Our First Wonder of the World

A long time ago the seven ancient wonders of the world were made official in a poem by Antipater of Sidon, who described the structures around 140 BC:

"I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, ‘Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand."

Since Antipater was in Greece he did not know the level of amazement some of the other more distant monuments in the world provide.  Our first stop in Cambodia was Siem Reap, which is a small town packed full of tourists, NGOs, expats and locals.  This town is here for many reasons from aid work to removal of mines, but our main draw for coming to this mecca on the travelling circuit was to see the Temples of the Angkorian empire.  Over the course of time many other people and organizations have decided that the Seven Wonders of the World needed to be redefined.  With trains, planes and automobiles the world has become much smaller so I suppose a new definition of these wonders was overdue.

Angkor Wat and the Temples surrounding it were added to one of these new lists.  As we go around the world many of these ancient wonders are on our itinerary and some of the newly appointed ones as well.  The Internet and modern technology have changed these "Seven Wonders" into more of a user fed contest now and for whatever reason Angkor’s Temple system was replaced.  With what?  Christ the Redeemer in Rio De Janeiro.  The numerous Seven Wonders lists seem to be turning into a rotating list of 15-20 these days.

After spending two days touring around with our guide Poleak, we saw all of the main tourist sites in this gargantuan civilization with the grandest temples either Steve or myself have ever seen. Poleak also took us to some of the less visited temples near the minefields that Steve B wrote about previously.  With names like Angkor Wat, Koh Ker, and Bang Mealia these stone structures defy belief that anyone could build something with just man power, hand tools and the help of some elephants.  I wonder who the people are that voted to knock Angkor out of the ranks and replace it with Christ the redeemer.  It is hard to believe that any of them have seen both, because I have, and to be quite honest, Angkor is one of the most amazing things on the planet.

For those of you who have made it to see Christ the Redeemer…imagine that, but then add thousands more of those statues carved out of huge blocks of sandstone that are at minimum double size and tucked deep into the densest parts of the jungle surrounding the city.  All of the bases of these statues would then have intricate carvings of mythology and history that span hundreds of meters and reach a height of well over 15ft.

I heard about the temples of Angkor many years ago.  I was of course interested in visiting these temples, but I figured that they would be just like many of the historical monuments and ruins I had seen in other places around the world many times before. These temples are so much more than could be expected.  They are larger and more detailed than pictures can do them justice.  Since construction of these temples started over 1200 years ago and took over 300 years to finish, many of the temples have been overgrown by the jungle.  This growth surrounding the temples makes a journey to them feel more like an adventure than a day out at a tourist attraction.  It feels like you are the first to discover many of these temples on an expedition to uncover some lost civilization led by a crazy bearded archaeologist who believes he will find the fountain of youth in the middle of one of them.

Whether or not it is on any of the lists of the world’s wonders, Angkor Wat and the wonderful little town of Siem Reap should be on everyone’s list as a place to visit.  Whether you are interested in thousands of years of the worlds history or helping out some NGOs to do a good deed, you will come home with only great stories to tell and a couple of hard drives full of photos.  The temples, the scenery and the people of this area have something that will always leave a sense of wonder in my head, and it is certainly on my list of places to return to someday in the future.


If you would like to learn more about the temples, we recommend this book.  It is what we used while visiting the temples ourselves.