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Published: March 17th 2010
The Temples of Angkor are quite literally straight out of Tomb Raider! Or maybe that should be the other way around. One of them (Ta Prohm) was actually used as the set for Angelina to do her stuff.
Siem Reap is the gateway to the Temples of Angkor, buildings created by the Kyhmer between 1112 and 1152. They are considered to be up there with Macchu Pichu and are often advertised as one of the three best bits in SE Asia (the others being Vietnam's Halong Bay and Laos' Luang Prabang.. tick, tick).
Angkor Wat is the showpiece, and is the biggest religious building in the world. It is covered with ancient carvings of snakes and warriors, you know the usual for this kind of thing, and was devoted to numerous Hindu gods, of which there are may statues remaining today. It has since become a place of Buddhist pilgrimage and you can also see several reliefs of the Buddha around the temple. It is testament to those easy going Buddhists that when they seized control of the area they didn't simply destroy all evidence of a different religion as it seems any other faith would have done.
We hired bikes and cycled around the Grand Circle - a 27km course which included the must sees and the less busy good ones further out. It was 40 degrees centigrade by 11am and it took seven hours to see everything. The guidebooks suggest 3-7 days here but we found one day enough if you absolutely ruined yourself peddling around. One more day would have actually been too much. Without a guide, our learning was restricted but we enjoyed deciphering what we could from the guidebooks and taking a few Indiana Jones shot with my cowboy hat under 'moving' stone walls.
The thing about Macchu Pichu is its location. And the Temples, although architecturally at least the equal of their Peruvian neighbours, is just located in a big flat hot field. What Angkor does provide that MP can't is Elephant rides! We declined but saw many elephants wandering around with frightened tourists on board as monkeys climbed on the walls of the buildings nearby. What the two places do have in common, however, is the reason for their creation. They were quite simply examples of the confidence of the ruling class. While both are deeply spiritual places, both also
maintain a feeling of arrogance. They didn't need to be this grand or located on a mountain top but they were still created in that way and in that location. It just wouldn't get signed off today. What man has done on Earth is 99% negative when regarding the environment but its hard to say that these masterpieces of architecture are negative.
From Siem Reap we traveled back to Bangkok and from there to Calcutta in West Bengal. But that is a whole different ball game. Good bye South East Asia, it's been fascinating.
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