Angkor Wat. Blimey. Possibly the single most “Thing You Must Do” thing we have indeed done on the trip. And worth just about every minute.
Given the flood of tourists here in peak season, it’s somewhat remarkable that there was only one point where we cracked — the top of Bayon is a funnel point that simply cannot handle the dozen or so tour groups cramming into it, and we had to bolt for quieter environs. But that was the exception that proved the rule: the temples around Siem Reap are so huge, and so numerous, that the hordes don’t overwhelm most of the time. Being a little strategic also helped. With Thean’s advice, we planned for early starts to a couple of the really popular places, which dodged the worst of the crowds. And if we were doing it all over again, we wouldn’t even bother with a couple of the must-dos — dawn and dusk weren’t worth the hassle, especially since you can get pretty good results closer to home.
Still, who cares about crowds when you have all these wonderful riches surrounding you. Our photos certainly don’t do the place justice. It’s impossible to capture the scale of these sites, how the ancient city walls stretch away for miles into the jungle, and how many giant chunks of sandstone and laterite have been carved with such precision and finesse. Add on top of that the fact that many of the best, and largest, sites (including Ta Prohm, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Preah Khan) were all built in a single 30-year period, and it’s clear that King Jayavarman VII and his engineers, masons and artists were some of the most remarkable civilization builders in history. Yes, it was probably quite crap to be one of the Khmer labourers hauling millions of tons of rock for miles in the jungle heat. But the result? It’s just marvellous.