Khmer empire and what they built at the height of their empire but my imagination fell short compared to what I saw in Angkor. The first question I asked myself after seeing Angkor is what have I been doing all these years; there is something this impressive just two hours flight away from my home and I am only visiting after 8 years of living in Singapore.
I wrote a post previously that we are too absorbed with social media and taking pictures that we failed to appreciate what is in front of us. This trip is particularly important because this is the first trip that I attempt to break out from this ‘habit’ and I think it went pretty well although I had to remind myself a few times. The whole idea is to be mindful, pause for awhile to appreciate and this indeed helped to enrich my experience.
Beautifully preserved, this was the first temple that I went and it was everything I imagined and even more. I read how massive the temple is but the scale of the temple is way out of my imagination; I spent a few hours walking in the sculptured corridors, sitting down by the pillars decorated with beautiful dancers and epic war scenes, climbing up to the innermost temple within and seeing the view from the high ground;there is something magical about this place.
I have to say though, after seeing all the temples, I felt that Angkor Wat is a bit overhyped; yes, the sheer size alone is impressive but there are many beautiful temples that can rival the beauty of Angkor Wat.
The forested temple made famous by Tomb Raider, I didn’t expect much for being too hyped by the Hollywood movie but this overgrown weathered temple with the massive trees sprouting all over the places, is really breathtaking. It is like nature trying to reclaim back slowly what was its before; it is sad to see the Khmer arts, carvings and sculptures are lost forever with all the deterioration and art theft. I was told that this was a bold decision made to preserve the temple without cutting the trees but letting them take their place among the stones.
While the inner temple is heavily visited, the outermost enclosure is deserted except from the few stray visitors wandered outside. The outer enclosure may not have the elaborated sculptures but the presence of nature make the place serene and beautiful; you can hear occasional bird chirping, the sound of wind brushing through the leaves. It is a good thing because after seeing one temple after another is quite tiring and take a break like a place helped me to slow down and enjoy.
I didn’t intend to visit this temple initially for it being far away from the main Angkor site but I was really glad that I managed to visit. This is probably the most beautiful temple perhaps due to the pink color hue owing to the sandstones being used; but also because it has the best preserved and detailed decoration among all the temples I visited. Sadly, the outer walls and corridors are long gone over the years and leaving the main temple more vulnerable to the weather conditions.
Otherworldly! Bayon exudes an almost palpable air of mystery and I couldn’t think of a better word than ‘otherworldly’ to describe how I felt. It is an intricate, beautiful and mysterious temple; probably the most unique temple that I have come across. Seeing the temple made me wonder what the builders were thinking when they envisioned the temple design: what they are trying to communicate, what their purpose are.
It is true that Angkor Wat and Bayon temple are the undisputed stars but there are many small temples that worth visiting, especially around the petit circuit and within Angkor Thom. It is hard to collect all my thoughts and condense into a single great memory; on this trip particularly, I struggled on this, but going through the forested path with crumbing stone walls, temple gates overgrown with vegetation and moats dried up long time ago, this probably is the highlight of my experience visiting the smaller temples.
At times, my footsteps are the only sound that I can hear and having nobody around in a forest was nerve wrecking but this made my temple fatigue to go away slowly. For the untrained eyes, no mater how amazing the temples looked, everything start looking the same after one too many temples and making these little excursions helped to balance back.
Siem Reap City
Many warned about Siem Reap that it is pretty much a tourist town, so I armed myself with the information what to expect. Yet, the town failed me on many levels; this is one classic example how tourism could change (or destroy depending on your perspective) a town. My tuk tuk broke down, so the driver push the tuk tuk to the nearby village to see the mechanic and have it repaired. At the end, he paid with US$; I couldn’t tell what happened since they talked in their language. Nothing good or bad about that; but personally, I just felt weird to see the local currency not having much value.
The entire city area (especially the old quarters) feel like it is built for tourists: from pubs and restaurants to massage parlors (and of course, fish spa as well) and souvenir shops. If you manage to look pass the tourist-oriented establishments and all the touting, the small alleyways among the French colonial buildings can be quite charming.
The old market seems like an exception as the locals still go about doing their grocery shopping but they got accustomed to having tourists around their pictures. A guy in front of me was taking pictures intrusively but no locals seems to mind about that; like they experience that regularly. I wanted to visit ‘Phsa Leu’ which is the local fresh market but I didn’t make it.
I was told that if my food taste like Thai food, I am not eating the real Khmer food; and all my meals tasted like Thai food, so I supposed I failed on that front as well. Not that I mind since I gave up on trying to localize on the second day. I didn’t research for the places to eat, so the possibility of me finding a good local restaurant is just on pure chance.
If there is one place that kept me from going insane was the Siem Reap riverside; the grass are lusciously green, the trees are tall and shady and it was really peaceful sitting at a bench watching the world moves on in front of me.