Are you ready to see one of the truly best places in the world? I hope you are not reading this on a tiny smartphone screen, since you won’t be able to enjoy all the pictures of one of the most stunning temple complexes in the history of mankind.
As you can get from the title of the post, I am talking about Angkor Wat – the famous temple complex that has been built almost 1000 years ago and had been overgrowing with trees and other vegetation until systematic restoration started only a century ago.
We started our tour of Angkor Wat at 4.30 am. We rented a tuk tuk for the day, got our breakfast to go and went of into the dark night to buy our ticket ($20 each) so we could see the astonishing sunrise at Angkor Wat.
We weren’t the only one’s who had this fantastic idea as the whole area was filled with tourists who wanted to experience the same. But not even the high numbers of other tourists could take anything away from this magic moment. Instead of having a feeling of being in an overcrowded and touristy place we felt like being on a once-in-a-lifetime event that you want to share with as many people as possible. Of course this once-in-a-lifetime event happens every morning at Angkor Wat, but for us it was something amazingly special.
Technically speaking, the real attraction is not only Angkor Wat, but the entire city of Angkor. Angkor Wat is just the best known (and best restored) temple that is part of Angkor. Angkor starts about 20km north of Siem Reap and covers an area of approximately 200 square kilometers.
It used to be the capitol of the Khmer empire which in the 12th-15th century basically ruled most parts of what is today known as Thailand, Burma, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Their main advantage was the ability to grow incredible amounts of rice, due to the 3 crops they had per year.
In its prime, Angkor covered an area of more than 1,000 square kilometers and had about 1 million people living in it. Doesn’t seem like much nowadays, but this was at a time when Paris had 100,000, London had 50,000 and Berlin had 1,200 inhabitants and New York didn’t even exist yet. Walking through the old temples, I was amazed by this fascinating culture I haven’t heard anything of just a few days earlier.
Today lots of countries in the world join Cambodia in the restoration of the more than 1000 temples of Angkor. The first temple of our tour was Angkor Wat, which is already in pretty good shape but is still being restored with the help of a German university and funding from the German government.
As we continued our trip, we saw that all the bigger temples have another country who was willing to spend the resources to restore these temples. Among those countries are France, Germany, China, Russia, India, Japan and many, many more. I think it is amazing that all those countries are willing to help to keep this heritage for future generations.
There are so many interesting stories about the restoration of Angkor, like the temple that had been taken apart into millions of pieces for restoration and after the civil war in Cambodia, they had to reconstruct it without any knowledge which stone goes where.
It is therefore called the biggest jigsaw puzzle in the world. It took them decades to photograph each stone and only with the help of computers they were able to get all the stones back into the right place.
What makes Angkor so special?
I could spend hours and hours writing about Angkor, because it is so magnificent and there is enough to see to spend a whole week there (and you still wouldn’t have seen all of it). We only spent one day at Angkor and it was already enough to keep me wondering for the rest of my life about this place and how they might have lived here .
But I won’t be able to capture all of these amazing things in this one blog post, so we decided to leave you with a large number of pictures. They can much better describe what we have seen, than any of my words ever could.
I usually finish my post about the 1000 places with our answer to the question if the place really belongs to the 1000 places. This time, I think it would be a shame even to ask that question. Angkor Wat and the entire area of Angkor is truly one of the most amazing places in the world.
If you are interested in reading more about Angkor, I suggest you start with Wikipedia’s entry of Angkor. Or better yet, buy a video or book about Angkor. Of course, the best option would be to come here and experience it for yourself!