Siem Reap, Cambodia : Home to Angkor Wat a Poetry in Stone.
I recently visited Siem Reap in Cambodia to see the Angkor Wat temple, the largest religious monument in the world. To my detriment i had gone with very little knowledge about the country or the temple itself. But what unfolded in the next three days were history lessons, engineering lessons, stunning architecture and a window into a country picking itself from a genocidal rule and abject poverty. A visit to the Angkor temple begins at Siem Reap, it is the second largest city in Cambodia after the capital Phnom Penh. One hour by flight from Bangkok, Siem Reap is very accessible for Indian Travelers and affords Visa on Arrival. Hotel's will send Tuk-Tuk's (a modified Nike with a carriage attached, very similar to our Autorickshaws) to pick up the guests. The entire city it seems has been taught hospitality, well except for the hawkers who will offer massages and'boom - boom'.
Visiting the Angkor temple complex requires a little bit of planning and some knowledge of the place and the layout will help. Angkor Wat is the largest temple in the entire complex which contains several other temples scattered around a perimeter of 35 kilometers. Agkor Wat literally translates into City temple and is situated in the city of Angkor Thom which was the biggest city in the world in the pre Industrial revolution era. It is difficult to explain the scale of the temple, the first sight of the temple itself is an experience. Stretching across the plane of sight is a huge moat and in the centre of the moat rises a temple that was built in the 12th century as a replica of Mount Meru. Legend is the temple was built as a pathway to heavens for the then king Suryavarman. The best times to visit the temple are when the crowd is minimal. Early morning for those who can make it, or mid afternoon for the rest.
Now that the context has been set, a few pointers for anyone planning to visit. Give yourselves time to explore the complex. We decided to rent cycles that we used over the two days to peddle around the perimeter to visit the temples that we found alluring. We had no fixed intinerary or a plan. We simply cycled till we found a temple or a spot that intrigued us. When we did we walked around the temple, we talked to the locals, tried to guess the multitudes of statues on the stones, and imagined what would have inspired kings to build such magnificent temples only to abandon it later on. What appears to be a moat around the temple is actually a piece of Engineering genius which has allowed the mammoth structure to stand tall in an area that becomes a marsh during the rains. Over the space of three days we were able to form a picture of why and how the temples were built. For every visitor i encourage to you to ask the locals about the Khmer Rougue regime, about landmines, abut rehabilitation and about local economics. Help yourself to the local cuisine, and if you're adventurous with food then try the Alligator Pizza.
While the city of Siem Reap itself is quite charming, a trip to Siem Reap is incomplete without a stop at famous Pub street. The day might belong too the 12th century temples but the night belong to Pub Street. Treat yourself after a long day to a nice foot massage, try watching a kickboxing game with the locals, visit the Landmine Museum or choose to relax by the pool in your hotel. I recommend three days to be spent at Siem Reap if you want to skim through the place, but at the end of three days you will be left wanting to stay on and visit the complex one more time, to be awed one more time and to just be stunned into silence just that one more time.