People are like sheep. Tell them that this particular temple on this particular hill is THE place to view the sunset, and they’ll go there (or their tour buses will take them). As a result, come 5pm the normally overrun temples are nearly empty for the rest of us, and there is a great stillness (in theory, this is true for sunrise at 5am as well, but despite our intentions, we never tested it out).
The sunset view from Angkor Wat, the largest and most grand of the many Angkor temples, is nothing great. The sun falls behind a parking lot filled with vendors and waiting tuk tuk drivers and in the distance a tethered hot air balloon takes tourists up for an aerial view of the complex (like a ‘white diamond’, it floats over the jungles). But inside the temple the light of the magic hour casts a rosy glow onto the sandstone pedestals and bas reliefs of the 900 year old structure.
We were warned ahead of time Angkor Wat would be over touristed but it’s one of those places you just have to see anyway. It is true, there were busloads and busloads of packaged tour groups, predominately South Korean and some Japanese, but there is something magical about these stone monuments that are testament to a deep faith (and the power of the monarchy).
In the grandeur of Angkor Wat, or the enigmatic faces of the Bayon, or the intricate carvings of Banteay Srei, there is a reminder of the beauty and majesty that man is able to create. At Ta Prohm, the trees have so encroached on the temple that they couldn’t be removed without damaging the structure. Huge ancient trees strangle the stone walls to poetic effect (watch the end of Wong Kar Wai’s ‘In the Mood for Love’ and you will see why we wanted to come here). It’s a good reminder that as powerful and awe-inspiring as the works of man can be, nature is always stronger.