Angkor Wat, Cambodia

I’ve made it to Siem Reap, finally. Having little choice in the matter of stay, I tiredly check in at the hotel the bus driver very conveniently stop at late at night. Cheeky? Without a doubt. Is that the way it works here? Without another doubt. Would it help getting upset about it? Not even a little bit. The hotel has a bed and is reasonably priced, so for two nights there’s no point complaining.

A good night’s sleep and breakfast later I’m ready to explore what’s allegedly the largest religious complex in the world. It was a spontaneous decision to come here, and regrettably I haven’t done my homework. I’ve heard of it – maybe, anyway – but that’s about it. All I know is that it’s supposed to be big and famous and impressive with its palaces and temples.

A guy from the hotel offers to be my designated driver for the day. Convenient, for him, but also for me. I have no reference or idea of what the going rate would be, and surely his rate is inflated. But given my short stay I have no time to shop around, and I accept. I hop on the back of his motorbike and we’re off. He takes us out of the city to the nearby entrance to the vast complex. For all I knew he could be taking me to a dark alley where I would never be found, but I needn’t have worried. I never knew his name, but he did his job impeccably, driving me around all day, waiting patiently for me to explore all day, and meeting up at the exit of each sight.

I’m feeling a bit guilty for knowing practically nothing about this site or the civilization that obviously played an important part in the history of this part of the Asia. Lesson learned, always do your due diligence. Get a guide, or an audio guide, or a Lonely Planet, or just freaking google it. Don’t come emptyhanded to a party like this.

Despite my ignorance and unenlightenment I’m still able to enjoy it. Although I have no idea what I’m looking at it’s interesting and impressive. Maybe that’s a sign of magnificence: If you don’t know anything about what you’re looking at and you’re still blown away, it’s pretty darn awesome. The buildings are well preserved, despite the fact that tourists are allowed to walk and climb and tramp on every stone of every building. And they do.

I find a hidden gem, or so I think. A smaller building, probably not a temple, but again, I don’t know. But a tree has grown over and through it, creating a spectacular and kind of weird sight. Over the centuries Angkor Wat was hidden and forgotten, the tree has spread its roots over the room and down the walls, claiming the house for itself. It’s surprisingly empty here, and one of few places it’s possible to take a picture without people in it. Until a group of French tourists invade, chattering away, ruining the peace. A cryptic sign says To This Way in Cambodian, French, and English. Nothing else. As if the sight speaks for itself, requiring no further explanation. I follow the sign, because how could I not? Around the corner of the tree house, until I hit a wall. A dead end. I conclude that either the sign was a joke, misaligned, or they removed the sight it was referring to. I never found out which.

The grand finale is the biggest temple of them all. It looks like something built of LEGO. How many LEGO bricks would it require to build this? All of them, probably. After a day of climbing, walking, and riding on the back of a motorcycle, I’m quite content, and glad to have seen this place. My chauffeur offers to take me to see the sunset. I decline. I’ve seen sunsets before. Besides, my camera is out of battery. Lame excuse, but I’m tired.

Visitors are offered to explore it for one, two, or three days. You’re obviously encouraged to buy entrance for as many days as possible. Only having one day to spend though, for me it’s an easy choice. At a café on a drink break I share a table with a couple of Kiwis. They trek around the site at their own pace on rented bicycles, the three-day package. I wonder how you could possibly stretch this to three days, but as opposed to me, maybe they did their homework…