Siem Reap

Date: 24/04/2007 | Author: Dave

We fly at 6am. This is the only flight from Vientiane to Siem Reap. The nearby temples of Angkor are certainly the biggest tourist attraction in S.E. Asia, so consequently the airport road into Siem Reap looks like a hotel construction competition in full swing. In contrast Siem Reap town centre is quaint with a funky feel and a plentiful choice of good restaurants.
The Khmer kings built the temples at Angkor from 875 to 1230AD. All other dwellings here for the 1 million inhabitants of this city were timber and no sign of them remains. Their expansionist neighbours, the Thais, sacked this city in the 14th and the 15th centuries. The Khmer court grabbed their family jewels and moved to Phnom Penh, leaving Angkor to be swallowed by the jungle. It was stumbled upon by the Portuguese in the 16th century. And again in the 17th century by a Japanese pilgrim who drew a detailed plan of Angkor Wat only to later recalled that he had seen it in India. In 1860 a French explorer Henri Mauhot's vivid descriptions and colour sketches brought Angkor to the attention of the world. Some restoration work commenced in 1907 but in this war torn country these projects have been interrupted many times. We saw thousands of stones in a field which had been numbered by a French team in the early 60's. When they could return 25 years later the weather had removed all of their numbering. None of their plans survived the Khmer Rouge years and this is now the worlds biggest jigsaw puzzle. Things however are not as bad as UNESCO feared and in 2003 they removed Angkor form their endangered sites list.
It is recommended to spend between 3 and 7 days visiting these temples, taking a break in the middle of the day to escape the heat. April is known here as the killing month by the local Khmer. It was extremely hot by 8am and by mid afternoon the sandstone and volcanic rock at the temples will toast you evenly on both sides as you walk the gallerys. As it turns out our guide is excellent and at the end of two days with him we have seen enough.
Temple visiting is not at the top of Ella and Flo's 'things we love to do' list. Mr Srun, our tuk tuk driver charges US$10 for the day and Mr Lee (guide) is $25. Without a good guide we would have spent 5 days here and seen less, I am sure of it. Day two we go to Angkor Wat for sunrise along with about 500 others, but as 450 package tourists are heading back to their hotels for breakfast we slip almost alone into the world's largest religious building. Mr Lee knows that the best time to see Angkor Wat is right now. Everyone I have met that has been to this region says "You must see Angkor Wat". All I can add to that is "Get a Khmer guide". Cambodian history is brutal and fascinating. We were moved.

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