Angkor Wat, Cambodia

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On 09-10-13 we took a visit to one of the 7 wonders of the world, the Unesco site of Angkor Wat and other related temples.

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To say it is awe-inspiring is too simple – the magnificence and scale of these buildings and the complex as a whole is just not descriptive or complete enough.

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They have survived wars and nature to still be standing now, and restoration is taking place on them to try and get them back to some kind of former glory, but the buildings that are still more or less complete are a testament to the building skills all those years ago – much like the Egyptians building the Pyramids, or the Aztec and Mayan Temples.

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Angkor Wat is the most famous of them all with its skyline pictures of spectacular towers rising 65m.  Below is only one level…you have to climb up another in order to get to this section.

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The scale of the temple complex is huge – 400 square kms.  we only visited the main 3 along with a couple of smaller ones next to them, and this took a whole day from 6.30am.  (but we do tend to savour the places we visit and take lots of pictures)

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The moats are massive…

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The carvings are intricate…

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and descriptive…they have entire stories of battles depicted down huge corridors…

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The monkeys are aloof lol and they wander around eating all the packed-lunches discarded by disrespectful tourists who can’t seem to use the many bins provided and leave the polystyrene containers provided by the hotels strewn on the ground – 1 of the 7 wonders of the world, people!  grrrr

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The proper stone steps are high, slippery, uneven and very steep!

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On many of the temple buildings you won’t find any safety rails so you have to use common sense and be careful – they are slippery, steep, and very uneven and sometimes wobbly.  Best to attempt these when you have nobody behind you.

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They have built wooden stairs on the main buildings to enable people to climb more safely into some of the temples and these obviously have to be steep too, but it isn’t conducive to people who are scared of heights (ie. ME) – I wasn’t coming all this way to not get up there though, so I braved them.

Fat Russians really ought to learn patience, and the art of an orderly queue! – pushing past other people on steep flights of precarious, wobbly, wooden steps just to get up there first, is really not the way to go.  It could potentially be very dangerous, if not fatal, if they make someone over-balance due to their stupidity, impatience, rudeness and arrogance.

Yes, this happened to me (and the poor woman ahead of me) on the 2nd level of the Angkor Wat main temple, below (I was practically at the top of these wooden steps),  and if I could have removed my petrified hand from the rail, I would have punched the 2 of them for behaving so selfishly and dangerously.  The temple has been there long enough, it’s not going to go anywhere in 2 mins more.

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The only temple which got the better of me was the Temple of Shiva, where the steps on the 2nd level were just too steep and too flexible – I got up 5 steps and had to back-track when they moved and I saw that the double hand rail disappeared a little way further up.  One rail and very small steps isn’t good for balancing when you already feel dizzy!!!

As you will also see from the picture below of the first level of the Temple of Shiva, their safety measures here are brilliant.  On the left you will see a fence panel – free standing, no less – and on the right a lovely common sense sign, also free standing.  Just the thing to keep you safe from any fat Russians pushing past you with no regard for where you are.

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On a random note – They have elephants to take you up the hill to one of the other temples here, which you pay an extra $20 for.  The elephants are beautiful – we passed by very close in the tuk-tuk, and their eyes are so expressive and gentle.

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This is the one of the views as you drive between the different temples…

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We also got our first glimpse of something highly dangerous whilst here – the scorpion!  This was as we walked between temples on one of the walkways.  It’s a little blurred due to trying to get a shot from a distance past the other tourists who were stupidly trying to get as close to it as possible to have their head in a photo with it, until having to be repeatedly told to ‘stand back, move away’ by the guide as they were within striking distance!  (subtext: Do you really not know that scorpions can kill you, stupid Westerner?)

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Ta Prohm is the temple below which has been hugely publicised and promoted because of the filming of ‘Tomb Raider’ there, with Angelina Jolie.  (There is also a restaurant in Siem Reap which everyone was taking pictures of – we wondered why and researched it – apparently it’s where AJ ‘hung out’ while she was filming – Don’t understand the celebrity obsession where people have to go where they went?!)

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There are huge trees growing out and over the stones here, reclaiming the temples back to the jungle, and they are impressive and beautiful.  Sadly, they have built a platform up to the tree which is featured in the film, so that people can pose for pictures there.  Facebook, anyone???  (And people actually queue here to do this!!!)  ‘Sheep’ springs to mind.

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If one thing needs to be said about the place, it is that the vendors need to be kept out of the temples themselves and confined to the outside areas.  You will be constantly hassled to buy things whilst trying to walk the corridors of some temple ruins, and find stalls actually set up within some of them; and vendors sitting in the walkways with goods displayed on the stones with children who walk with you, thrusting goods at you, as you try to escape. You will also find dancers in traditional costume inside the main, supposedly sacred, temple, who won’t let you take a picture unless you pay the guy in charge, who will then take your camera off you and take the picture for you…what a cheek!  (we sneaked this one from above)

We don’t object to people making money, but do it outside the temples, and if you are charging for a picture, let the owner of the camera take it themselves – some people have very expensive cameras that they don’t want others messing about with.  (not me, by the way…mine doesn’t have a lens the size of a small country – yes, I have lens envy! lol)

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They also need to be stopped from ‘dressing’ the statues in the temples and then offering incense to tourists for them to bless the statues in return for ‘donations’ to the monks – it is all a scam and has nothing to do with the monks – the money goes in the pocket of the enterprising Cambodian who buys the incense, offers it to you, and stands there asking for the donations.

