We flew from Luang Prabang, Laos into Siem Reap, Cambodia. We’d heard stories of endless hassles and being ripped off at the land border. At the Siem Reap airport, we noted that there were about 10-12 employees at the Immigration desk, though to keep them all busy – every employee handed off your passport to the next, until all of them had touched the passport. Some employees glanced at it or made a notation somewhere, but some just passed it on. And yet, there were zero employees at the Customs desk…
Based on advice from other travelers, we decided to visit the Angkor complex, but split our visit up over two days, though we probably could have done it in one day if we really wanted. Angkor is actually a full complex of temples and other structures built over several hundred years – Angkor Wat is but one of many, though perhaps the most well-known.
We had decided to see the sun rise over Angkor Wat, so we left our guesthouse at 5:15am, arriving at the ticket window around 5:40am. I was surprised to see that the ticket office – in front of a nationally protected monument that is pictured on the national flag of the country, and is a source of fierce national pride – charged admission in US Dollars instead of in the Cambodian Riel. Our three day pass (to be used within a week) cost $40 each, and had to be shown in front of nearly every temple within the Angkor complex:
The day was overcast. We waited. The sky got brighter, but we never saw the ball rise up over the temple. Bummer. Still got a few pictures in:
We had booked a guide for the day who told us that he had to go through two years of education and pass a rigorous history test to qualify as a professional guide. He pointed out many things, including the bas-reliefs (carvings) on the walls inside of Angkor Wat. Unfortunately, the temple was made from sandstone, so natural erosion combined with some theft over the years (some reliefs had jewels in them, which became a target for thieves) has eroded the quality of them, though there are several restoration projects in the works, by foreign universities and foreign associations. The carvings are primarily stories of reincarnations of Vishnu, a Hindu god.
One thing that I found particularly interesting – the temple was built with volcanic rock, and then sandstone was laid around it as a façade:
Other pictures from Angkor Wat:
Last, but not least, Angkor Wat was used as a military fort for a long time, even as recently as the 20th century. One of the reasons this temple is so secure is that it is surrounded by a 200 meter wide moat, with only one bridge in:
After Angkor Wat, we visited Preah Khan, Ta Som, East Mebon (which was once inside a man-made lake that has since dried up), and finally, Ta Prohm (the jungle temple). We really liked Ta Prohm the best, but it started to rain shortly after we arrived, so we didnt get to stay very long.
Restoration work continues, shown here at Ta Som: