It’s hard to say anything new about Angkor Wat. After all, people have been talking about it for nine centuries or so. People call it the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and dream of visiting. Heaps of those dreams become reality, judging from the throngs of tourists. Would we be able to hear echoes of King Suryavarman II’s footsteps in the stones, or would they be drowned out by the din of hawkers trying to sell us a Fanta?
Karen and I hiked to the similarly-hyped, similarly-touristy Machu Picchu in 2007. As amazing as the ruins are, hiking the Inca Trail and spending time with friends was just as important to our experience in Peru. At Angkor Wat, we knew to keep our expectations in check and our eyes open for unexpected highlights.
Based on an online recommendation, we hired a tuk-tuk driver named Fickry to cart us around for three days. That’s common- having your own driver gives you the ultimate flexibility and only costs $15 to $25 per day, depending on distance traveled.
Fickry was a great find for us. He’s studying English, with the goal of becoming an Angkor Wat guide (with the corresponding increase in income). He was happy to answer Karen’s questions about Khmer life, and she had plenty of time to ask them, while waiting for me to finish snapping photos of yet another temple. If you’re making the trip and need a tuk-tuk, let us know and we’ll put you in touch with Fickry.
Wait a sec, why would you need 3 days and a driver to see one temple?! While Angkor Wat is just one temple, “visiting Angkor Wat” has become a sort of shorthand for exploring the many Khmer temples outside Siem Reap.
It’s amazing to think that this poor, struggling country used to be the seat of the powerful Angkor Empire, which ruled for centuries and reached into modern day Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Malaysia. Now they can’t even get the garbage collected.
The intricate carvings of Angkor Wat, the grandeur of Angkor Thom, the crumbling remains of Ta Prohm. In their day, these stones conveyed heroic tales and engendered respect in the common man. It’s hard to imagine rising up against an empire that built this…
There’s much to see and gazillions of photos to take- don’t worry, only the best make it onto the blog. Our tour of the temples of Angkor will continue in the next few posts. It all starts at the intriguing, sprawling, daunting Angkor Thom.