We saw the grand temples of Angkor and, to be perfectly honest, I have pretty mixed feelings about the whole thing. Most people gush about how great Angkor is, so let me explain a little. The temples themselves really are incredible, no doubt about it. They are beautiful, detailed, and enormous. We spent hours exploring some of them. Even the park itself is huge and driving between the temples takes up a lot of time. My favorite parts, though, were the murals carved in the walls. Most of them are of mythical war scenes, but a few show scenes from daily life. Some of them are so intricate, you can see tiny details like the different pieces in a chess game.
Our favorite temple was the very last one we saw, Banteay Srei. It’s about an hour’s drive away from the others and we decided to see it at the last minute. I’m so glad we did! Made out of pink sandstone and covered in decorative carvings, it’s like a miniature, dainty version of the other temples. It’s all very well preserved, too, possibly because they have it roped off and you can only see parts of it from a distance. Even from a distance it was still my favorite, though.
So it wasn’t the temples that let me down.
What left a bad taste in my mouth was how the area is managed. For example, one morning we got up to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. ??Unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed by the whole experience.?? There were hundreds of people there, all crowding around the lake, talking, taking flash pictures, and generally being obnoxious. Locals were selling coffee and spaces on blankets to sit on. Then touts were bugging us, which is pretty much constant all the time, but super annoying.?? And then, to top it all off, the sun started to rise and it was really beautiful at first, but then as it was getting lighter we could see tons of scaffolding and tarps covering up part of the temple! Biggest disappointment ever. To be fair, I was expecting a really peaceful, magical, moving experience, but as Brad said, “I think we’re here 30 years too late.” It is definitely not an undiscovered gem!
The people here are extremely proud of Angkor Wat. It’s even pictured on the nation’s flag! Since it’s such an important national treasure, I feel like they should take better care of it. Limiting the number of visitors, not allowing touts to bug people, and cleaning up trash all seem like good ideas to me. It would also be nice if they didn’t have so much construction going on during peak season. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I had a much more pleasant time exploring the temples in Ayutthaya. I don’t want to sound like Angkor is a waste of time–it’s not–I just wish I had been better prepared for all the crap we had to deal with. Anyway, check out our pictures and judge for yourself.