Angkor Wat was one of the main reasons that we came to Cambodia and although the temples are absolutely awe-inspiring, I’d say it’s probably not one of my biggest highlights.
Being the eighth wonder of the world, it’s not surprising that the area was bursting at the seams with tourists – but my best experiences of the country so far have been when we’ve gone out to explore, what I would call, the ‘real’ Cambodia.
Anyway, when we arrived in Siem Reap, the entrance to Angkor, we decided to indulge in a little luxury and stay in one of the nicer hotels. We found a tuk-tuk driver and hired him for three days to take us to see all of the Angkor sites, and he was very grateful for the business. There are so many tuk-tuk drivers out here — too many, in fact — and they’re all pretty ruthless when it comes to fighting with their peers for business. They’ll always try to rip you off, but I enjoy playing them off against each other. If they weren’t so greedy, you wouldn’t need to!
The travellers’ bible, Lonely Planet, recommends that you do all of the smaller temples before going to see the ‘big one’ – Angkor Wat (apparently, the others would seem inferior afterwards). We decided to go against the grain and do Angkor Wat first, and I’m glad we did.
Angkor Wat is undoubtably impressive and majestic, and I don’t know if this makes me sound unappreciative, but I actually found it slightly disappointing (the below photo I took has been edited, by the way!) I’m not sure whether it’s because it’s so hyped-up and I had high expectations; because it was so busy that I felt I couldn’t properly appreciate its architecture; or whether the restoration work on the temple has somehow taken away a little bit of the mystery and character of, what is now, a 1,200-year-old wat.
The best part for me, funnily, was when we were passing woodland beside the temple and found troupe of monkeys scrabbling around on the ground and swinging between the trees. I was a little apprehensive about getting close to them at first, but in the end I plucked up the courage and managed to get some brilliant snaps. Especially the one of the cheeky monkey who stole a man’s bottle of water!
We spent the next two days exploring some of the more ruined temples, including Angkor Thom, and I found that I preferred these to Angkor Wat; their state of disrepair gives them so much more character and lets your imagination run wild. I felt like I was in a scene from the Jungle Book at one point (one of my favourite films from when I was a child – the Disney version’s the best). Was just waiting for “Now I’m the king of the swingers, the jungle VIP…” to start playing!
On the final day of our tour, our driver took us to a nearby river so we could take a boat ride through the countryside where families live and work, and catch a snippet of rural Cambodian life. It was amazing to see how people live and sustain themselves. The photo below shows you how high the river gets during monsoon season!
All in all, I had a very interesting and enjoyable few days. Although I’m sure I’ll have fonder memories of Cambodia to look back on.