It's easy to spend days, even a week, pottering around these magnificent temples, picking out the details in the reliefs and getting a grip on the biggest city of the pre-industrial world. It's fun to sit majestically in the back of a tuk-tuk or moto-rickshaw, watch the jungle rushing past and then stop, silent, as a majestic tower, or gate, or terrace appears on the horizon.

At Ta Phrom, which was originally built as a Buddhist monastery, the jungle has been deliberately left intact in many places and the massive roots of strangler fig and silk-cotton trees wind through the ancient stone blocks. But Ta Phrom, too, is smallish and a visitors' favourite thronged by romantically minded tourists at all hours, all hoping for their own Lara Croft: Tomb Raider experience.

There was also a restoration crew at work and the worrying noise of drills echoed through the temple. Restoration of the ruined temples has been under way since 1860, with protracted delays caused by the long civil war in Cambodia and its horrible legacy of minefields and crippled villagers. Some temples have been completely torn down, block by block, and rebuilt with stronger foundations.

There are still crews busy at work at many of the temples, dancing the fine line between saving them from damp, erosion and the encroaching jungle, while ensuring their essential integrity remains uncompromised.

The largest and most popular of the Angkor temples, Angkor Wat, was the least damaged by the depredations of man and nature, perhaps because it was protected by its massive moat. The imposing towers appear almost untouched by time. Hundreds of delicately carved apsaras, or nymphs, are still very clear and the long, pictorial reliefs of soldiers in rows and chieftains on elephants are miraculous in their complexity and detail.

In the search for the perfect moment, Angkor Wat seemed an unlikely candidate. But because of its sheer size, it can absorb a lot of visitors. And by 6.30am or so the early-bird tourists who want the atmosphere of the rising sun are mostly gone, back to their hotels for breakfast, and the temple's corridors and parapets briefly return to the slumber of the ages.

So it was there, in the tourist trough of Cambodia's hot season (which features searing temperatures between March and May), in the midst of an international economic downturn, in the short, cool space between the dawn rush and the post-breakfast surge, I found a perfect Angkor moment.

I sat alone on the edge of the ancient colonnade of grey Cambodian stone. A gentle morning breeze stirred the leaves of the surrounding trees. Outside, cicadas chirrupped and, somewhere far away, bells were ringing.



There are no direct flights from Sydney to Siem Reap, so Australians have to fly via Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore.

Return fares from Sydney can be as low as $782, for a promotional fare, including taxes, but it's advisable to look around for the best combination of price and convenience - for instance, the quickest connection or the best overnight stopover.


Siem Reap now has a huge range of hotels and guest houses, from five-star palaces like Hotel de la Paix, Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor and Le Meridien Angkor, to back-alley cheapies. The interestingly named Golden Banana has a pool (almost essential in the hot season) and a number of price levels down to a low-season $US20 ($26) a night in an air-conditioned room in the "bed and breakfast" option ( The economic downturn is taking its toll, so some of the newer hotels along the road to the airport appear to be shuttered and most places are willing to bargain.


For basic facts in slightly odd English, try For lots more information, including history, travel and hotel information and many links to other sites, try a site that styles itself as the Angkor portal,

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