The only way we could get from Sinahoukville to Siem Reap by road was to back-track all the way to Phnom Penh, we didn't fancy that and so we bit the bullet and booked ourselves yet another flight. It was pleasant enough, though upon landing we careened manically across the width of the runway causing a few gasps and shrieks. Not from us though, we're tough.
Safely in a tuk tuk we arrive at our hotel on the outskirts of town. We chilled out for the rest of the evening, planning our assault on the temples of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.
Angkor Wat is around 1,000 years old, it's the biggest temple ever built, anywhere, to any god. It was originally a Hindu temple but in the late 13th century converted to a Buddhist temple.
Angkor Thom is a temple complex that was also built in the 12th century, it was the final capital city of the Khmer empire and covers an area of 9 square kms.
Like so many of the ancient cities we've seen previously, the temples were in various states of disrepair, there's a huge amount of restoration work being carried out but generally, this didn't detract from the spectacle of the monuments. The Bayon, where the fifty-odd towers were topped on all four sides with giant faces whose serene gaze followed us wherever we stood. There was Preah Khan, which had been claimed by the jungle, huge tree roots mined through the brickwork and over the roofs and doorways as if holding the structure in a wooden web, ironically it is the same root systems preventing many of the temples from crumbling to the ground. As we wandered round the jungle-temple, flash backs of playing the Tomb Raider games were all too prevalent, a huge bear bounded towards us from the shadows, oh, it's ok, it's just another tourist. The lichen on the walls, the creepers hanging down from Srolao trees and the dust that swirled mystically in the rays of sunlight helped keep the adventure alive till we reached the car park again.
There's little that can be said about seeing Angkor Wat, the magnitude, intricacy and just sheer beauty of the place is beyond description, you have to feel what it's like to see it, it sounds so clichéd and feels like a cop out to not even try, but it's too big, too beautiful to capture in a snippet like this. We loved walking around it. Every inch near enough is covered in ornate carvings, many that have been touched so many times for luck that they have become black and shiny. The views from the upper terrace was pretty good, it's surrounded by a swathe of jungle and a 190 metre wide moat, beyond that, the sun was starting to pack up for the day and the first shades of pinky-orange tinted the sky.
We visited Bantay Srei, the "Jewel of Angkor" so called because of its ornate carvings and unique design. The hour long tuk tuk ride to get there was well worth it, what the temple lacked in size, it more than made up for in detail. Again, this was a Hindu temple and the familiar effigies of Hanuman, Garuda and Naga were prominent. The position of the sun altered the hues on the red stone carvings, the bright green mosses added yet more colour to the dramatic scenes.
On our route back, we asked to stop at the Landmine Museum. We went in expecting a gruesome, yet necessary story to be told, however, what we found was a truly positive and wholly inspiring one. The museum is the public face of a facility that originally cared for kids who had either been injured by landmines or whose family had been killed by landmines and so were orphaned. Today, they do not have anyone there who has been affected by landmines, but they continue to shelter, feed and educate any child that is physically disabled (polio is still a big problem here) or whose families are too poor to properly take care of them. The school runs a never-expiring diploma system, if a kid drops out for whatever reason, they can come back at any time in the future to complete their course.
The other arm of the charity, clears landmined agricultural land for rural villages throughout the country. A mine clearer earns US$250 per month. Very sobering.
After visiting the museum, I think we switched off a little from the temple ruins, a desire to do something that matters, a need to make a difference engulfed us for a while as we sat in the back of the tuk tuk.
The temples were great, they were often beautiful, always atmospheric and the history within them was palpable, but they'd lost us, we were still 10kms back up the road wondering how we can change the world.