Following our six-hour bus ride up from Phnom Penh we check into a cheap hostel on the outskirts of Siem Reap and immediately begin planning our upcoming days visiting the ruins. Over 900 years old, the spectacular temples of ancient Hindu and Buddhist influence remain one of the great wonders of the world.
Angkor WatArriving after sunrise and paying the hefty entrance fees, we rounded a corner of market stalls and were suddenly stunned. We’d seen the pictures, but never imagined the incredible size of the structure itself. It was breathtaking. From the towering spires to the intricate wall carvings of Hindu deities, architecture of this incredible detail would be difficult in modern times, let alone nine centuries years ago! Kylee and I spent over four hours in the hot mid-day sun exploring the massive ruins before finally giving in to the heat. And after a few refreshing Anchor beers (copyright infringement laws are pretty lax in Cambodia) and some delicious grilled meat, we had an early night in preparation for another day of exploration.
Ta Prohm and BayonEarly rise again, we take a tuk-tuk to the area just north of Angkor Wat proper, to the ruins Ta Prohm. Equally fascinating but completely different from the previous day, Ta Prohm is a similar design to Angkor Wat, yet it’s been less preserved and monstrous tree roots have begun engulfing many parts of the structures over the centuries. After posing for the cliché photo that everyone takes, we hike a little further on to the Bayon. Aside from the intricate carvings, the real draw are the 200-some giant stone faces subtly smile out in every direction of this odd ancient ruin.
Beng MealeaOn our third and final day, we hire a motorcycle-pulled cart to bring us over fifty kilometres east of Siem Reap to the temple of Beng Mealea. Due to its remoteness, it’s one of the least visited temples in the whole area but is without question worth the visit. Built in the same layout as Angkor Wat, just on a much smaller scale, it’s been entirely left to the jungle. Aside from a few wooden bridges and walkways built throughout the structure, it’s as close as one will get to experiencing what it might have been like to stumble across these ancient ruins for the first time in centuries. It’s reasons like this that I can’t stress enough that several days are needed to really take in everything there is to see.
As much as we saw during those three days, we barely scratched the surface. It would be easy to fill an entire week and still not visit every ruin. And that’s not mentioning everything else in the area. If you ever find yourself visiting Cambodia for the ruins of Angkor, please keep this in mind. There’s so much more to see than just Angkor Wat.