Posted by: vlibrizzi | October 21, 2009

Southeast Asia Trip: Angkor, Cambodia

Hello, all:  this is C. writing this post, as V. is currently having a massage.  Life is very difficult in Cambodia…

DSC_0923After a fantastic week flew by in Vietnam, we were sad to say goodbye to Hanoi yesterday morning.  With fantastic food at amazing prices, Hanoi is one of the best cities for eating we’ve been to, so needless to say we had saved one last lunch place for before our departure.  Once again we found a tiny one-room place with kindergarten chairs, and dug into some pho with the locals.  Food: delicious.  Total bill: $3.50.  Unbelievable.







DSC_0925We arrived here in Siem Reap — the town that borders the Angkor complex — yesterday afternoon, and were immediately initiated into Cambodian life.  Our pre-arranged hotel pickup came in the form of a tuk-tuk (picture to the left).  Once we had our luggage strapped down, it was a really nice ride, and we used the same driver today to take us around Angkor (which is so vast that you have to drive between sites). 




DSC_0928Shockingly, Siem Reap is more Las Vegas than Hanoi, which had to be the farthest thing from my mind before we arrived.  The road from the airport is a bit of the Strip, lined with brand new hotels, which seem to be getting bigger and bigger as they aim to outdo each other for which can look like the most lavish (read: tacky) replica of a temple.  Tourism here has come in a huge rush over the last 10 years (since Cambodia’s civil wars ended), and the development is very Western.  Fittingly, we went to dinner at a place last night that also had a traditional Cambodian dance show (picture to the left).  While it was very nice, if no one had told me I was in Cambodia, I would have guessed it was Epcot Center.

But no one comes here for Siem Reap; they come for Angkor.  And on that count, this is an amazing place to visit.  We had a wonderful day touring the various temples that made up the city of Angkor at the height of Cambodia’s middle ages empire.

DSC_1039We began with the most famous, Angkor Wat.  Unfortunately, the weather today was up and down with a few bursts of rain, but the clouds cleared for a bit to give us a good view.  The famous five-tower skyline is awe-inspiring and visible from the distance, and the entrance to the temple is fronted by ponds that offer a beautiful reflection of the facade.




DSC_1122One thing we had not appreciated before our visit was just how massive the temple itself is.  The most enjoyable part of the visit is winding your way through the various internal courtyards and passages, many of which lead to surprise new buildings or statues you hadn’t guessed were there, as the views of the towers change around each corner.  The detailed stonework in many places is still beautifully preserved, despite being more than 800 years old, and having been abandoned for most of the time since then.

However, the most impressive aspect of Angkor, for us, was not Angkor Wat itself, but rather the number and variety of temples strewn across the complex.  With a full day, you can really begin to get a sense for the scale and power of the former society. 

DSC_1082Our second temple visited was probably our favorite, and certainly the most unique:  Ta Prohm.  Referred to by our guide as the “jungle temple,” Ta Prohm is literally overgrown with moss and massive trees.  Over the centuries trees have grown through, around, and all over the temple structure itself, encasing it in a tangle of roots and causing many buildings to collapse.  I don’t know how this sounds, but it looks breathtaking.  Many times, you can’t even believe what you’re seeing, and it feels like it must be a movie set or video game, as it was a few years ago in the film, “Tomb Raider.”  The now-greenish tint of the old sandstone somehow makes the remaining temples even more beautiful. 


DSC_1118After visiting a few more minor temples (there are more than 200 overall), our last major stop was Angkor Thom, which translates roughly to “big city”; this was the largest part of the ancient complex.  The highlight here is the Bayon temple, which from afar is like an optical illusion — just a jumble of towers that make depth perception impossible and look like nothing else you’ve seen before, in a very good way.  To those who’ve been to the Loire Valley, walking around the top of Bayon is almost like wandering the roof of Chambord, with its many elaborate, eccentric spires.



DSC_1138With one exception:  everywhere you look there are faces of Buddha.  The faces are inescapable.  It’s very cool and also kind of eerie.  Naturally, we couldn’t resist the temptation, and set up a picture so that it looks like V. is giving Buddha a kiss.  I’m not sure this is what the architect had in mind back in 1181, but it was fun.

All in all, Angkor lived up to its billing as a true wonder of the world, and we’re thrilled that we were able to visit.  We’re into the whirlwind country tour part of our trip, however, so tomorrow brings another flight — this time to Bangkok, where we’ll be for just over 24 hours.  Not near enough time, but with only two weeks we’re trying to see as much as we can!



  1. Hey This is S. writing because L. is doing the dishes: The pictures are beautiful and we can’t wait to hear the stories when you get back to Frnace. Beware the temperature here has dropped significantly since you left 🙂 we miss u, and hope you bring back some noodles!


  2. These pictures are so beautiful in themselves they are breathtaking. They seem to express a lot of peacefulness. I love the picture of Valerie kissing the Budha.

  3. Fantastic and fabulous. Your pictures are at least as fine as National Geographic’s, which raised my interest in Ankor Wat earlier this year with an article.
    And Pho in VietNam. To think that I have long been hoping to have it in Cambridge. May your wonderful journey continue…..

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