At it’s height the Khmer empire spanned Cambodia all of Thailand, Laos, parts of Myanmar and Vietnam and Angkor was the capital of the kingdom. Angkor Archeological Park was (and I guess still is) the largest pre-industrial city in the world, this historical site is so immense that even after we’d spent $60 on a 7 day ticket (and started out on our bikes well before sunrise on four of those days) there where still parts of the park left unexplored.
The amazing setting would have been more than enough to keep us both happy but we were lucky enough to meet some very inspiring people there too, more on them in our next post, first, picture this…
….we have just arrived at the good bit. I feel like Indiana Jones, James Bond and Lara Croft all rolled into one but my trusty steed is verging on lame.
My rear crossmax wheel is hanging in there by the skin of it’s teeth, the split in the rim is getting bigger, about five centimetres long now and wide enough for me to fit my thumbnail into the crack. Fortunately this isn’t just any old bike, it’s a Rocky Mountain and just like all good Canadians it is politely refusing to give me any trouble.
While off-road riding requires significantly more concentration with a broken rim, Gez tells me this will improve my skill level significantly – something about reading terrain well in advance. I don’t doubt it, every cloud has it’s silver lining. Bouncing around the sandy trails in the Archeological park is truly magical (yes I have learnt how to ride in deep sand and yes I’m quite pleased with myself).
Once you’ve seen the most popular temples (the big and the famous) touring the site by bicycle makes it easier to find space away from the crowds, try riding the on top of the wall of Angkor Thom for a different perspective.
There had been much debate over why Angkor Wat was built facing West, as the setting sun symbolises death and the vast majority of Khmer temples were built facing East, towards the rising sun and new life. It is now generally accepted that Angkor Wat was a funerary temple for King Suryavarman II. This belief is supported by the exquisite bas-reliefs that show Hindu funereal rituals and the layout of the temple which recreates the image of Mount Meru, a legendary place in Hindu mythology that is said to lie beyond the Himalayas and be the home of the gods.
What king wouldn’t want to spend all eternity in the home of the gods?
King Suryavarman ll was still very much alive when the building of Angkor Wat began. Originally built as a Hindu temple in the style of Angkor Thom, Angkor Wat was repurposed as a Buddhist temple during the 14th century. Floods, time and warfare have all taken their toll on this once great city and yet so much beauty and mystery remains.
Restoration work keeps a significant number of highly skilled locals in full time work developing knowledge to train future generations and understanding of the original building techniques.
New discoveries are being made every day, major discoveries that change the way we think about the history of this part of the world The Guardian: how Nasa technology uncovered the ‘megacity’ of Angkor
Angkor Park is the perfect place for archaeologists and budding explorers (see Indiana Jones and Lara Croft).
Even though Angkor Wat is a mountain free zone I would go back in a heart beat (if you know me well enough you are aware of the gravity of this statement).
…if you prefer a faster, less sweaty mode of transport then you will need a good Tuk Tuk driver, Hongda is one of the best (please message us for further details).
Cambodia is not a wealthy country so just who is paying for all this restoration work?
Temples under restoration are sponsored by a UN member state. Expertise, training and funding are provided and in turn local people develop new skills and sustainable incomes.
In short, this place is breathtaking. We’d recommend that you get off the conveyer belt of selfie-stick brandishing tourists and give this beautiful site the time that it deserves – Hire a bike, get a good map and (at least) a 3 day ticket, you’ll find that the smaller ruins aren’t too hard to find.