Okay, so we made it to Siem Reip and woah…. First of all it’s like we crossed a border into a different country. Pricing on all our meals just doubled without warning and the price of admission to Ankgor Wat is $40!!! Cambodia’s GDP per capita is around $750. To equate how far above the average income level that is I will compare it to a ticket in the states, it would be like buying a $2,300 ticket to something in our economy. This means that this place is unaffordable to most Cambodians and thus is a foreign tourist trap.*Correction I have been told that Cambodians get in for free*
So anyways…. Apparently Ankgor wat is just one of the many stone temple complexes in the general area around Siem Reip. There must have been millions of man hours put into the construction of this stone city, which sprawls over about 400 square miles. Far more impressive then the immense scale of the structures is the fine carvings on every square inch of stone, even the rooftops. While much of it has eroded in the last 700 years, there is an amazing amount of rich detail and one can only hope to imagine the ruins as they would have looked during their prime.
We decided to start day one with Phnom Bakheng a temple on top of the largest hill in the area, giving you a sweeping view of the jungle below as well as Ankgor Wat’s skyline raising above the jungle canopy. The temple itself is currently being restored, so the active work crews on site means that many places are off limits. But none the less it was very cool to be able to view the reconstruction as it was happening. They are trying to piece together the fallen pieces of the temple as though it ere a giant 3d puzzle with missing pieces. I cant even imagine theorginization required to tackle such a task, but i suppose if they built it 700 years ago, we should be able to at least pick up some of the pieces and place them back with cranes today… right? Even this task seems impossible to me.
After Phnom Bakheng, we entered the Angkor Thom complex which is a great walled city filled with various temples and other stone ruins. We entered the city via the south gate which was awe inspiring on it’s own. Two rows of statues line the road in and it appears that they were once holding two giant snakes that went the entire way down the path, on both sides. Upon entering the city our driver Mr. Sron took us through some of the main temples in the area. But we quickly realized that there were many we were missing. Starting of we saw Bayon, a temple dedicated to the Buddha himself. It’s towers are carved with over 200 faces all representing one figure. It is believed that the carvings are of the king, but it is debated as they could also be a deity. All of them are unique in a different way and yet none are less interesting. The intricate carvings in the stone all around you are also breathtaking at Bayon, as well as all of the temples in the area.
After Bayon we took a break for lunch at a small restaurant in the shadows of Ankgor Wat. We then proceeded to head into the famed Ankgor Wat. Ankgor Wat is estimated to have been built with about as much stone as some of the pyramids in Egypt, except its all intricately carved and formed into towers, not just a pyramid. It’s estimated that about 5 million tons of sandstone were used to construct Ankgor Wat. The scale of the place is just hard for the mind to imagine, as the entire structure stands over 100 feet tall. And is a multi-tiered stone city that reminds one of Minas Tirith from J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings.
All said and told I don’t think the onslaught of awe sustained throughout the course of the day can be explained to anyone who hasn’t truly climbed to the top of Ankgor’s temples. Mentally it is taxing to try and absorb it all and I found it very difficult to not go into a sort of shock from it all. Physically it is quite taxing to climb to the top of all the temples as climbing up the stairs today resembles a easy form of rock climbing.