Bucket List: The Temples of Angkor Wat

angkorbucket

I feel as though everyone must have grown up seeing otherworldly photos of Angkor Wat in magazines like National Geographic. For me, the images of the strange pointed towers, large faces stacked on top of one another, and trees growing out of stone prompted me to invent some much cooler, more worldly version of myself to step inside this mysterious place and discover all its secrets. At the time I had no idea I would be partially right. It was just one out of a million dreams I created, and I never expected it to come true.

Since this week marks 2 years since I was in Siem Reap Cambodia, it seems only fitting that I cover the Temples of Angkor Wat in a bucket list post to commemorate all the years it was nothing more than a childhood dream and an item on a list. Unlike most childhood dreams, my visit to the Angkor Wat temple complex was better than I imagined thanks to a hang over and Ana and Jo, the two wonderful friends I spend the day with, and feel privileged to have met in the first place. While it may not sound so great to be hung over in the sweltering heat of Cambodia while walking endless sections of a rather large complex, the comedic memory of the three of us shuffling our feet and cracking jokes about the “possibility of visit” sign are far better than I could ever have dreamed up at 10.

DSCN2226

The first temple we came to was Angkor Wat, which was partially covered in a teal tarp and scaffolding that detracted from the intricate towers and iconic view we were all probably expecting. Honestly, I think it was a good thing we were all too hung over to really care. I can say with confidence that for my part I was more concerned with the sweltering heat and the glaring sun, and that I spent the entire walk up this pathway staring at the large stone tiles underfoot.

The inside of the temple was surprisingly bare, with the occasional statue standing alone in an empty passageway, and beautiful railings and carvings dotting the most random places that seemed to hit you as you turned a corner. Its unlit hallways and rooms lent a coolness to the day that I was more than happy to absorb for as long as possible, and seemed to give the building a sad feeling. The weathered walls and broken columns made me wonder about all the years and people and events that had passed by before. Cool to the touch, the stone that stood all around me still feels a little bit unreal in my memory, despite the two visits I experienced in almost as many days.

Next we got into our tuk tuk and were driven over to the temples of Bayon and Angkor Thom which are, for all intents and purposes, next door to one another. The three of us were instantly in awe of what stood before us, finally having that moment you expect when visiting the temple complex. Bayon was more unreal in person than any photograph had ever even suggested. The weathered, pieced together look of the faces stacked tall into the sky, the passages with an endless amount of carvings to examine and gape at, and stairways that seemed to climb forever and go nowhere in particular as if they knew some secret you were in on. It was almost too overwhelming to be real.

DSCN2254

We walked next door past playing monkeys and random sections of stone, and were met with the broken windows and doorways that lead into Angkor Thom (or Angry Tom as we like to call it), which although is not as impressive as Bayon, it’s a marvel in its own right when you happen to find yourself standing at the bottom of the excessively tall staircases. Admittedly this section is a bit of a haze in my memory, and while I don’t remember anything about the inside of the temple, I do remember a lot of Angry Tom jokes that started the moment Jo thought I was mispronouncing the name of the temple, and didn’t end until we found something else to snicker about.

Finding something else to laugh about didn’t take very long. While I can say I have walked across both the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King (which btw is the worst title ever), all I remember is a long discussion about the “possibility of visit sign” and stumbling along while staring at the beautiful ring around the sun. I’d love to tell you this was due to my hangover and/or the fact that I had only had water and a coke to drink the entire day, but the truth is that I would have done both sober and that the conversation was more interesting than the terraces we were walking on.

Last but not least is the temple of Ta Prohm, which I saw both in middle of the afternoon on my first trip with Ana and Jo, and just before the complex closed for the day (which is the best time to visit) the second time around. I think maybe what I like most about this temple is not the trees swallowing the structure, or even the chaotic, broken impression it leaves on you, but rather the entrance that doesn’t even hint at what lies ahead of you. Since this is without a doubt the most popular temple, you’re going to be waiting for other people a lot, which was actually sort of perfect because it gave us the chance to sit down and take everything in for the first time that day.

Not only are the trees much larger and more entwined in the temple than I was aware of, but the structure itself is also more beautiful than you expect. Apart from the dilapidated appearance of broken walls, piles of rubble, and sectioned off areas, the temple walls have beautiful carvings hidden behind the massive roots and trees that have over run them, and doorways of pale blue stone in sections away from the crowded mess of temple walls and trees fighting for space. It was the perfect way to end my visit, and I’m so happy to have been able to cross it off my bucket list.

Bucket List: The New 7 Wonders of the World

bucketlist7wondersOut of all the places I want to visit, none are as commonly found on bucket lists or more photographed than the new 7 wonders of the world. When the new list was announced on 07-07-07 in Lisbon Portugal, it replaced the original list – often referred to as the seven ancient wonders of the world – which had stood for nearly 2,000 years. Since only the pyramids of Egypt were still standing, the New7Wonders Foundation started a campaign in 2000 to allow the world the opportunity to come together and vote for a new list. After seven years and over 100 million votes, the following seven places were announced in random order to convey their equal footing, and are listed here in alphabetical order by country.

