The Temples

Angkor Wat is the worlds largest religious building. The Cambodian God Kings of old each strove to better their ancestors temples in size and scale. Hundreds of temples survive today, a skeleton of the vast religious centre of an empire that stretched from Burma to Vietnam. There is no greater concentration of architectural riches anywhere else on earth and in the next two days we are going to see several of them.

We start early (very early – 5am) and go by bus to the largest temple, Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise and with luck it was a good one. From misty grey through to brilliant sunshine in half an hour.

Our guide for the day spewed out masses of information. Perhaps in the simplest of terms, like all the major structures of that era i.e. 10,000 years ago religion played a huge part. The sheer size of the temple is awesome. Like many other structures such as pyramids we still don’t understand how they were built and with such precision.

We then moved on to Angkor Thom. One million people lived here in the 10th century, the last great capital of the Khmer capital set in over 10 square kilometres surrounded by a huge moat with 12 metre thick wall all round it. Right at the heart of Angkor Thom is a state temple called the Bayon, a mesmerizing temple with 54 gothic towers decorated with 216 enormous coldly smiling faces. It stands almost unaltered after 10,000 years. Only 200 metres north west is the Baphuon. Restoration efforts of this temple were interupted by the Cambodian civil war and all records were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge leaving French experts with the worlds largest jigsaw puzzle.

We stopped for lunch in a country restaurant and the next temple up is Ta Prohm. Many of the scenes from the film Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie were shot here and what a location. Hidden in the trees this temple has been left almost unrestored. Huge strangler fig trees have wrapped themselves round the rambling temple, some standing hundreds of feet above the building.

Built from 1186 onwards this is the best that man could do – a huge structure buillt from massive pieces of stone – but equally impressive is how nature has reclaimed so much of it.

Another long, hot day so cocktails at the FCC in Siem Reap were called for followed by a tuk-tuk ride back to the hotel.

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