Cambodia's Angkor Wat

Thirty-four hours of travelling, four plane rides and a 20 minute motorcycle drive will put you in front of one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, Cambodia’s Angkor Wat.

Discovered just over 100 years ago this majestic, archeological site lies deep in the jungles of northern Cambodia, surrounded by trees, mountains and water. It was built in the early 12th century by the Khmer people and was spread over 400 kilometres. Although the wooden houses and palaces have long disappeared, the stunning array of stone temples still stands and covers an area of 77 square kilometres.

There are about 70 awe-inspiring temples in the complex and each one transports visitors into an enchanting and mysterious world. For six centuries Angkor was the capital of Cambodia and the centre of the great Khmer Empire, which once extended from the South China Sea to the Bay of Bengal.

The best view of the main temple is from the Reflection Pool as the sun begins to rise. This of course meant getting up at four in the morning, gulping down some hot coffee and setting out on a ‘Tuk Tuk’ for a 45 minute drive.

I was terrified as I sat in the small, wheeled container, pulled speedily by a motorcycle, through the pitch black streets of Siem Reap, en route to the temple complex. I was grateful that the driver had made the journey many times, for the winding roads, sudden turns and pot hole-filled streets would have left me totally lost had I taken the navigation on myself.

Upon arrival at the base of the reflection pool I was stunned by the view, as darkness slowly receded and an enormous complex of spirals, walls and statues gradually materialized out of the mist. I stared in awe as I swallowed a hardboiled egg and some more coffee, never once taking my eyes from the sight before me.

The complex was built as a shrine to the Hindu gods and later converted to a Buddhist sanctuary. During the gradual decline of the local civilization the temples were slowly overgrown by the jungle and it was not until the 19th century that European explorers stumbled upon Angkor.

Following the discovery the ancient city underwent a period of restoration until the 1950’s when it disappeared again behind a curtain of war. During the American war in Vietnam many local communists fled to Cambodia causing the US to carpet bomb the area. After one of the worst acts of genocide in history, where two million Cambodians were killed, peace returned to the region and in the mid nineties the temples at Angkor gradually reopened to the world.

Today Angkor Wat is one of the world’s top tourist destinations and although it is a little further away than Uxbridge or Stouffville I definitely recommend it for your bucket list, as you will not be disappointed.

Jonathan van Bilsen – Focus on Scugog

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