Christ the Redeemer – Brazil

flickr - christ the redeemer - vincentraal

Flickr Photo: © Vincentraal

Located in Rio de Janeiro at the summit of Mount Corcovado, the Christ the Redeemer statue is easily the most iconic image of Brazil. Built between 1922 and 1931, Christ the Redeemer is the brainchild of engineer Heitor da Silva Costa and artist Carlos Oswald. Standing at roughly 124 feet tall, da Silva Costa designed the structure to be large enough for it to be seen from the city center a few miles away. While the original plans called for the statue to be constructed purely out of reinforced concrete, the design was changed after da Silva Costa saw a mosaic tiled fountain during a trip to Paris. The beautiful tile-work had inspired him, and soon the statue would find its finish in an intricate triangular design of tiny soapstone tiles that were to be adhered to the unseemly concrete. Today the statue has become a popular tourist destination and takes selfie with thousands of visitors every day.

The Great Wall – China

flickr - great wall - marianna

Flickr Photo: © Marianna – The Great Wall of China

Built between the 3rd century BC and the 17th century AD on the country’s northern border, the Great Wall of China stretches across the country at the length of roughly 13,170 feet. Easily the greatest construction project in human history, the building of the Great Wall of China spanned multiple dynasties with each successive ruler adding to the wall for the same purpose – protection. With three borders safely guarded by natural barriers, the wall with its watch towers, horse tracks, supply stations, and shelters was built to protect the country from nomadic warriors. Constructed out of various materials over the span of the project including soil, leaves, hay and mud, the Chinese quickly settled on a much sturdier coating of bricks, granite and stone which has helped to preserve the wall for centuries and gives it the iconic appearance of an unmovable and imposing line stretched out across the land as far as the eye can see.

The Taj Mahal – India

Flickr - taj mahal - michael foley

Flickr Photo: © Michael Foley – The Taj Mahal seen from across the Yumana river

This stunning white marble mausoleum was built for the favorite wife of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan between 1631 and 1648 in Agra. Hailed as both the jewel of India and Muslim art, the Taj Mahal is considered by many to be one of the greatest architectural achievements of mankind. A symbol of romance in all rights, the mausoleum itself was constructed out of white marble and precious and semi-precious stones from around the world, with exquisite ornamentation and Arabic inscriptions. Symmetrically planned from conception, the building is surrounded by arcade galleries, walkways and gardens, and is centered between a mosque and guess house built to be identical out of red sandstone in order to contrast the beautiful white marble of the mausoleum in the center. As one of the most universally admired masterpieces in the world, it’s no surprise that the Taj Mahal made the list as one of worlds wonders.

The Roman Colosseum – Italy

Colosseum

Flickr Photo: © Joostv – Colosseum

As the most famous monument left from the Roman empire, the Colosseum is still as imposing today as when it was opened for the entertainment of the masses in 80 AD with 100 days of games. After it was built, the Colosseum was used consistently for close to 400 years, during which time audiences watched everything from gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights, to hunts and mock naval battles which called for for arena to be flooded with water. When the empire became clouded in trouble and audiences craved something new, the Colosseum was closed and fell into disrepair and neglect. During this time, the amphitheater was often used as a source of building materials for many of the other iconic places in Rome, and was stripped to the bones. Today only about 1/3 of the original structure remains, but its allure and history continue to draw large crowds of people daily.

Petra – Jordan

Flickr - petra - sylvain l.

Flickr Photo: © Sylvain L. – “Khazneh” Petra by night, Jordan

Half built, half carved into the sandstone hillside, the ancient city of Petra is situated on the edge of the mountainous desert of Wadi Araba and is surrounded by gorges and passages. Comprised of an extensive list of archaeological remains containing elaborate tombs, tunnels, cisterns and reservoirs, the city also includes temples, churches and other public building along with the imposing beautiful facade we all known at first glance. Once a thriving trading post for the Nabataean empire, the city was lost to the world for centuries, during which time it sat desolate and near ruin. Since its rediscovery in the early 1800’s by a Swiss explorer, the ancient city has been drawing visitors from around the world, and is hailed as one of the places everyone should see in their lifetime.

Chichen Itza – Mexico

flickr - chichen itza - alistair edmondson

Flickr Photo: © Alistair Edmondson – El Castillo’s 91 Steps

Established sometime between 415-455 AD, Chichen Itza is not only one of the greatest cities left from the Mayan civilization, it’s also one of the greatest cities left from the Toltec civilization as well. The main difference of the civilizations can be seen in the two settlements that make up this ancient city. The first was build during the Mayan reign, and contains many monuments built in typical Mayan fashion including a church and nunnery, as well as the Temple of the Panels and the Temple of the Deer. The second settlement was built after the Toltecs invaded Chichen Itza and imposed the practice of human sacrifice upon the local population. The monuments found within this section include the Great Ball Court, the observatory named El Caracol, and the Temple of the Warriors which are made up of a unique blend of styles that ultimately created the most important archaeological site in the Yucatan.

Machu Picchu – Peru

flickr - machu picchu - ken bosma

Flickr Photo: © Ken Bosma – Machu Picchu, Peru

This great city of the Inca empire is perched high in the Peruvian mountains and seems to have been effortlessly carved into the land surrounding it. Built in the 15th century, Machu Picchu contains about 200 structures within its upper and lower sections that are divided into areas designated for residential living and farming. While little is known about the role Machu Picchu played in the Inca empire, the extensive road and trail systems, subsidiary centers, irrigation canals and agricultural terraces lead historians to believe that it played host to inhabitants for a long period of time. When the Inca empire was conquered by the Spaniards in the 16th century, the city was abandoned and remained unknown to the outside world until the early 1900’s.