Posted by: HelenRortvedt | 9 March 2007


No other title would suffice. Angkor is…indescribable in many ways. But, I will try my best.

Siem Reap is a dusty, growing, frenetic town-city. It’s not a full-blown city, but it’s not a town either. If it weren’t for it’s location within striking distance of one of this world’s most impressive testaments to the strength, ingenuity and inspiration of the human race, then I imagine Siem Reap would have remained a dusty little town forever. However, as luck would have it, the ruins of the ancient Khmer city of Angkor were “discovered”by a Frenchman named Henri Mahmout in 1860, and everything changed.

The folkloric days of exploring this lost city, parts of which are still succumbing to the whim of the jungle that surrounds it, on the back of an elephant and with only a few other intrepid travelers around are long gone. Angkor-mania is in full swing. Air-con tour buses roll in from far-flung places like Phnom Penh and Bangkok and cart their load of passengers from one temple to the next for 1 or 3 or 7 days and then quickly rush them back across the border to Thailand, or back to the airport so that they can say they’ve seen Angkor, but so they feel like they were lucky enough to “skip” Cambodia. Everyone comes to Angkor. Japanese, Chinese, French, Canadians, Aussies, Kiwis, Czech, Americans, Dutch, Spanish, Germans, Finnish, South Africans, Mexicans, Peruvians, Norwegians…even Khmers [Cambodians]. And for good reason. Regardless of how you got there, how you travel from site to site or where you come from, Angkor is a place that has the power to level the playing field. It is impossible not to be awed by some part of Angkor. It’s a place that makes you yearn for the ancient past, while at the same time, makes you revel in the present moment and your great fortune to be witnessing this truly special place in the world.

Contrary to popular belief, Angkor Wat is just one of the myriad temples that remain scattered throughout the jungle of Northwestern Cambodia, and not the city itself. Angkor Wat is certainly the most famous, the most photographed and the most visited, but a trip to Angkor is so much more that just that. From the walled in 11th century city of Angkor Thom, to the temple, Ta Prohm (made famous by Angelina Jolie when a scene from the movie Tomb Raider was filmed there), to the lesser known temples of Preah Khan, Ta Som and Banteay Srei, there is magic to be found all over Angkor.

If you are disciplined enough to endure the crowds where it’s worth it and clever enough to escape the crowds for places off the beaten path, you will be rewarded. As a lover of archaeology and ancient civilizations, I was thrilled to catch my first glimpse of Angkor Wat at daybreak. We spent two days riding in style with a TukTuk driver from our guesthouse driving us from site to site and patiently waiting for us to soak up the atmosphere in each place. Our third day, we rented bikes and did it ourselves. We mostly revisited places we’d discovered in the first two days, but the 40km round trip was a much needed day of exercise after so many days of sitting on buses and in TukTuks. There is always something so satisfying about powering yourself from point A to point B and back again.

Sadly, my pictures (or anyone’s, really) don’t do Angkor the justice it deserves, but here are a few of my favorites nonetheless:

Angkor Wat, as viewed from the West Gate Causeway.

Angkor Traffic Jam. You can get around Angkor today on a network or relatively well-paved roads via car, tuktuk, motorbike, bicycle, horse-drawn carriage or elephant.
Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion. At the temple of Bayon, comissioned by the revered god-king Jayavarman VII, dozens of these placid Buddhas smile down on you. Jayavarman VII is well-known for having been one of the first Khmer Kings to embrace Mahayana Buddhism, rather than the Hinduism that reigned previously.
Bas Reliefs at Bayon. Here, warriors are depicted going off to battle. These delicate carvings have been painstakingly restored and put back in place from the piles of rubble that were found when Angkor was rediscovered.
Jigsaw Puzzle. While much restoration has been completed, every temple (even Angkor Wat) still has a giant pile of stone that has been salvaged, theoretically catalogued and left in a mess waiting to be sorted through and put back in place.
Nature reigns. Ta Som.

Ta Prohm. You just have to laugh at this sign…

Jess and I at Banteay Srei.

Detail. The temple at Banteay Srei is one of the most well-preserved in Angkor. Here, the delicate and intricate designs carved in the sandstone are every bit as splendid as the once were.

Sunset…yet again.

Angkor Feet.

Khmer 101.

I hope this finds you all well. On Sunday, Jess and I head for Phnom Penh, and then I will back track up into the northeast of Cambodia. I imagine Siem Reap is an anomaly in Cambodia. I look forward to really discovering this country in the coming weeks.




  1. Smelly –

    Wow… It’s been a while since I last checked your blog and even longer since we last connected. I had no idea you were gallivanting around southeast Asia. Que envidia!!!!!!

    It sounds like you are having an amazing time, as you should be. We miss you here. Hopefully you’ll find your way back to the states in time to come to my wedding! Yup, Sarah and me be gettin’ hitched. Yee-haw!

    So that recommendation to have me contact her about doing world issues dialogue turned out pretty well.

    We love you and miss you lots.

    Have a great time and come home safely.


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