Have you ever arrived somewhere and within moments felt an overwhelming desire to stay?
Siem Reap Province, Cambodia!
By visiting Siem Reap, Katie and I became 2 of the 2 million tourists who are estimated to flock here every year. Like many others we had come to see the temple ruins of the Khmer Empire, aiming to lose ourselves down the hundreds of ancient pillared corridors, climbing up uneven steps to explore dark annexes and hidden rooms…
The Khmer Empire, at its zenith, ruled much of South-East Asia and boasted a population of 1 million whilst London was just a small town of 50,000. Its beginnings in 802 to its collapse in 1431, marked a period of construction. A series of kings, each trying to out-do the last, built a magnificent range of temples. They believed the buildings would reflect their power and successes as rulers, whilst at the same time honouring Hindu (and later Buddhist) gods. The pictures above are of Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world, built by Suryavarman II in the mid-12 century and considered the ultimate expression of Khmer genius. After the Empire's collapse the temples became overrun by the jungle.
Katie and I bought a three day pass to visit some of these temples (of which there are hundreds, spread kilometres apart). It cost $40 and was valid for a week. In an attempt to try and appreciate each in its own merit we spread our three days out and did something different between them. We travelled the dusty roads between the temples in the best way possible, by Tuk-Tuk!
On our last day, we got up at 5am to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat, it was fantastic, but as you can see, packed with tourists desperate for photographs, particularly the ever present Chinese (as subtle as a brick) in their tour groups, wearing matching caps and following a guide with a Chinese flag!
One of the temples you may have seen before is Ta Prohm, the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed. It's quite incredible and seemed to me to have become inextricably linked with nature. In a similar way to the Great Wall of China, many of the temples seemed like they'd managed to merge with the natural landscape to create a coalescence of man-made and natural beauty.
So, together, the fusion of: friendly drivers in their Tuk-Tuks, delicious world cuisine, colourful markets and grand, intricately decorated architecture on an immense scale, created an experience of sheer vibrancy offering something to discover around every corner and making Siem Reap a difficult place to leave.