The latest in a series of musing, ponderings, and travel recollections from my erstwhile travel companion, Burness, as he reflects upon the World Wonders of our travels. This time: Angkor Wat.
[After getting tickets] we went straight for the biggie, Angkor Wat. My expectations were very high for this one, maybe a bit too high. The approach was very impressive, a massive moat encircles the temple, along with a rectangular outer wall. There are gates on each side, but the main entrance, which we took, has a very long walkway decorated with interesting statues.
The main thing that strikes you about Angkor Wat is the size of the temple, it’s huge. It’s regularly touted as the largest religious building in the world. It has three levels, with towers on the second and third stories. Rising 31m above the 3rd level, 55m above the ground is the central tower, it is an imposing sight.
The other thing that’s unmistakable is how well preserved it is. It was never abandoned to the elements and it shows. Each story has an enclosed gallery with decorative flourishes and extensive bas-reliefs. Some of the stone carvings are incredible, my favourites were the mesmeric asparas (heavenly nymphs). There are over 3000 in Angkor Wat and every one of them is unique.
The whole spectacle is amazing, but on our first visit, I didn’t really appreciate it that much. I think maybe my hopes were too high, and we were a bit tired to take it all in. The other thing that didn’t count in its favour was the amount of scaffolding, with green tarpaulin flapping around in the wind on each side of the temple.
On my final temple day we opted to cycle round. This day ended up being my favourite. It was a pleasant to be able to approach the temples slowly, taking in the scene, and stopping whenever you wanted to. Having a few days rest helped, and I was eager to make the most out of my last day at Angkor. We visited the big three again, Ta Prohm, Bayon and Angkor Wat. Each one looked more even more fabulous. We finished off the day by going on a fixed line hot air balloon for a view of Angkor Wat. It’s a quick up and down, 20 minutes total trip time, but it was worth the hefty sum. The view of Angkor Wat was terrific, it was a wonderful opportunity to see the whole temple site at once, the giant moat, the temple walls and towers all at the same time.
Had you heard of Angkor Wat before travelling?
Yes. I've known many people who've visited it, and it's one of the biggies, isn't? I thought it was going to be a top 7 candidate.
What were your expectations?
Really, really high. I thought it could be number 1. A bit too high.
What was your first impression?
My first impression... I was a bit disappointed. It is an imposing site, it is massive, but... I thought it was going to be an awe-inspirng Wonder, I thought it was going to be spectacularly beautiful. And I just didn't get the wow factor from this one. The scaffolding didn't help. I just thought I was going to be blown away and i wasn't.
What did you like most about Angkor Wat?
I liked the intricate design, the bas reliefs, and stuff like that. I liked the asparas. [Why?] Heavenly nymphs, very detailed, all different. And 3000 of them! All unique [And topless] Yep! I quite liked the moat, it was pretty enormous, and added to the spectacle. I thought Bayon and Ta Prohm were out of this world.
What didn't you like about Angkor Wat?
I find it difficult to put into words why I was disappointed, because on paper it does sound amazing. But maybe there was something almost… I don’t know… it just wasn’t as beautiful as I thought it was going to be. It’s difficult though… the pyramids are hardly beautiful, are they? I really can’t put my finger on it. [You simply didn’t draw any inspiration from it?] Yeah. And I was expecting to be be blown away. But maybe, like the Taj Mahal, I’d like it the second time around. Without the scaffolding, maybe I'd feel differently. Probably my expectations for Angkor Wat were just way too high.
Would you regard Angkor Wat as a World Wonder?
I would have to say yes, just because on paper it is an outstanding candidate. It’s the biggest religious building in the world, it's massive, it's old, and it's very iconic. But I just don’t feel it.