Cambodians proudly include the temples at Angkor among the seven man-made wonders of the world, and they certainly deserve the many superlatives that are used to describe them. In the vast jungle complex, majestic ruins appear from nowhere as you turn a corner, impressing with their scale and grandeur almost a thousand years after they were built.
On Temples Day 1 we borrowed rickety (!) bikes from the hotel to ride up to Angkor Wat about 6km away (or more like 14km for us, after a minor navigation fail). Angkor Wat is the biggest, best preserved and most famous of the temples. It’s set in an imposing square moat with a causeway to the entrance. Going through the first wall after the causeway it was easy to get distracted by the statues and carvings on the walls. Suddenly you can see through the door to the next level hundreds of metres away, and there’s a moment of realisation that the scale is another order of magnitude bigger than expected. The temple itself is the centre-most of three concentric square buildings, finally reached via an alarmingly steep staircase.
On the second day we got an early (0500!) tuk-tuk to see Angkor Wat at sunrise. We were a little unlucky with the clouds, but the gradual lighting of the temple structure was quite a sight. The most enduring memory is of the moment when the crickets decided it was daytime, and started chirping. It happened very suddenly in front of us, and over the course of a minute swept past us as more and more of them woke up.
We saw many more of the temples that day and the next, which we often found more interesting and mystical than Angkor Wat. Bayon has huge faces sculpted into the temple walls, like an early Mount Rushmore. Entering Ta Prohm is like being on the set of an Indiana Jones movie, where you can absolutely imagine running narrow corridors as rocks rain down on you, or sliding under falling doorways, reaching back for your hat just in time, of course. And when you see how tree roots have engulfed many of the temples, it’s almost possible to believe the old plot line of a lost city, overcome by the jungle, housing great riches or the elixir of youth…