The Big Hitters

Siem Reap Travel Blog

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Banteay Kdei

Yesterday the boys and I set out for the big hitters, namely Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat, as well as a few others in their immediate vicinity.  Since we spent virtually half of Wednesday on the road, we were looking forward to closer sites, meaning not being jostled in the back of a tuk-tuk for hours on end.  It also meant we could sleep in and have a more leisurely start, which turned out to be a good thing, as Allan and Dave reportedly stayed out until the wee hours weren't so wee anymore.

Our first stop was Banteay Kdei.  Off the beaten track (relatively speaking), Banteay Kdei was quiet and peaceful and exactly what Dave needed after having one too many buckets of booze (quite literally drunk out of a bucket).

Banteay Kdei
  The downside to it being almost entirely ours meant the touts were almost entirely ours too; they hassled us for a solid ten minutes before finally giving up.  (Having spent the previous day at the temples way out of the city there were neither crowds nor touts to be had; we weren't pleased with the influx of both on yesterday's circuit.)  We took our time strolling around, admiring and musing and enjoying the drizzly morning.

From Banteay Kdei we did Ta Phrom, the temple overgrown with trees.  Ta Phrom is more famous than Beng Mealea, the Indiana Jones temple we visited the day prior.  I imagine this is because it's both closer and has had all the rubble cleared out and some restorations made, thus presenting a temple overgrown with trees to wander through, rather than rubble overgrown with trees to clamor over.

Banteay Kdei
  In any event, Ta Phrom is famous for a reason; it really is amazing to see these massive strangler figs growing in and around and through the temple.  I was thoroughly satisfied, having expected one or two trees growing over a wall, but in actuality there are several.  I don't know how many, maybe as many as a dozen.  But there are lots.  And they're HUGE.  It's very cool.

Next up was the Elephant Terrace, which is basically a long raised platform, and resembles a fortified wall from a distance.  Apparently it was solely for the king's use, and is directly in front of the old palace.  We took one look at the crumbling palace and the crowds beneath it and took a pass.  It was too soon to be "templed out;" we'd rather save our energy for elsewhere.

Banteay Kdei

It was then onto Bayon, aka Angkor Thom, the temple everyone recognizes due to its often photographed faces.  (Bayon is actually the temple, Angkor Thom is the fortified city within which Bayon can be found, but the latter's name is thrown around incorrectly.)  When we first arrived it looked like you could only walk along the bottom of Bayon and through the various hallways, but not up anywhere near the faces, which are way up on the tops of all the towers.  I started bitching about how much that sucked, how all the pictures make it seem like you come face-to-face with these massive faces, and how it was fraudulent advertising.  (China's Terracotta Warriors, anyone?)  Eventually we found a very old, steep, crumbling staircase and climbed up and found that you really can be face-to face with these bad boys, the only problem is everyone else is too.

Banteay Kdei
  So this is where all the noise from the seemingly invisible crowds is coming from.  There were BUSLOADS of people up there.  Allan suggested perhaps I should apologize to the guidebook.  I laughed in his face.

And finally, last but not least, the grand finale: Angkor Wat.  Needless to say, Angkor Wat didn't meet any of our expectations.  Amazing?  Very.  Far too much hype about this place?  You better believe it.  It also goes without saying that the crowds at Angkor Wat are INSANE.  Where do all these people come from??  And why were none of them at any of the other temples?  Do people really hit Angkor and peace out?  I should hope not.

Angkor Wat is the largest of all the temples within Angkor Archaeological Park, but it was smaller than I had imagined.

Banteay Kdei
  That is true of every temple we visited; I just pictured them on a larger scale.  I guess they get compared to the Egyptian pyramids too often.  Really, they're just temples.  And temples aren't typically massive.  I was picturing massive.

Once you get over your expectations and the hype, Angkor Wat really is great.  I probably liked it the least out of all the temples I visited, which is more praise to the others than it is critique against Angkor.  All in all, Angkor Archaeological Park is phenomenal.  A must-see.  Just do yourself a favor and make it your business to check out the others.  They're what make this place so special.

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photo by: genetravelling