Khmer Cool: The Astounding Temples of Angkor Wat & Cambodia
Anyone who considers Cambodia nothing more than a great Asian country to fly over is missing some of the most incredible sightseeing – and shopping – in the world.
The city of Angkor, with its 154 square miles of temples and monuments is like a 12th century religious version of Pompeii. If Pompeii had been designed by Alexander McQueen. A UNESCO World Heritage site, its vast array of over-the-top monuments, sculptures, carvings and ruins from the Khmer civilization will blow you away.
(Note: most of us today associate the word Khmer with the murderous – and Communist – Khmer Rouge regime that massacred an estimate 1-3 million Cambodians in the 1970’s; but the Khmer civilization was actually a Buddhist-Hindu empire stretching back nearly a thousand years.)
Angkor Wat – “Wat” is the Khmer word for temple – is the best-preserved of all the temples in Angkor, and it’s actually a massive mausoleum, with galleries, statuary and the world’s largest bas relief.
It’s located about four miles north of the city of Siem Reap (where Brand g’s Jewels of Vietnam & Cambodia vacations begin). Siem Reap is itself a chic resort town, with hip hotels, sumptuous spas, and world-class shopping and dining, all at bargain prices thanks to the incredible exchange rate. Be sure to pick up some fabulous souvenirs in Siem Reap: custom-tailored clothing, betel nut boxes, rice paper prints, silk and cotton textiles and batiks, copper art, kramas (inexpensive handmade scarves) and wood carvings. You’ll want to spend days just pillaging the stores and outdoor markets!
Angkor Wat is part of the spectacular Angkor Archaeological Park. The pomp and luxury of this vast
temple is reminiscent of an Egyptian Pharaoh; and it’s considered more impressive than the pyramids in its scope. From base to tip of the highest tower, it’s an astounding 669 feet (nearly 70 stories), and the temple is surrounded by a 295-foot wide moat that runs 3/4 mile in circumference.
The tricky steps and temple height can be a bit of a challenge if you have vertigo, but the trip is awe-inspiring. The walk to the first level is accomplishable by almost anyone without serious mobility issues. It’s a longer climb to the second level, a flat, open space that overlooks the main temple square, and a steep climb up to the third and final level; but these high perches at the second and third levels provide views that are absolutely breathtaking. Definite selfie time. Apply bronzer.
But of course Angkor Wat won’t be the only temple you’ll want to visit, by any means. Banteay Sray, Banteay Samre and the temple of Ta Prohm, which has been overtaken by the jungle aren’t far behind. Ta Prohm has tentacle-like tree roots spilling massively over the centuries-old walls like some sort of crazy set from Into the Woods. We kept looking for Bernadette Peters flying past on a broom.
The land tour portion of Brand g’s Jewels of Vietnam and Cambodia vacations (Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam) include visits to all of these spectacular temples, of course; followed by a river cruise down the incredible Mekong Delta in both Vietnam and Cambodia on the five-star Mekong Navigator. It’s definitely the luxe and no-hassle way to see Southeast Asia. But whether you choose to visit Angkor Wat with Brand g or on your own, be sure to put it at the top of your bucket list. You’ll have stories you can dine out on for months.