After a border similar to an apocalypse, we arrived in Cambodia and made our way to Siem Reap. This is the home of Angkor Archeological Park – a UNESCO world heritage site- and temples so fantastical you can’t believe they’re real.
Angkor Wat is the main temple of the Angkor area, along with The Bayon and Ta Phrom. Tickets are one day, two days three days or seven days (which unless you’re a professional in historical temples, or a mastermind boff I wouldn’t do). We hired pedal bikes, thinking it would be a lovely way to get around. Tuk tuks and tour buses went past us, we saw huge groups of people running off -click click click -and back on. Meanwhile, we pottered along, through the greenery, getting hotter as the sun got higher. Speaking of the sun, sunrise is the thing to do, but on our bikes and with a slow wake up we missed it. The temples are no less beautiful without the sunrise, and as I say, the bikes were our own pace, our own freedom.
The first road takes you to Angkor Wat. The size of it is incomprehensible, a wide construction of domes and corridors with a second building hiding behind the first one. In the woodland it looks like something from a dream, and you can see why it’s their national symbol. The intricacy of the carvings are stunning, such a shame they were defaced. I respect the pure dedication of people who build such things for their beliefs. The Sagrada Familiar, Masjid al-Haram (Hajj), Sultan Ahmed mosque (the blue mosque)… so many world structures are built on beliefs, on a love of their deity incomprehensibly strong. Angkor Wat is beautiful to look at, but knowing what it meant to buddhists, seeing the scale and extent of their worship, humbled me. Forget the guides at the front, have a wonder, it really does speak for itself.
The Bayon is just beautiful. Lesser known, but no less stunning, the structure is a series of domes, in a complex snowflake like pattern. The outer walls are stone murals, telling of battles great Buddhists have fought, the columns decorated with dancers. As you get to the inner domes – Chodas? – you then see the faces of Buddha. Each side of each domed column has Buddhas face on it. They watch from every direction, omnipotent and spellbinding.
The third part of our basic loop was Ta Phrom, better known as the tree one. It takes a little longer to get to, but is a must see. Smaller than the other two, Ta Phrom is a traditional temple layout, edited by the destruction the trees have done. They grow everywhere, forming a magical sight where nature and worship intertwine. This is where I was pleased were in the low season, so we could have a proper explore and take it all in. I was reminded that nature is a force stronger than we will ever be, and that it endures, controls, creates and destroys as it likes.
There’s much more to see in Angkor National Park but on our little pedal bikes, in the now midday heat, we saw these three temples. Angkor is the pride of the nation (it’s even on their flag) and you can see why. Maybe in another century or two the trees will be everywhere and the temples only a trace of what used to be.