Angkor Wat and Siem Riep
The adventure in Cambodia started with a place I was dreaming to see for a long time: Angkor Wat.
Siem Riep is a town that lives on tourism, there is no doubt about that. It’s not even standard Cambodia cheap anymore. The name of the town means Victory over the Thai people, so of course they call the town something else. Cambodia is called Kampuchea by its inhabitants, who are called Khmers themselves. Due to the French occupation they almost lost their language – Khmer and the alphabet. However, they managed to restore it together with a lot of lost traditions. Siem Riep is or rather was a sort of a central area of the medieval Khmer Empire with the capital in Bayon and the Angkor Wat temple.
First thing that surprised me, was the fact that the whole complex of ruins is managed by private hands. The SOKIMEX group rents the land from the government. I didn’t think it was a good idea, but I changed my mind because I saw how some other places are treated in Cambodia. Private owners of the Angor Wat complex made sure the place is well taken care of.
They start selling the tickets at 5am, because one of the classic views and photo opportunities is the sunrise. We didn’t go to the standard photo spot, far too crowded, we had a great view anyway and some time to get to know people in the group a little bit better.
Second thing that shocked me, was the size of the whole complex. We had to use a mini bus between the temples to make sure we could see as much possible. During the years of its glory Angor Wat was the biggest city in the world. Today we can only see the ruins of the temples that were made of stone, the city that was around them doesn’t exist anymore because the houses were built of wood.
Speaking of the ruins, we started with Bayon, the old capital. It’s full of the faces of Buddha. Every tower, every copula is just covered with them. They look fantastic. Then of course we had to see the so called Tomb Raider temple, meaning the Pra Thom. The biggest problem for the people that take care of the ruin’s preservation are the trees, or rather their roots. One of the species grows practically everywhere, on roofs, walls, stones and all possible crackles. Visually it’s amazing, but when the roots get between the building stones, the temples start falling apart. So if we want to preserve the ruins, all the roots and branches must go. And so many of the famous images from Angkor Wat don’t exist anymore, including the face of Buddha surrounded by the twirling roots.
The heat was a bit hard to deal with, at least for me, but it was definitely worth it. I just wish I had better ideas for the pictures.
Next set of ruins was a bit on the side, about half hour drive away from the main complex. The stone used to build them came from a different quarry so the very colour of that temple is very different from anything in the area. The temple itself was much smaller than the ones we have seen so far. The ornaments on the walls added subtilty to the building as they were much more delicate with minuscule details.
The last thing we saw that day was of course the Angkor Wat temple itself. You can definitely see that UNESCO has invested a lot into its renovation. The details on the reliefs have been beautifully exposed.
The ruins have been on the Cambodian flag since circa 1863. The temple it self was first dedicated to Vishnu, then to Buddha. The French were the first ones to study and preserve the complex. It got in the end interrupted by the civil war and the Khmer Rouge. Afterwards the ruins were raided by thieves from Thailand.