Angkor Archeological Park

This is the number one tourist destination in Cambodia, which is an automatic Brent repellant, but the significance of the Angkor ruins far outweighs my hate of crowds. Angkor Wat, billed as the largest religious building in the world, headlines the collection of temples. You do get the sense of a once thriving city, walking around, exploring the grandeur and details. This is Angkor Wat in early morning light.

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The Angkor Thom complex was built after Angkor Wat. The centerpiece of Angkor Thom is the Bayon. Here large faces mostly tend the four primary directions.

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Most of the smaller temples get passed by the stampeding crowds, so this is where I love to go. This quiet beauty, Baksei Kramchong, was all alone with no one around, or so I thought until I climbed the steep stairs to the top. Inside the top chamber was a little old lady, at least 80, telling me about the features in clear English. How the hell does she make it up here on her own? She has to be up there often, given her language skills. Out of respect, this woman handed me burning insense to place in front of the reclining Buddha. I took it, said a prayer, and marveled at the focus and economy of this great temple. The 10th century Sanskrit on the doorway, unique in Cambodia, refers to pre-Angkorian succession of Khmer kings, linking human to divine. Hinduism from India combined with Khmer design and flourishing Buddhism make this a perfect Cambodian capsule for me.

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Ta Prom is the jungle temple made famous by Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider. It’s fun because the trees have gripped the foundations all over the place. I like to think more of The Jungle Book cartoon with Baloo the bear and Mowgli the jungle kid and Louie Prima’s band kicking up the soundtrack. So much better in every way.

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