Sunday, October 28, 2007

In the Footsteps of Kings

We were suitably impressed the moment we stepped off the plane in Cambodia. The Siem Reap airport is one of the most beautiful airports we’ve seen in the world and although it is only five years old, the government is building a new one. This one is too small and too close to the archaeological wonders of this place (jet traffic may damage the ruins). Of course, this city of one million people gets THREE million visitors a year and each one is charged $50 to enter the country and $40 to leave, so funding the new airport construction should be no problem.

Today we walked in the footsteps of Kings. The Angkor Archaeological Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and considered to be among the great wonders of the world, on the same scale with the pyramids of Egypt. Regardless of your religion it is difficult not to feel moved by the sheer scale of the temples of Angkor. An incredible amount of detail has been preserved in the sandstone carvings over the centuries so the temples can be quite moving on both a grand and small scale.

There are hundreds of temples within the park and hundreds more not yet open to the public (they must be cleared of land mines first). No one knows how many temples are yet to be discovered deep within the Cambodian jungles. We visited just a few during our stay and fell in love with each one. Each of them, even those built by the same king and bearing the same style of carvings, are unique. The setting of each temple adds to the magic. Some are still set deep within the jungle, while others have been cleared to be experienced much as they may have looked while the Kings and their courts enjoyed them.

We woke up at 4:30 am local time for one of the world's great experiences: sunrise over Angkor Wat. We arrived much earlier than most of the crowds and enjoyed a double dose of beauty as we watched the full moon set just before the sun rose. Angkor Wat is massive and stunning in any light, but at sunrise, there is nothing like it in the world. We have never seen the pyramids, but can tell you that the temples of Angkor are something you should see in your lifetime if you can.

(Yes, that is the temple from Tomb Raider, one of Angelina Jolie's flicks.)

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