Aug 25, 2010

The Amazing Ruins of Angkok Wat

We arrived in Siem Reap, the city closest to Angkor Wat early in the morning, and were able to obtain our visas at the airport for $20 each. The van from our hotel, La Maison d’Angkor picked us up. La Maison is a wonderful little hotel built in Khmer style that is like a garden oasis in the middle of the city.

We prebooked an afternoon tour of Angkor Wat with Buffalo Trails. The ruins at Angkor Wat are some of the most impressive we have ever seen and cover a vast area. The tour included the main temple area of Angkor Wat but also took us down a short trail to a small village where the ladies were weaving baskets. Most of the village homes were basic structures built on stills but some were more modern stucco buildings. It was a mixture of traditional and modern amenities with water supplied by a well but many people had cell phones and motor bikes. A thousand years ago it was a metropolis of one million when London was a small town and only Native Americans lived in what is now New York State.

The second day we hired a tuk-tuk for $15 and explored the ruins on our own. He took us where we wanted to go, waited, and showed us best place for lunch. Excellent value. At one temple complex, Ta Prohm, an inscription on a stone in Sanskrit told something about the temple. In Ta Prohm there were 3,140 villages, it took 79,365 people to maintain the temple, including 18 high priests, 2740 officials, 2202 assistant and 615 dancers. Among the property was a set of golden dishes weighing more than 1100 pounds, along with diamonds, pearls, and other valued items. As the area declined in power and population the jungle took over. In many areas the jungle has been removed but some of the tree roots in Ta Prohm temples have been left in place. The roots of the banyan and kapok tree are an impressive site and look like huge snakes which we found interesting since the snake, called Naga, is an important part of their Hindu history. Long stone Nagas border most of the main entrances to the temple complexes.

It would take weeks to see all of Angkor Wat and a tour is necessary to get a feel for the place but much of the story line that go along with the carvings are from the Hindu religion of which we have almost no historical background. We try to learn a bit more each trip.

One day our son, Jim, rented a bike for $1 and explored the temples on his own. There are many ways to experience Angkor Wat including from a fixed balloon and elephant rides to the top of a temple hill to watch sunset. All are great. Most people spend three days at Angkor Wat. The complex is huge and there are many areas still not uncovered. Since our last visit to Angkor Wat in 2004 the number of high-end hotels has grown dramatically and so have the number of tourists. Three-day admission is still $40. They have added wooden walkways and stairs in some area which makes it easier for tourists and protects the stonework.