Where to begin? We've spent the last two days in Siem Reap and Angkor - and they've have been absolutely fascinating. Many of the people I have talked to who have traveled in this part of the world have said that Angkor is one of the most amazing places they have ever been. I can now say that unlike most things (with the notable exception of In N' Out), Angkor has definitely lived up to the hype!
Once again this isn't area typically covered by the history books in the States, so a bit of history is in order. Angkor is an ancient city built by the Khmer civilization between the 9th and 13th centuries. In their hey day, the Khmer ruled a vast territory that extended north all the way to China and included much of Vietnam. The ancient city is enormous and the ruins of the many temples, walls, and buildings are scattered all around the jungle outside of the modern (term used loosely) city of Siem Reap. The city was "lost" for many years, but was rediscovered in the 1860s - ever since the temples have been dug out of the surrounding jungle, preserved and more recently become a huge tourist attraction. Some of the guidebooks call it the Disney World of Asia, and although it was crowded at times, I find the comparison to be pretty unfair - Disney could only dream of creating something this magnificent!
The temples themselves are massive and they cover an enormous expanse of land. At times it seems like every piece of rock is intricately carved detailing some story of either Hinduism or Buddhism (although Cambodia is now predominantly Buddhist, the Khmer civilization was heavily influenced by Hindus from India). When I post my pictures (hopefully tomorrow night), I'll include some of the stone carvings - I can't even imagine how long it must have taken to build these temples. The temples themselves are in pretty decent condition considering how old they are, but a lot has been looted over the years. Walking around you can't help but imagine what they must have been like in their hey day.
We arrived yesterday morning and spent most of the day hiking around the temples with our guide. After a quick introduction to the temples at Preah Khan, we spent most of the day at Angkor Wat, the main temple (and the one you would recognize if you've seen pictures of Angkor). Angkor Wat is the world's largest religious building and we spent our time exploring a good chunk of it. For me, one of the coolest parts of Angkor is you can pretty much climb all over everything - they don't like you to climb on the actual statues, but everything else you are free to explore. I had a blast finding different nooks and crannies and freaking my parents out a bit by getting too close to the edge at times!
Speaking of my parents - I have to say my mom has been a true tomb raider. I know I make fun sometimes, but she hasn't shied away from anything and even conquered a long standing fear of heights by climbing an almost vertical stair case to the very top of Angkor Wat! And this morning, she said "screw it" and jumped on an elephant with my dad (smashing tobits the previously mentioned "two trunk lenghs at all times" rule). All in all an inspring effort put forth!
Angkor is hard to write about - it is definitely one of those "you gotta see it to believe it" type places, but hopefully some of the pictures I upload later will do it some justice. It is a truly remarkable place and for me, an experience that has made me think long and hard about the real differences between "ancient" and "modern" - the people who built these structures were incredibly advanced, uniquely talented and extraordinarily creative.
One random tidbit, according to our guide, Siem Reap means "Siam Lost" and refers to the fact that the Siam (or the Thai) lost a war to Cambodia. It's kind of like having a city in Massachusetts called "YankeesSuck."
In any event, tomorrow is our last day in Cambodia - we fly back to Bangkok tomorrow night. After that my parents head home and I continue on to Vietnam for two more weeks before I head back to the States myself. My time is quickly coming to an end, but I know experiences like the past couple days in Angkor will be with me for quite some time. Hope all is well stateside!