After we already got a first impression of the the Angkor temples on the previous day, we set off to see a few more, including Angkor Wat. The first stop was going to be Banteay Srei, a temple with really intricate carvings.
It was about an hour’s drive to Banteay Srei and on the way we saw a lot of local villages with wooden houses of different sizes, market vendors, children playing, water buffalos bathing in little muddy streams. The houses were often built on stilts to prevent flooding of the ground floor and every family has a separate little hut for cooking. They don’t cook inside the house for fear of burning the house down. Fair enough!
It was weird to think that all those people we saw on our way will most likely have never been to our world. I asked our guide if he knew if the local people had been to the touristy area of Siem Reap and seen the hotels, bars, restaurants and so on but he said no, they weren’t even aware that this area existed! I asked if some of them maybe had jobs as cleaners or so in our hotel and our guide said no, only the more educated people worked in the hotels.
Isn’t it strange how we’re driving through someone’s village in an air-conditioned car and the people in the village have probably never experienced air-conditioning? We’re staying in someone’s country in a designated area that the local people will have never set foot it? I just can’t get my head around it. It just feels a bit rude to be a guest in someone’s country and yet not being able to interact with the local people (except of course the endless souvenir vendors). It’s almost like the tourists stay in a sort of Disney Land.
Anyway, back to the temples.
This is Banteay Srei, the one with the carvings. Very impressive!
Angkor was a medieval city. All around the temples would have been thousands of wooden houses and it would have been buzzing with people.
Angkor was ‘discovered’ in the mid 1800s by a French explorer. It wasn’t really discovered because Khmer people knew about Angkor the whole time. They just didn’t tell the world because they weren’t interested in those old, overgrown monuments anymore. They had shiny new ones!
Nowadays all the temples need restoration and several countries have started to sponsor the restoration of individual temples. (I’m proud to say that Germany is paying for large parts of the restoration of Angkor Wat!). But a lot of the temples are really starting to rot and Cambodia obviously doesn’t have the money to maintain them which is a real shame. Apparently the largest part of the hefty entrance fee goes to the Cambodian government who are using it for the development of the whole country. Only a small bit goes towards the temple restoration (this is what our guide told us, no doubt the official party line. I didn’t verify it with any neutral sources, so I’m not sure how accurate this is).
We went to Ta Prohm temple which is really overgrown. It looks like nature is claiming it back and huge trees are grabbing the buildings with their roots and are trying to wrestle them to the ground.
Yes, another one of those photos…
Finally we went to Angkor Wat, the only reason why we came to Cambodia in the first place. And it was absolutely fantastic.
It was built in eleven hundred something and is the biggest and best preserved out of all the 300 or so Angkor temples (yes, that many!). It’s two square kilometers big and the walkway that leads to the main entrance across the moat is 250 meters long. It’s the largest religious monument in the world.
We had perfect weather and the reflection of the clouds in the water made the views even more beautiful.
Here’s another entrance to it.
Interestingly a lot of the temples in the Angkor group were built as Hindu temples first and were later changed to Buddhist temples when the Buddhist religion prevailed in the area. Recycling! How they did it? They just chopped of the heads of important statues of the Hindu gods. Done. A little bit of a shame to see all these headless statues standing around but a lot better than tearing the whole thing down (which, to be fair, would probably be nearly as impossible as building all of it in the first place).
There are a lot of stone carvings on the inside. I was particularly impressed with this medieval display of Playboy bunnies.
There are several towers which have a gallery at the top between them. You can climb up and walk around and enjoy the view.
This is what it looks like on the upstairs gallery.
The view down.
Round the back where apparently no one went…
It really was a fantastic experience and I’m glad that we left Angkor Wat till the end because I think otherwise I wouldn’t have been so impressed with the other temples.
Also, the photos don’t do it justice. It is so much more impressive, beautiful, awe-inspiring and majestic than I can describe it here. You have to see it for yourself.
Right, off to the hotel pool! Might as well while we’re staying in tourist Disney Land…