We spent the last few days exploring Angkor with our friend Brendan from Washington, DC. Angkor Wat is said to be the eighth wonder of the world and unlike Andre the Giant I think it’s a real contender.
The reason I say we explored Angkor as opposed to Angkor Wat is because Angkor Wat is just one of the many sites to see – albeit the most impressive. I learned once I arrived that Angkor consists of over 1,000 temples spread out over 1,000 square kilometers — some huge, some just small piles of rubble. We mostly focused on the huge temples.
Most were constructed between the 9th and 14th centuries and many of which are in remarkable shape. Those temples that aren’t in such good shape often have trees that are 400 years old growing out of them. Lara Croft used one of these root-wrapped doors as an entrance in Tomb Raider.
Angkor Wat means “Temple that is a City” and they weren’t kidding around. It was the largest pre-industrial city in the world. At its zenith, Angkor was a sprawling urban complex with over 1 million people living there at a time when London only had 50k. We hired a tuk-tuk that drove us around; sometimes 20 miles between temples. The major upside to the massive size of Angkor and travelling during the low season is that we often had temples all to ourselves. It’s one thing to explore the crumbling hallways of an ancient civilization, it’s another thing entirely when it feels like you’re discovering it yourself.
Even by today’s standards, the scale of the temples is humbling and when you consider they were created about 800 years ago, well I guess that’s where eight wonder of the world comes in. To give you a sense of scale, Angkor Wat has a moat that just shy of a mile squared and 600 feet wide. It used to be filled with hungry crocodiles. The temple itself rises over 165 feet above the ground and the outer wall is half a mile in circumference and covered with intricately carved bas-reliefs that are about 6 feet high and depict the history of the empire. These reliefs are probably the largest art project ever undertaken. It’s not at all surprising that over 300,000 workers are believed to have constructed it.
Wandering through the temples, you definitely get the Indiana Jones vibe. It certainly looks the part, but much of the visit involves climbing piles of rubble, walking through dark ruins that seem like they could crumble at any moment and, of course, running from giant rolling boulders. Sadly, no Indy sightings.
Thursday, June 30, 2011 9:51 am EDT
Siem Reap, Cambodia