I've wanted to see the Angkor temples for a long time and am struggling with the disappointing reality... The temples are amazing, the history and the work being done to restore them are absolutely incredible - however the entire thing has been turned into almost a tourist circus... (note that I tried hard to NOT capture this in photos, including often waiting many minutes for a room to clear for a few seconds)
I completely understand that this is a key source of income for people in Siem Reap and that many of them survive off it completely, however the constant nagging to buy things (some of the most persistent I've ever seen in my fairly broad experience) combined with the overcrowding of foreign tourists combines to destroy most of the sense of wonder. Instead of a few days of something amazing I'm getting short bursts of amazing things hidden in the rest.
For example, due to the pressure of the tourism industry costs for many things are very high - in some situations considerably higher than in the US! A typical light breakfast or lunch will cost close to $10, bottled water costs $1, etc. Some bargaining can be done but in general the costs are higher than I expected. This is very strange when contrasted with the fact that my hostel room is $12/night and I paid Sapo (my scooter driver) $15 for an entire day's work...
That said, I have been having a lot of fun. Yesterday I made the mistake of wandering around town and hiking out to the Angkor Wat on foot. I was able to see a lot of the city and meet many people, as well as crushing my feet. I hike quite a bit, but apparently it's different in high humidity and heat - as a result I have a number of unfortunate blisters. In total yesterday I walked 13 miles... but got to explore the most famous temple, the Angkor Wat!
By the time I got home around 5PM I was exhausted and decided to take a quick nap - before long I had slept through most of the night. Luckily I remembered to set my alarm and woke up at 4:30AM to meet Sapo at 5AM to go see the sunrise over the Angkor Wat. Another unfortunately tainted experience - it was so beautiful, and yet there were hundreds (possibly thousands) of people that slowly crammed into the courtyard to watch it. By the time the sun had risen and I left I was completely staggered at how many people were there. The most annoying thing to me was all the people taking photos with their flashes on at night, trying to capture the temple a hundred yards away... idiots! :)
After the sunrise we went off for breakfast and a whirlwind tour. I got to see and explore many temples and they were all quite beautiful. Some of them were very overgrown and dangerous while others were much safer and had a lot of recovery done. In all, aside from the occasional crowd of people (one temple was so crazy I could barely move) and all the nagging vendors it was a great experience! We finished at Angkor Thom around 4PM and I decided to go back to the hotel and rest (walking around all the temples is hard work!).
I think tomorrow I will just chill out a bit and give my blisters a chance to heal, then Thursday head out to some of the more remote stuff. Hopefully less people there!
Some pictures to tide you over until I am on a decent internet connection: