Small droplets of rain fall quietly from a grey sky onto the red earth. Dragonflies flit through the air and the trees rustle as macaques swing playfully. A floating bridge stretches out across a giant lotus pond that surrounds a square piece of land.
On this piece of land, in the distance, an enormous edifice of columns, doorways and staircases looms regally. Angkor Wat. We are here. Once a collection of grand palaces built during the Khmer’s golden era, Angkor Wat is now a World Heritage Site that attracts about two million tourists a year.
On the giant territory known as Angkor Archaeological Park stand about fifty major temples. Each of them has their own name, architectural style and charm. Angkor Wat is the largest and most commonly known of these but the remaining temples are just as stunning, each boasting intricate carvings, labyrinths of stone rooms and walkways and an enchanting atmosphere that takes you back to the 12th century, when they were built.
Before you enter the park, you must buy a ticket for a one, three ($63) or seven-day visit. The three and seven-day visit can be used over a 10-day and 14-day period respectively. The territory is huge so you need at least a bike, but preferably a tuk-tuk, to get you around. This costs from $15 to $20 per day but is subject to bargaining.
Tours are often split into the “Small Tour” which takes you to the biggest and most popular of the temples, and the “Big Tour” where you visit the smaller, less famous ones.
Our first stop on day 1 was Angkor Wat. The rain didn’t deter the hundreds of visitors who were already wandering through the structure and ogling at its grandeur by 9.00am.
Despite the loud laughter and rather belligerent behaviour that some tourists displayed as they hurried to secure the best selfie positions, there was no detracting from the beauty of the structure. It is ancient beauty at its most exotic. Hundreds of dancing girls are carved into Angkor Wat’s walls, no two the same. Intricately carved lotus towers protrude into the open sky and spacious stone hallways lead you around the outside with a view to the luscious green grass below.
Although Angkor Wat is stunning, it was not my favourite temple. It is grandiose, no doubt. But my heart was stolen by the more demure, moss-covered, rundown temples that held just as much beauty and mystique.
Bayon, a richly decorated temple with over 216 unique and serene faces that stare at your from above.
Ta Prohm, a perfect example of man-made structures losing the battle against the jungle. Giant tree roots grow over and around the walls of this temple, enveloping a place that once blocked them out.
Preah Neak Pean, secluded on a man-made island that can be reached only by walking over a beautiful, wide lake via a wooden footbridge. The lake itself is spectacular and well worth a visit.
Preah Rup, a giant stone staircase leading to a panoramic view of surrounding areas. A recommended place to watch the sun set.
All in all, no-one should need convincing that Angkor Wat is worthy of a visit. But don’t get swept up in the hype of Angkor Wat. It’s just a small part of a superbly diverse collection of temples that each deserve a look.