Living up to the Hype: Angkor Wat

Cambodia’s famed temples of Angkor Wat were something we knew we’d need to see before leaving Southeast Asia. However, we had our reservations. By February we had spent 5 months in Asia, and had seen our fair share of temples. We visited Bangkok’s glittering Grand Palace. Without a person in site, we biked through Bagan’s stupa-studded plains. We sat Indian style as monks meditated before us in Himalayan temples. Needless to say, after these experiences we didn’t have high expectations for Angkor Wat. We were fully prepared for the temple complex to resemble Disneyland – with mobs of tourists and long lines – more than, say, the setting of Lara Croft Tomb Raider.

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And Disneyland it was, but the magnitude, age and quality of the temples compensated for the crowds. Maybe it helped that we had low expectations or maybe we are just suckers for a good ‘man vs nature’ showdown but something about this place engrossed us – to the point that four days of touring didn’t quite seem to be enough. A dozen massive temples, and several smaller ones, comprise the Angkor Archaeological Park, which is larger than New York City. Angkor Wat is the largest, most intricate and best preserved of the temples.

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Interestingly enough, we found the worst preserved temples to be the most fun to visit. They were far less crowded. The jungle crept ever closer with giant trees seemingly strangulating the structures. Roofs collapsed long ago and stones lay in heaps as they have for centuries. No one is quite sure what happened to the sprawling empire of the Khmer. One thing is for sure though, man is no match for nature.

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