For centuries (802-1431), the Khmer Empire controlled much of South-East Asia. Consisting of a highly developed civilisation and culture, it was continually characterised by conflicts and brutal power struggles, much like today’s world. I come to Siem Reap to see the old capital, Angkor Wat (the largest Religious structure in the world) and surrounding temple complexes. Unsurprisingly, there are swarms of tourists around which for me makes the whole thing a bit underwhelming. If I had hiked through jungle for days to get here, the experience would’ve been more rewarding but I stay in a comfortable hotel for 4 nights and get a tuk-tuk on one day and cycle on another. The temples are so spread out that it takes a day to recover from all the walking/cycling around the area, where I just stay in Siem Reap town itself to take it easy. Angkor Wat was a Hindu and then a Buddhist temple and it reminds me of the old temples I seen in India. I walk for hours taking in the ornate scale of it, struggling to imagine how the hell it was built and what it was like when it was functioning in its heyday.
Torrential rain puts a brake on my sightseeing for a few hours in the afternoon on my first day. I find the jungle almost as impressive as the temples; the trees are among the largest I’ve ever seen. This whole area was lost to jungle up until the 19th century when it was ‘discovered’ by the French. In another part of Cambodia, another huge temple complex has only just been found recently. I wonder in a few centuries if there are remaining hunter-gatherer bands of humans left from the collapse of our civilisation will they stumble upon the ruins of towns and cities in the resurgent forests and jungles of the planet.
I leave Cambodia, having just seen two extreme sides of the country; the remains of its darkest episode in the modern capital and the remains of its most glorious period in the ancient capital. All that is in-between, in the ordinary lives of today’s impoverished people of the countryside and towns I pass by as I rush though on my way to Thailand. I am not in the mood to properly get to know another country and all that involves, especially not one as complex and sad as Cambodia. Life is a struggle here and I don’t enjoy being the ‘rich’ tourist. I see what I can in the short time I have and I’m on my way across the border and on to Bangkok.