|Jen at (I think) Banteay Srei|
Okay, all right, it's the world's greatest tourist destination and a startling remnant of an empire which, as an American, I had never considered, been taught about or really (honestly) knew existed. It's a huge complex made entirely of fitted and piled stone (no mortar or grout) made over hundreds of years. It probably doesn't need a
|I think Angkor Wat in the morning looks like Hotel California|
So here's some things about Angkor Wat:
- It's right outside the city if Siem Reap, which seems to exist primarily as a tourist gateway for the ruins. Were it not for the ruins, you wouldn't go to Siem Reap, as nice as it is. You're not dying to go to Battambang, are you? (Lonely Planet Headline: "There's really not all that much to do.")
- Jennifer was more excited to go to Angkor Wat than anywhere else on the planet.
- Angkor Wat is a very specific place in the ruin complex, but people also refer to the entire complex as Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is one wat (a wat is a temple), but there are many other buildings.
- The complex is very big and every surface has a bas relief on it. You could look at it forever.
- No matter how early you woke up, everyone else woke up earlier than you and is already there.
- You're probably to cheap to pay for a tour guide, rather than just a driver, so you will benefit from very little interpretation. Instead, you'll look at it and shake your head and be like "huh."
|This is the road through Angkor Wat as the sun sets|
So you've been reading our blog, wishing you had an RSS feed of it so you can read the next installment the minute it comes out! (True THRTW heads know if you read it right away you get the juicy typos and autocorrects that we don't find until the post is up a bit) So you know that your authors have visited many ancient ruined cities. There was Pompeii, Akrotiri, Knossos, Polonnawura, Dambulla, Sigiriya, Anuradhapura... probably more. And so you're asking: "more? really? more ruined cities?"
|I think this is Bayon from a distance|
Believe me, Otis has asked this question many times before it ever occurred to you to ask.
I will admit that at some point the returns diminish. I am pretty done with ancient ruins at this point (I think Jen and Otis are too; we didn't see any in Thailand, and from what I hear, the Thais can ancient ruin with the best of them). I want to say that Angkor Wat was grander than anywhere else, but then I remember Sigariya; I want to say its bigger, but Anuradhapura was really big; it certainly isn't older, Knossos was destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed and lost before any of these other places had their first road. Angkor Wat was a good one to end on because what it had was the power to inspire joy and wonder and whimsy and exhaustion and more wonder (and more exhaustion) that extended well beyond the other stops on RUINED CITY WORLD TOUR 2016-17!!!
|This is certainly Bayon up close|
Maybe it's because the Angkor ruins are often in better shape, so you can see where they made columns so as to look like elephant trunks, or where they made the bridge's balustrade a series of charming Khmer warriors, or where serene faces rest atop pillars. Maybe it's because of the environment, because there's something relentlessly Indiana Jones about an ancient temple where a tree grew on a wall, was swallowed by a strangler fig, and then the fig grew into a gigantic tree whose roots reach down the wall and into the soil. Maybe it's because every surface seems to be covered with ornamentation that makes you think the artists were telling a story in stone - which they often were.
|Of all the carved up temples, Banteay Srei is the most zadonga-zonga|
I can't tell you what the various temples mean, or even in many cases which temples these were. The sites blend together and you can't easily recall whether you saw that amazing thing at the giant pyramid or at the temple. The whole, though, is remarkable.
|Angkor Wat from the inside, off to the side, with miraculously few tourists to ruin the vista|
I guess that in the mid 19th century, some French dude pulled a Captain Kirk (he boldly went where no one had gone before, and met a bunch of people who were already there) and "discovered" Angkor Wat. Going there now, with 2.1 million of your closest friends, it makes you think wonder what it was like for Monsieur Mouhot walking through the jungle and saying "Zut Alors! Sacré Bleu!" when you see this "lost" city rising out of the foliage. You get a very firm understanding of why the romance of the lost city in the jungle was the plot hook of so many pulp novels and cartoons and comic books and tv shows and movies. You wish you could have that sense of discovery to yourself.
|Banteay Srei as it's just about to pour, making the light beautiful. Banteay Srei is a long drive from Siem Reap and our poor tuk tuk driver really had a tough go of it in the bad weather on the way home. SO SORRY MR. MAB!!!|
Here's some more things about Angkor Wat:
- We got a three day pass, which you have to have on you at all times, and lets you get a little sneak preview in if you go after 5pm the day before you really start. Going for that short period of time (they kick you out around 6) is really nice because the light starts to be in the golden hour. It makes everything look even more lovely.
- We got up at four (or some similarly unpleasant hour) to go watch the sun rise. WE WERE NOT THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO HAD THIS IDEA. It was a zoo. The sun rose behind some trees with absolutely no fanfare. It simply changed slowly from dark to light. We got some nice time in the morning golden hour, but this was not inherently better than the evening golden hour, so, eh, sleep in.
- We got caught in a rain storm and it killed my iPhone 5s. RIP iPhone 5s.
- My advice is don't over-do it. It's always hot in Cambodia; it's not a contest; trim your sails.
- Look for some of the spots that are like the 9th most popular sites in Ankor Wat, they will still be incredible, but maybe there will be fewer people there to ruin the illusion of discovery.
|Angkor Wat sneak preview|
|Walking down a very steep and narrowly stepped pyramid, perhaps at Koh Ker?|
|Banteay Srei again|
|Jen looking fab|
|Jen and Otis posing for their folk music record cover|
|These places remain Buddhist holy sites (even where they were once Hindu or even Brahman holy sights), so they occasionally benefit from modern decoration|
|Otis takes in the culture (I think at Angkor Wat)|
|Another shot of Angkor Wat in the reflecting pools|
|Jen and Otis receive a blessing in Angkor Wat|
|I always keep my head on a swivel, you can't get complacent|
|Bayon is the number one place that would be more captivating if no one were there.|
|Stairway to heaven|
|This shrine was at the top of the pyramid|
|Jen keeps an eye out for booby traps at Ta Prohm|