Angkor Wat: Kingdom of wonder

Saturday, Feb. 12

When Matt and I visited Cappadocia, Turkey in September, I described it as somewhere that takes your breath away at first glance.

I said it was the type of place we thought existed only in textbooks, which would never be done justice with my poor explanation or photos.

Well, we found another place just like that.

Siem Reap, Cambodia.

The city is home to the Angkor Kingdom, a temple complex built in the 12th and 13th century, spanning over 1,000 square km.

Our first glimpse of the ancient world was on Thursday at 5 a.m., waiting for the sun to rise over Angkor Wat temple.

Most visitors surround the pond near the temple’s entrance, as it provides a beautiful reflection amongst the fuschia water lilies.

We were no exception.

At 7 a.m., amongst the haze and pollution, the flaming orange sun slowly started peaking out from behind the pinecone shaped towers.

According to the Angkor Temple Guide, Angkor Wat it is the world’s largest religious building.

It took us two hours to explore the grounds in the early morning heat before moving on.

We bought a three-day pass for US $40 so we could experience the UNESCO World Heritage Sight to its fullest.

There are about 1,000 temples in the area, spread out amongst farmland and forest.

We visited 13, travelling by tuk-tuk.

The Bayon temple was our favourite.

A tall, strong and intact building, it’s what we expected most to look like. (Yet, they were all completely different.)

Surrounded by trees, the temple has a fantastic layout. From the ground, you can see the massive, smiling, stone faces on the upper terrace, which are still alive with detail.

All four levels of the temple are filled with elaborate walkways, depicting images of war and religion.

The temples in the Angkor Kingdom have bounced between Hinduism and Buddhism, and now share a number of religions.

Ta Prom, also known as the Tomb Raider temple, was another favourite.

It’s a single level, sprawling maze of broken pathways and intact doorframes, sheltered by the jungle.

Many of the walls are being strangled by overgrown trees – their roots wrapping around the walls like octopus tentacles.

While the Angkor Kingdom attracts busloads of tourist every hour, the temples are never too busy.

The crowds are dispersed over so many acres that you often find yourself alone.

Getting turned around in the maze-like passageways, with nothing by dusty sunlight to guide you, can get a bit eerie.

Even more so when a small Cambodian child appears from thin air, asking you to buy a bracelet.

Children selling goods is another huge part of the Angkor Kingdom.

After a few hours at school, kids typically join their parents at work to sell books, coconuts, postcards and pineapples.

And boy, are they ever good at their job.

One adorable little girl, who approached us with a swarm of her friends, started to cry when we said no to some bracelets. As soon as she thought we were out of earshot, she started giggling.

The next day, when Matt and I were eating lunch, a young girl came up to our table and started spewing off facts about Canada after spotting our flag.

“Canada – you speak two languages: French and English. Your capital is Ottawa. You have a population of 34 million people.”

Matt and I were so impressed that we gave her some money.

(We quickly Googled the population of Canada and found that she was right – even more impressive.)

Not long after, another little girl gave us the exact same speech, word for word.

We’re suckers.

But it’s a beautiful country, full of beautiful, kind people and amazing sights.

So we love it here.

For me, Cambodia has been the most amazing part of our trip.

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