Based on a friend’s advice, I hired a guide to visit Angkor Archaeological Park. Best advice yet! It cost me $25 for a full day, plus $12 for the tuk-tuk (my guide brought his own excellent driver). I met Saron and Mr. Nan early on July 20th.
First things first: if you see Angkor Wat without a guide, it’s just a big pile of old stones. Even with a guidebook, you’ll spend hours figuring out where you are and which paragraph describes the temple or carving you’re facing. Then, you won’t know where to go next or what’s the best nearby temple – so you’ll need 2-3 days to see what a guide can show you in one day. Think of how much you spent to get here. The extra $25 for a guide (probably split between a group of 2-4) is nothing!
Here’s the first temple we saw. As an experiment, they have left the large trees growing amid the stones. Cutting them (and the subsequent root-system decay) can destabilize the stones and cause a collapse, if its not done carefully.
My guide Saron (http://www.sarontours.com/) is one of the most friendly, honest, and well-spoken natives I’ve met in Asia. His prices are reasonable, he really knows his stuff, and he didn’t try to persuade me for any shopping or donations. Besides this, I really appreciated his humanitarian outlook, as he formerly worked in community outreach and education programs. Besides explaining Angkor, he showed me Cambodia from a native’s viewpoint.
When people think of Angkor Wat, this is the temple that comes to mind:
But the Angkor complex is so much more. There are hundreds of temples, and Angkor Thom is actually a whole city interspersed here and there with temples. Each King had to build temples to the gods and to his forebears, so over hundreds of years, this really added up. Many have been restored to reach the condition they’re in today, and teams from several nations are working hard on further restorations.
There’s so much to say about Angkor, and I have too many photos! I’ll just give a brief selection of memorable moments. Here’s a comical carving (from the kilometers of wall carvings at the complex). See if you can figure it out:
The man and his wife are walking with a pole between them. But she has walked too close behind him! The turtle hanging from the pole has bitten him in the butt, so he’s upset with her.
From the correct angle, the Buddha faces seem to be rubbing noses:
Some of the temples still have moats around them. These are actually for structural reasons! The foundations were built on sand, and wet sand is more stable. Many temples collapsed when their moats dried up. The builders also learned from their mistakes: temples without enough stairways collapsed, so newer temples have more stairways angled in many directions. Think of the stairways like European cathedral buttresses.
Eventually I’ll write more posts about the fascinating Angor Wat and surrounding temples. But I hope this taste has piqued your interest in traveling to Cambodia! It’s a wonderful country, and I can thank my guide Saron for making the experience even better.