After our adventures in Vietnam, the next stop on our itinerary was Siem Reap, Cambodia. The main thing that drew us to Cambodia was the temples. There is so much history at the temples, and I definitely didn’t do a good enough job at preparing and reading about them before we headed out but it was one of those excursions where you simply could not help but be in awe and ask as many questions to the guide as possible. (It also helped my friends Jackie & Luke picked up a guidebook where we read about each temple on the way to it…)
The Angkor Temples are listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, and is considered one of the “most important archeological sites in Southeast Asia.” The temples and surrounding forests cover about 155 square miles and were build between the 9th and 15th centuries. The temples and surrounding areas were actually villages at the time, and were the center of the Khmer Empire – which at one point or another consisted of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and southern Vietnam.
Walking through the temples was literally like going back in time. And not the recent history we experienced in Vietnam – but so far back, it was hard to wrap my head around it. On one of the descriptions of the temples we read somewhere that the temples themselves weren’t fully discovered until the 1900s or some crazy late date. Which after we thought about it for a while made sense. It is a jungle, after all and we could only imagine how quickly the trees and vines would come in if it wasn’t tended to.
Take Ta Prohm for example. The temple itself is wrapped in the tree, creating a really surreal image of the power of nature vs. man. The roots are like tentacles where the tree has managed to make a home for itself among the rock. I believe we read that the tree itself was a fig tree, but I can’t remember right now and don’t have the patience for googling.
Angkor Wat is essentially the crown jewel of the bunch, having been called the world’s largest single religious monument. It was incredibly detailed, and intricate, even after all these years. We tried to catch it at sunrise, as we had heard that’s the best time to see it – apparently the sun comes right up over the temple and gives quite the show. Unfortunately it was rainy season when we were there and the clouds hadn’t yet cleared. It was still gorgeous.
The areas around the temples are still inhabited by some local villagers who peddle all sorts of trinkets to the tourists. It gets a bit hard to swallow, especially with the children being taught to beg for money so they can go to school, or at least that’s what they say.
But it was one of the local kids (who I didn’t see begging) hanging out at one of the temples that quickly became one of my favorite shots from our entire trip. I don’t know what exactly it is that I love about this photo so much, but I just do. And I can’t think of a better shot to close out the “scenes” section of our Cambodia post with.
I can not more highly recommend spending a day or two exploring these amazing sites if you’re ever in the region. I’m not sure the photos were able to accurately capture the magnitude of them, but the sheer beauty and scale of the massive monuments was enough to take your breath away.