Since the 10th century Angkor Wat has stood in the north of Cambodia as a testament to glory, king, country, slavery and religion. The Angkor Wat is simply stunning, a finely details labarynth of a building which has been standing for a millennium but still gives the impression that you might be the first to discover some part of it. The walls are lined with exquisite engravings, the Bayeaux Tapestry of Cambodia, if you will. For those with plenty of patience and no aversion at all to heights can scale the steep central tower, and reward themselves with a stunning sunset spoiled only by the persistant 'wows' and 'isn't is just loooooooovely' from American and British tourists respectively.
Angkor Wat is merely one of dozens of temples that dot the countryside in northern Cambodia, in what are known rather uncreatively as the Temples of Angkor. Amongst them are the wierd and the wonderful, in completely random and unpredictable order. One temple has several hundred staring faces, which from a distance appear to be nothing more than unrefined rock, but on closer inspection have fine facial features and a rather menacing stare. Another has stood for so long that the brickwork has been engulfed by old trees which themself looked to have seen several dozen coups, revolutions and hostile takeovers in their time.
The temples of Angkor Wat, and the nearby town on Siem Reap (Siam Defeated, literally, a a big middle finger up to the Thailanders just a couple of hours away) has only recently entered most travellers itineraries. Previously Camobodia was perceived as a no-go zone, and no matter how incredible that monuments, the threat of landmines and political instability loomed large. Nowadays it is booming, and doing too well for its own good. People all over northern Cambodia have flocked to Siem Reap to make their fortune. As you wander through the ancient sites, 6 year old kids speak to you in perfect English (Hello? Where you come from? Australia? I know Australia... your capital is Canberra... you have 20 million people... lots of Kangaroos, g'day mate - all this from kids who have no doubt never spent a day in school so lucrative are the tourist dollars) and ultra-pushy sales staff offer you food, drink, guidebooks, and one even offered me a minature harp, the usefullness of which was completely lost on me. You can't help but think things would be a little more pleasant if the sites could be explored in peace. In town itself, it is clear that there is a booming prostitution industry, largely fuelled by tourists who want to spend the evening worshipping at a temple of a different kind.
A three day pass to visit all these sites is the norm for tourists, although the ultra hardcore temple loving freaks can have a whole week of temple excitement for only a small amount more. For me, though the excitement was already wearing thin by the end of the first day. By the second afternoon, I was more excited by the prospect of watching some monkeys fornicate in the surrounding countryside, and on the third day I decided to call it quits and head to Phnom Penh.
More from Phnom Penh in a day or two.