Like a kid at Christmas, I had built the visit up to seismic proportions and maybe I had just set the bar too high or maybe the fact that I was feeling less than 100% tainted my view. Whatever the case, I rate the experience somewhat below my recollections of similar long dreamed of visits to Machu Picchu, Valley of the Kings, Petra, Taj Mahal and Alhambra.
Don’t get me wrong, the immense building was awesome, the reliefs carved into its walls intricately superb, its jungle clearing setting perfect and all in all the place is well worthy of its modern Wonder status. What spoiled the occasion for me were the other visitors and the lack of spirituality about the site, which is after all the world’s largest religious building.
The day started well. Yoyo, our tuk tuk driving friend, met us as planned at 4.45 and we motored off in the pitch black in the company of other couples, each with a common goal of being mesmerised in line with their imaginations. The walk up the pathway and into the site was respected with gratifying silence as the expectation grew. We veered off to the left to the lake, the prime standing point to watch the sunrise. Here is where it started to go wrong.
The perimeter of the lake was already 2-3 deep, long lenses trained on the temple. What was to unfold was perhaps the most selfish display of ‘I’m all right Jack’ I have ever witnessed at such a site. Those in pole position refused to yield. They had staked their claim to the little piece of lakeside and were damned if they were going to give it up until such time as Angkor Wat was standing in full daylight.
One fellow took the biscuit. He stood on a rock in an enviable central position and with his very large camera snapped and snapped and snapped. Usually mild-mannered, I am afraid I also snapped metaphorically speaking. “Will the man with the large camera stood on the rock kindly move so that some other people can have a turn at taking some nice shots. I am sure they do not want you to appear in every one of their photographs!”
The reaction around me was a mix of cheers and laughs. The reaction of the bloke? He crouched for all of ten seconds before standing up once more to his full six-foot to take another thousand pictures. Unbelievable!
After a reviviving green tea it was time to visit the temple itself. As a construction this was great. Huge stone corridors, the famed enormous pillars, ornate walls with their well-preserved carvings from the Ramayana and such like, vast chambers that used to be prayer halls. However a combination of tiredness and irritation at what had gone on before, meant that my enjoyment levels were somewhat less than they should have been.
On another day it is entirely possible that my experience would have been perfect. However, there will not be another day. My memory is set. Tomorrow we are visiting Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm, the other ‘daddies’ of the complex. I again have high expectations and hope that this time they will be met, so that I can at least say “two out of three ain’t bad.”