I was not anticipating temples in New Zealand, but it turns out that the Mormon temple in Hamilton is a must-do Christmas outing for its renowned Christmas lights. More impressive than the lights was the Mormon organization of the parking and traffic, with dozens of formally clad gentlemen on hand to direct the hundreds of cars into ad hoc parking lots. All that without coffee.
The reason you go to Wat Pho is because they have a bloody great golden Buddha. We can confirm it is indeed enormous.
Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace
A religious centre, Luang Prabang is home to any number of Buddhist temples and monasteries, with orange-clad monks and novices around every corner.
The Temple of Literature was once the centre of Confucian learning and philosophy in Vietnam, and the names of graduates were engraved on [large turtle stones] for posterity. It is still very much an active temple today, with people making offerings, and new graduates coming to celebrate their convocation.
One of the less charming aspects of Angkor is the omnipresent temple vendors. They are aggressive and insistent and never tire of trying to separate you from your money, one US dollar at a time. Their persistence is inversely proportional to the usefulness of their product, so vendors peddling cold drinks will often ask once and then leave you alone, while someone selling unbecoming artwork or dodgy jewellery will badger you incessently.
Angkor Thom was a huge fortified city, one that supported around a million people in the 1100s — when London had 50,000 or so. All over the site you can see sardonically smiling giant heads peering out from all angles, especially on the gates and in the city’s temple, Bayon. The truly remarkable Bayon gets really, really busy, and so to escape the worst of the crowds, we walked out to the west gate, where we were almost completely alone. The walk out there also gave a clear sense of just how big the site was - from the centre
In Angkor Wat’s grounds we came across a pack of monkeys, hanging out in the cool of the early morning. There were two very young babies (one rocking a super cool mohawk) with their mothers, and a few rapscallion teenager types, who gleefully chased after tourists while the mothers looked on in an unimpressed fashion.
Rather than returning to town for breakfast, like the majority of the dawn crowds, we scarfed down our picnic and went on in to the temple building itself. Angkor Wat is monumental. In comparison to so many other temples in the area, it’s in very good condition, so oddly enough the hallways can seem a little echoey and austere, rather than atmospheric. The architectural achievement stands very tall and proud, nevertheless, with those iconically shaped towers rising over the vast, richly green, parklands. It’s a remarkable place, especially when the crowds are down to a minimum.
Seeing the sun rise at Angkor Wat is one of those “Things You Must Do”, and so we obediently got up at 4:30 and made our way there. Heading off to the edge of the site, we did get some wonderful views of the temple against the skyline, but the main parts of the grounds were absolutely packed, so the initial impression was less one of the majesty of human cultural achievement, and more of endless LCD camera screens, bobbing like fireflies on the horizon.