Blog Lifestyle Travels

Angkor Wat

The Land of Temples

The best way to get to Angkor in Cambodia is via Bangkok, Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, taking a plane to Siem Reap. Siem Reap is not the capital of Cambodia, but it is the closest town to the archaeological site of Angkor. Except for hotels that are springing up like mushrooms, a small airport and the archaeological site, there is absolutely nothing. No one has cars and poverty is quite remarkable, in this place you’re lucky if you have a family, because there are no old people (almost all were killed by Pol Pot) and if you are in one piece, I have never seen so many mutilated people in one place. At least one in four has an amputated limb. Cambodia is a divine place but it could leave speechless. When I went to Angkor, the border had just been opened to tourism and it was already full of luxury hotels under construction, which will almost certainly all be finished by now.

I would recommend to anyone who wants to visit Angkor, to hire a car with driver to go to the most important and famous temples in the area, since there are about 3000 on an area of 77 square miles, many of which still unexplored because covered with strangler fig trees. These trees grow up to 40 metres tall and their roots swallow everything they find, unfortunately, also the temples, destroying them. The temple complex of Angkor was built around 1000 years ago and inhabited by monks until about 1500, after which it was abandoned and rediscovered by the French in 1860. I bet they couldn’t believe their eyes when they found the temples, they are beautiful, fully carved, and each stone was brought from another location about 50 km along the river, because in the area there is only earth and sand. 

Wat Ta Prohm and Angkor Wat are amongst the most famous temples, Ta Prohm is the one with the huge tree roots and where Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie was filmed, while further away is the temple of Banteay Srei, which is the one with the most beautiful bas-reliefs.

Visiting the archaeological park is absolutely safe, but one must be careful not to venture into the “wild” because of mines. The mines were placed during the civil war, and this is why unfortunately there are so many mutilated people. 

A local delicacy are caramelized grasshoppers. I personally didn’t have the courage to eat them, but when one evening they served me a mousse with a rather large insect of unknown species on top, by mistake, instead of protesting, I just moved it and ate the rest, because I think they would have thought I was weird sending it back, considering that they eat them.

One day was dedicated to a boat trip along the Tonle Sap river, where on one side live the Vietnamese and on the others the Cambodians, they are not exactly in idyllic relationships but live together in their stilt houses or boats. The school floats and instead of the students going to school it’s the school that goes to the students. The river life is quite active, but this river is very special. Twice a year it changes its flowing direction, while during the dry season it dries up in the Mekong river and during the rainy season it becomes a huge lake, where it’s quite common to find children floating along in huge pots. Cambodia is a truly spectacular place that is well worth a visit, but it has two contrasting sides, on the one side the beauty and solemnity of its temples, and on the other the awful signs of the civil war.

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