The view of Angkor Wat from the side entrance, also known as the “elephant entrance,” because that’s where the king used to enter. On an elephant.
Last week we took a three-day weekend to visit Siem Reap, Cambodia, one of the larger cities in the country and the jumping-off point to Angkor Wat. Angkor is actually a region of Cambodia that served as the ancient capital, and there are over two hundred temples and ancient structures dotting the countryside.
I’ve wanted to visit Cambodia for years, but I’d always thought of it as a place that required months of planning and at least an extended week’s stay. It seemed so distant and foreign, and so unlike any other Asian country I’ve visited.
Happily, though, after living here for a few months, we’ve discovered that Siem Reap is just a short two-hour direct flight on AirAsia from Kuala Lumpur.
A monkey leads the way to Angkor Wat
Our visit in Siem Reap far exceeded our already-high expectations. Everything from the food to the people to the city itself charmed us. The city is a smaller sleepy city, and bicycles and tuk-tuks are the dominant form of transportation. Siem Reap has clearly made a serious business itself in catering to tourists, with clusters of tourist cafes, souvenir shops and tour touts throughout the city, but none of it could mask the underlying incredible essence of the place.
I assist the demons in churning the ocean of milk to immortality, which sounded a lot more reasonable when we were there
We spent a sweat-drenched day out at Angkor, marveling at the beauty and vast size of the temples we visited. I became obsessed with the corridors of the temples, whose perfectly straight lines and stillness were perfect for strolling at a leisurely pace.
One of many vaulted ceilings in Angkor Wat
What’s incredible about Angkor Wat is that the builders didn’t use any nails, and they cut stones down to fit perfectly together, including in the vaulted ceilings. From the outside, it’s hard to appreciate the size and detailed work that went into building Angkor Wat, but once inside, even my amateur eye could tell that a lot of people worked really hard to make it all happen.
As excited as we were to go to Siem Reap, the hubby and I did almost no research before our arrival other than to spot-check our favorite online food resources for Cambodia. When we arrived in Siem Reap and needed to figure out how we’d journey out to the Angkor Wat, we were surprised to learn that there are several temples that have become just as, if not more famous, than Angkor Wat. One of them, picture above, is Bayon, which works kind of like a reverse Monet — from far away, it’s a mess of crumbling gray stone that seems to make no sense, but as you get closer, you notice that there’s more than meets the eye.
Once we entered the temple, each of the gray towers jutting from the temple suddenly revealed itself to contain four faces, one on each side — making for 216 faces across 54 towers (and no, Mom, I did not do that math myself).
After lunch (much more on that later), we headed to Ta Phrom, the temple made famous when it was featured in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. My love of all things pop culture doesn’t extend to the video gaming world (or, for that matter, to science fiction, online poker or Denise Richards), so the significance of this temple in that regard was completely lost on me. It was still a fantastic place to experience, though, because the temple lay abandoned for many years and the jungle caught up to it. By the time it was rediscovered, trees such as the one pictured above had already made its way through the foundation of Ta Phrom.
The interior of Ta Phrom didn’t disappoint, either — I got a chance to wander down another beautiful, dimly-lit hallway with a vaulted ceiling, perfect for strolling and planning my next trip back.
More to come on Cambodia!