But is it any good?
I think it’s ok. It is worth visiting, but not for too long. Bits of it are impressive and as it’s regarded as probably the world’s largest religious structure, it demands respect.
The temple is actually part of the Angkor Archaeological Park, which contains the remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire that date from the 9th to the 15th century.
It’s the most famous site on the park, so we stopped there first. But really it’s just a huge temple complex, with many plain parts, and with lots of faded carvings which overwhelm by the sheer force of their numbers and lose their impact the longer you are there.
To give an example of its architectural splendour, Angkor Wat itself has more than 3,000 apsaras, or heavenly nymphs, carved into its walls, each one a unique design. There are 37 different hairstyles shared between them, also.
Now archeologically, that is remarkable. But seriously, how long do you want to stand around, looking at wall carvings? And while each might be unique, the differences are very subtle, so they don’t immediately strike you as individuals. While these are lovely carvings, how massively different do they look?
The carvings are superb, don’t get me wrong. You’ll note the faces of these ones are scratched out – that’s probably because the Khmer Rouge abolished religion and would often deface or behead any Buddhist imagery.
When we left Angkor Wat, Adventurous Kate and I hopped back into our tuk tuk, driven by the excellent Mr Mean.
I liked saying his name a lot, because it was so at odds with his demeanour. (It turns out you pronounce his name Me-An, but he introduced himself as Mr Mean, so it stuck). If you ever go to Siem Reap, visit New Angkorland hotel (a very decent place to stay and quite reasonably priced) and ask for Mr Mean as we booked him through its reception, so they should have his details.
He took us down the road to Bayon, part of the city of Angkor Thom and on the way you pass these fellows on a bridge with a once-grand entrance, making you feel like you’re entering a secretive, lost city which could count King Kong among its residents.
The many faces to be seen at Bayon are similar, but located in different parts and positions around the temple, making them very photographable. They’re thought to be of Loksvara, Mahayana Buddhism’s compassionate Bodhisattva, or perhaps a combination of Buddha and Jayavarman VII, the king who built the temple.
My money’s on the latter. You know kings and queens and authority figures everywhere – they give, but they like to be recognised for having done so.
After a spot of lunch, Mr Mean expertly took us to my favourite part of the temple complex, the brilliant Ta Prohm.
I’ve a three-temple maximum, as I’ve previously mentioned in other blog posts. This was the third of the day, the best and one of the most remarkable I’ve ever seen.
This temple complex was abandoned for centuries, and as a result has been overgrown by giant trees, who have dismissed man’s feeble attempts at making a mark on the land, simply pushing their way past mere stone.
It now looks like where Indiana Jones would go for a weekend break, and actually the first Tomb Raider movie was filmed here. Closest I’ll ever get to Angelina Jolie, probably, although I did used to live on the road where Lara Croft and her game was created, in Derby.
Here’s another Buddha to be found inside Ta Prohm.
Finally, Mr Mean took us to Banteay Kdei, a monastic complex which is in poor repair but is slowly being restored. Now this did break my three-temple rule, but despite feeling a touch of temple fatigue, I enjoyed seeing this one also.
The nun you see here gave Kate and I a blessing and tied coloured string round our wrists. I wondered if they’d last the week, but more than a month later, it’s still on both our wrists!
Finally, as we left Banteay Kdei, I bought a Coke for Kate, Mr Mean and me. The woman who sold them was a charmer – look at that smile!