Cambodia – Angkor Wat

IMG_4006We flew out of Da Nang for a one hour flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia. We had just experienced a typhoon pass through, just a little fella, while we were in Hoi An having what was supposed to be our beach/pool break on the coast. I was excited to see some of those white sand beaches and blue waters from the pictures but we experienced massive storm surge and the most intense wind and rain I had ever seen. We knew the little typhoons broth was roaring towards the Philippines  and we took off with fingers crossed that we could stay ahead of it for what was going to be the jewel of our whole trip, Angkor Wat.

The main temple is actually within a large complex or city of temples built by several different kings of the Khmer people from the 10th to 14th centuries. It’s thought that there are some 200 temples in Cambodia’s jungles but less than a hundred are accessible. When the empire collapsed 16th century the temples were all swallowed by the jungles and would be forgotten for 400 years. After the French captured and colonized the area into the country Indochina they began discovering some of the temples and were startled by the extent, size and detail of the buildings that they were finding. French archeologist were traveling to Indochina to begin conservation and exportation and word quickly spread after the discovery in the early 1900’s.


Angkor Wat is the largest of the temples and is dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. Many of the temples are dedicated to Hindu Gods but a few of the kings of the period did convert to Buddhism and dedicate there temples and artwork to the Buddha. Since Buddhism is the state religion of Cambodia there was much more local activity and prayer at those temples while the majority of tourist crowded around the more well known Hindu structures.

Many of the temples are just outside of the large city of Siem Reap making them very accessible. We visited several of the jungle temples which had become overgrown by large Banyon trees over the 400 years. Many of the trees seemed so artistic the way they rooted themselves around giant Buddha heads or framed the great entrances to the temples. The trees were over 100 feet tall and their massive roots broke through walls and ceilings over time.IMG_3973

I felt the whole place had a very Indiana Jones feel to it but the guides assured me that this was Tomb Raider country and surely as an American I must know of the great Actress Angelina Jolie!! All the other guides and hawkers seemed to mutter her name in agreement when ever “Angelina Jolie” was mentioned. It was hard to try and explain to the guides that Vanessa has told me that we cannot support that witch Angelina because of what that mean Brad Pitt did to the nice Jennifer Aniston girl who we like better…this drew decidedly blank stairs and in a firm tone I was reminded that this was the Angelina

Tomb Raider temple!

Our first day was capped off with a delightfully large bowl of green curry with eggplant, potato and carrot and a side of stir fried garlic Morning Glory, which is like green onions and is served everywhere here. Belly full, we approached the astonishing main temple of Angkor Wat. I don’t usually feel giddy about tourist destinations but this first glimpse had me filled with that sensation that I was looking at something far bigger than I was. Like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time but with the overlapping awe of

It being made by men completely lacking anything we would call mechanical technology. I have not seen the pyramids but the amount of stone that was used here was enormous to think of in terms of how it might have been moved. Not only the size but also the detail was mind blowing. The temples are almost completely carved from top to bottom in intricate depictions of both Hindu and Buddhist scripture and in the life story if the king who built them. Angkor Wat was a powerful first visit and we decided to return each day to revisit it and try to take its full scale in.

Our second day involved travel 30k out into the country to see several smaller jungle temples and the famous Lady Temple.  It was the only one of its kind in the area that was completely made of a very rare pink sandstone which made it look similar in color to Petra in Jordan. Yes, Indiana Jones was there too, I know. This was a Buddhist temple which the deepest level of engraving into the stone of all the temples. Pictures had a depth of an inch or more into the sandstone but the artist completed it in only three years. It was small in size but the amount if carving and the mix of colors from the red stone to the green moss was kind of hypnotic when you satires at it all. Faces of Buddha emerging from scrolling text, ancient languages mixed with animals and demons. It was just impossible to capture on camera.


We stopped several times on the drive to see how Teak furniture was made, how sugar palm was turned into local sweets and paused to watch rice in various stages of growth, just, to watch it I guess. There is so much rice here that its looks like an ocean of green and yellow moving in the breeze all within a field, flooded with water, and dotted with buffalo and glimpses of rice hats bobbing up and down above the rice. They can harvest two crops a year of rice and it involves furious amounts of work followed by 4 months of waiting. With almost no family being able to own a tractor it is a mighty collective effort of Villager and Ox.

We finished a long day of driving with a hike up a small mountain to watch the sunset over the countryside. The sunset was unremarkable but the sea of green and blue reached out to the Mekong river delta and was pleasantly quiet after the tumult of traffic and honking in Vietnam.

We rose on our last day at 4am to take in the sunrise over Angkor Wat. It was a mass of tourist but the excitement of the United Nations of the world was palpable. The communal feeling of 10,000 people watching the sun come up and stand content in the thought that they had accomplished one of their bucket list dreams. The accumulation of Wonders of the World list can seem very arbitrary and silly to me but this place put me in awe. Maybe I do need to see what else is on that list after all….

Back to the lights and the sounds, and yes all the honking, that is Saigon. Maybe another Tiger beer, 3-4 more bowls of Pho, one giant approaching typhoon and on to the west coast of California. See everyone soon.