Angkor Wat. The largest temple complex on earth. UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built over 30 years in the 12th century by Khmer King Suryavarman II as his state temple and eventual mausoleum. It is considered an archaeological and artistic masterpiece. There are causeways, elevated towers, five main towers, covered colonnades, chambers, courtyards, and walkways on different levels linked by staircases. Oh, the stairs! It felt like we walked thousands of steps, but it was probably only a few hundred. The tropical heat made it quite uncomfortable. Everywhere you looked on this vast complex, you saw etchings and artwork and repeating scrolls and statues and deities. Not a single piece of stone was left undecorated. That is saying something on a site that covers over 400 acres!
In the first three photos you can see the long approach to the main temple. After that are some photos of the moat surrounding the site….get this: the moat is 650 feet wide and circles a distance of 3.5 miles! It is humanmade, not natural, and is just huge, today filled with fish and turtles. Do you see the bridge across the moat? That shot almost looks like somewhere in Florida, but it is a huge linked-together pontoon bridge! Yep, it bobs up and down with your footsteps as you walk and is kind of spongy, but a great idea for getting across the moat.
The rest of the photos are just various scenes from around Angkor Wat. You will notice a few decapitated statues…many of them were! There were many depictions of goddesses, and a gorgeous bas relief history and mythology of Cambodia that extended on the walls forever along several galleries. There were monkeys there, of course, playing with each other. The original stone staircases up to the top of the temple had deteriorated, so you can see the new staircase…with handrails! Even so, it was quite steep both to ascend and descend. And, even though there were many people there, the complex is so large that you only encountered other people in the most popular places…the rest of the site almost seemed deserted, yet very calm and quiet. Having visited so many museums, castles, and heritage sites, it is incredible to us that once you enter the grounds (the day pass for the area’s temples is $37), you can literally go anywhere, walk anywhere, climb on anything, do what you wish. There are no guards watching or scolding. Amazing!
Beginning with the large stone-faced entrance monument, these seven photos are from nearby Ta Prohm Temple. Because it was not built with the same, stronger stone that built Angkor Wat, many of the walls have fallen into heaps of jumbled stone. As you can also see, trees have grown through the temple over the century. There is even a brace holding up the elevated tree roots!
Our impression of Cambodia is how very, very poor it seems…each store and home is tiny, and most of what you see riding around is agricultural fields and forests, which is typical of most of the country, as 80 percent of the population farms for a living. We were told by a local that it is a very corrupt country. We told him our story upon arrival in the airport yesterday: there were the inevitable long lines for passport control, which we reluctantly joined, but knew we had no choice. The line had barely moved after 10 minutes, but we kept seeing signs about visas. Up until now, in every country we visited, no visa was required for Americans for stays under a month, except Australia, which we had procured online. So, Mike went to ask a uniformed employee if we needed a visa. Sure enough, the man told us to get out of line and “follow him.” We did, walking through the passport area that said, “Diplomats Only.” He told us the visas were $30 per person (oddly, everything is priced in US dollars, even though there is a Cambodian rial), and asked for the money and our passports, instructing to wait right where we were…just behind the customs and passport control desk, saying that we were “VIPs.” Mike gave him a $100 bill. The line we had been in still looked like it hadn’t moved at all. In about 10 minutes, he came back with our passports sporting newly-stamped visas. He was holding up a $20 bill in each hand (our $40 change), and he asked, “Something for ME?” He had saved us about an hour in line, so Mike snatched one of the $20 bills and let him keep the other, and we said thank you and were on our way. As we walked past the passport/visa line to find our tuk tuk (see the last photo) that we had ordered from the Uber-like site, Grab, we noticed that the line still hadn’t appeared to have moved. We thought of the advantages of “gentle corruption.” In a less corrupt country, like the US, Germany, or Singapore, we still would have been in that line and would have ridden to the hotel during the worst of the approaching storm.
When we got out of the building and started looking for our tuk tuk, the driver texted us that he wasn’t allowed to pick up on the airport property and we would have to meet him on the public street. No doubt the taxi union has the government do them the favor of banning rideshare companies from the airports….an altogether different type of corruption, and one that is still present in seemingly “less corrupt” countries.
The Siem Reap Airport is small, so the walk to the street didn’t take long. Our driver met us right at the entrance and were soon on our way, driving through the as-yet light rain, before the torrential downpour. All in all, we would consider the two forms of corruption at the airport a net advantage, $20 and all.