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Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat was definitely one of the highlights of this trip, and one that made the gruelling overland journey through Cambodia and Vietnam worthwhile. Almost as soon as we arrived we caught a tuk-tuk to the city of ruins to watch the sun setting over them. As it's by far Cambodia's greatest tourist attraction and a revered UNESCO site, entry costs a whopping $20US a day, but it's worth it. Angkor Wat is truly enormous, and can take days to tour if you want to see everything. Built between the 9th and 13th centuries, the entire place was, amazingly, forgotten for hundreds of years until it was rediscovered and then written about in the 1860's in 'Le Tour de Monde' by Henri Mouhot. When you're first driving through the jungle and set eyes on it, you can't help but be impressed, and as the sun set, the stone turned a lovely golden red.

We retired to the nearby town of Siem Reap shortly after sunset as mosquitoes were beginning to appear, and we'd picked "avoiding being bitten and drinking lots of gin and tonic" as our malaria prophylactic of choice since we were only going to be in a malaria-risk zone for a couple of days.

The following morning, 'Mr Ted', the same tuk-tuk driver, was waiting for us outside our hotel, and off we buzzed in what was basically his motorcycle with a trailer, for a high quality day of sightseeing. One of the most surprising things was that there weren't the packs of tourists everywhere that we were expecting, especially at the smaller, more remote temples. After checking out a couple of lovely, peaceful wats we continued in the tuk-tuk to Ta Phrom, the jungle temple made famous in the Lara Croft film, Tomb Raider. Whereas most of the other temples have been partially restored, this has been left almost as it was when the first explorers found it, with trees and jungle growing through. It's only when you look at the enormity of some of the trees that grow through the stones that you begin to realise just how old the buildings are. We stopped off for lunch, then, suitably refreshed and with Carita looking less red and overheated, we looked once more at Angkor Wat, the main temple complex. It was the hottest part of the day and most of the tourists seemed to have sought sanctuary in their hotels as the place was totally deserted. We climbed around it, took lots of photographs, and soaked in the peaceful atmosphere of it's courtyards, and eerie darkness of it's inners. Next we continued onto Bayon, set in what was the centre of the ancient city. Looking exactly as you'd expect an ancient temple in the jungle to look, it has 54 incredible towers, each of which bear the huge smiling faces of Avalokitesvara on their sides. Finally we finished the day off with a punishing climb in the heat up to the top of Phnom Bakheng, a hilltop temple built in the 10th century and bombed by the USA in their hunt for communists during the Vietnam war.

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