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They ruin what should be a quiet atmosphere, as do the other tourists who are there just to say they have been and post countless pretentious pictures on Facebook while they are actually there – the number of people wandering around this complex with I-phones and I-pads instead of normal cameras is staggering, as were the amount who were taking a picture and immediately updating Facebook.  (yes, in passing we peaked discreetly over their shoulders, just to check)

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There seem to be very few genuinely interested people who savour the architecture, the jungle sounds around them (yep, there are some if you stand somewhere relatively quiet for a moment), the presence of the temple itself in the vast swampy land with its connecting stone walkways raised above the water.

‘Speed tourism’ is what we nicknamed it, as they just zoom around, pushing past other people in order to get where you are heading, so they can say they got there first and updated their Facebook with a new picture from what it was 2 seconds before.

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A one day pass for the main complex is $20 although you can spend $40 for 3 days, or $60 for 7 days.

According to the locals, the fee is just set by a business man who paid the government for the privilege of charging people an entry fee.  He sets whatever charge he wants, and has nothing more to do with it.  Unesco are the ones who are renovating the site along with countries like India paying for the work on a certain temple, and another country paying for a different temple etc.  Basic maintenance is done voluntarily by farmers who then sell or use the grass they cut.   It seems nobody governs the vendors and scammers here, and the locals object to there being an entrance fee at all, as they believe it should be free.

For us, one day of dealing with all those obnoxious tourists and pushy vendors was enough.  (We didn’t even venture towards the area below…)

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It is also very very tiring to walk around in that kind of heat and humidity – it’s mid 30′s but feels much hotter, and you need plenty of water with you – which weighs heavy!  Some people hire bicycles from town to go around themselves, and this could be a good way of doing it, but be prepared for long distances between the different areas – there are 400 square miles after all, and the different temples are not exactly close together.  Yok, our tuk tuk driver for the day took us to the main 3 temples, waited for us in between, and gave us a little history about them.  It cost $25 for his services, and the driver has to wait for hours while you walk everywhere on each site.

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To be honest, whilst this is a beautiful place to visit, the amount of tourists and vendors spoils it, and if you were coming out here to Cambodia to visit the Temples specifically – and I mean with a genuine interest, instead of just to brag to other travellers that you have been – it just wouldn’t be worth the money for the flights – see our other post about Siem Reap here.  If you really want to experience culture and atmosphere, this will seriously miss the mark unless you can visit at 5am when they open (for those who want to see sunrise at the temples) and barely anyone else is there (for about 2 hours anyway).

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Of course, if you’re pretentious and arrogant and just want to update facebook every 2 mins with a different picture of you posed in a doorway or window, then you’ll fit right in with everyone else.  Thanks go to the two Ukrainian women who rudely ushered me backwards out of the way with lots of ‘tsks’ and hand gesturing, when we rounded a corner and one of them was posing in the walkway for the other to take the picture.

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We saw these women constantly doing this – rushing from one side to another in order to get a pretentious shot of one of them peeking round a pillar, or sat on a step…get over yourselves – you are not the only ones visiting this site and paying a lot of money to do so!!!

Try looking at the temple itself instead of updating the internet with your new profile picture of the day.

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Oh and people doing yoga poses for pictures too…yes, you can stretch like a little rubber band…now ‘ping off’ out of the way of people who want to genuinely explore the place and don’t want to wait for 10 minutes while you try out which pose looks the most impressive.

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We did a little experiment while we were here because the amount of Korean, Chinese and Japanese is staggering, along with Eastern Blockers.

Experiment:  Stand anywhere random when these people are nearby.

Look up, down, or into the distance, and point at nothing whilst talking avidly to your husband/wife/dog.

Pick your camera up to take a picture of nothing, and point again for good measure before raising the camera.

Wait 5 seconds…

You are guaranteed to have about 10 people crowd into what little personal space you may have around you, in order to be first to take the picture of the nothing you were staring and pointing at.  Because they have to be first…they have to get in your way…you are invisible.

Their rudeness and disrespect for others is astonishing – as you can see from the walkway below, it’s pretty wide and with water both sides (this crosses the moat)…and this picture was taken when it was relatively quiet at around 7am…

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Unfortunately the coach parties (which come from about 8am, and then all day) of these ignorant people fill this walkway from side to side, and they will not move aside even when you are on the edge.  We nearly got pushed off the side on this very walkway because they wouldn’t move into single file in order to let others walk.  (We were on the rough side coming out, so it’s not exactly good footing)

They are like this inside the temples too…completely filling and blocking narrow corridors, so you have to push through because they ignore your requests to ‘excuse me please’ – lost in translation or not because they don’t understand English (and I’m sorry, most of them do but choose not to) body language is pretty obvious – Get the hell out of the way, you arrogant arsehole!  And their tour guides with their megaphones and microphones…too loud, in what should be a quiet and contemplative atmosphere in the midst of jungle!

The place is totally lost on people like that.  The following temple carving is dedicated to them…

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