We flew from Chiang Mai to Siem Reap via Bangkok. Thanks to a last minute booking, we got a great deal on a beautiful room at Cafe Lodge Hotel that I nicknamed the “honeymoon suite.” I think the people in Cambodia were the nicest of all of the countries we visited. The hospitality is supreme.
This is an original Khmer villa, which is now a restaurant called Cafe Indochine serving up traditional Cambodian food.
There we met Barbara and Gail, with whom Natalia had shared a train car on the overnighter from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. They are from Westchester, New York, of all places. Jewish geography, as they say. Hope to run into you in Mamaroneck someday, ladies!
The next morning, we started bright and early in a futile attempt to escape the brutal Cambodian heat. Ever hear somebody say, “It’s not the heat; it’s the humidity!”? Whoever came up with that has obviously never been to Cambodia. It’s both!
Angkor Wat, the main attraction, is unbelievable.
There were once nine of these towers, but today only five survive.
Angkor Wat was built in the first half of the 12th century during the Khmer Empire’s Hindu period. It was dedicated to the god Vishnu.
The structures lay in ruin until “discovered” by a French historian in the 19th century.
Exploring the ruins, I would try to imagine what this place was like when it was part of a bustling metropolis. How did an ancient society have the technology to create this?
Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. This is just one side of a huge complex, which is even surrounded by a moat.
The site is enjoyed by human and beast alike. Don’t forget to hydrate!
The next place our driver took us is called Angkor Thom, another complex which encompasses several separate temples. This one is Bayon. The many ruins located in Siem Reap are very spread out. Evidence suggests that the city covered an area nearly the size of Los Angeles.
Bayon is from the Khmer Buddhist period. It’s famous for its mosaic faces.
Baphuon, a Hindu temple of Shiva. A giant reclining Buddha was added to the back when a later king embraced Buddhism.
Here we noticed a heavy police presence. When Natalia asked one of the officers what was going on, he told her that the Queen of Thailand was there visiting the site at that very moment. Natalia spotted her, trying to go incognito behind a pair of huge sunglasses.
After lunch, we were off to Ta Prohm, better known as the Tomb Raider temple because scenes from the movie starring Angelina Jolie were filmed here. When we got our picture taken next to this tree growing on top of the temple, we thought we’d seen everything.
Wrong. Many trees call this temple home. Mother Nature always wins.
Over centuries, tree roots have caused stone walls to collapse into piles of rubble.
The intricate stone carvings of many of the ruins we saw in Siem Reap were once colorfully painted.
Lastly, a point of contention I have with many guidebooks. In my opinion, one day of touring the temples is plenty. I encountered a lot of advice suggesting that while one day is enough to rush through the highlights, it’s better to spend three days in Siem Reap to take it all in. I completely disagree. While these ruins are incredible, I cannot imagine three days in a row of walking around in the sun with temperatures exceeding 100°F. Unless you are an archeologist and can appreciate all the specifics of the 40+ sites, you will feel more than satisfied just going to the major ones.