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Angkor Wat: Eighth Wonder of the World

10:00 AEST Thu Mar 24 2011
Cambodia has long been on Dermott Brereton's wish-list of places to visit, and his wish came true.

The Kingdom of Cambodia is bordered by Thailand, Laos and Vietnam and has the Gulf of Thailand to its south-west. It is dominated by the Mekong River and Tonlé Sap lake.

Dermott flew to Siem Reap in the country's north-west to join a four-day World Expeditions cycling tour around Angkor Wat. The Angkor empire existed for around 600 years, taking in Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and parts of Thailand.

The temple complex was built for King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century. It is well preserved and the only site remaining as a significant religious centre since its foundation. First Hindu, then Buddhist, it is a remarkable example of classical Khmer architecture. The symbol of Cambodia, Angkor Wat appears on the national flag and currency — even beer cans — and is the nation's number-one tourism destination. It is sometimes known as the Eighth Wonder of the World.

There are around 100 Buddhist and Hindu temples in the Angkor region, some thousands of years old. Until the 1800s they were buried in thick jungle, and until more recently were surrounded by landmines. They have been cleared, making it safe for tourists, but the latest threat is bandits. Precious pieces attract ludicrous amounts of money from wealthy collectors without consciences.

Its accessibility has made it a very popular destination, and to avoid the worst of the crowds Dermott rented a bicycle and shared an elephant track. The flatness of the area makes cycling a breeze, and knowing it is clear of landmines is reassuring.

The Temple of Ta Prohm is the Kingdom of the Trees. It has deliberately been left untouched, except for the clearing of a path. It is virtually standing with the help of massive jungle growth and bird droppings. Attempts to remove anything would probably mean Ta Prohm would crumble. Many people would have seen Ta Prohm in the Angelina Jolie film Tomb Raider.

If you think you've seen one temple you've seen them all, that's not the case here. Engineering and artistry makes it all varied and fascinating. It is possible to climb to the tops of towers, but they are very steep. Trousers or long skirts are recommended for women.

Angkor Thom, a fortified city, was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire. It was established in the late 12th century, covering 9 square kilometres. It was the last great city to be built and was home to hospitals, schools, plumbing and roads.

At its centre is the 12th century Bayon Temple, a place of man corridors, steep stairs and 54 gothic towers covered with around 200 gargantuan faces. From afar it looks like a huge rock, but once you enter, the magic begins.

Siem Reap is a fast-growing town and worth a visit. It has a good range of hotels, guesthouses, backpacker hostels and restaurants, as well as lots of arts and crafts. There are French-style buildings standing from colonial days.

As it does become quite crowded, a tip from Dermott is to take advantage of times most people are having breakfast or lunch.

Location

Angkor Wat in north-west Cambodia.

Cost

World Expeditions' four-day Angkor Wat Cycle tours out of Siem Reap cost $750 per person twin-share. Accommodation, bilingual guide, vehicle support, quality bicycle, most meals, temple entry and transfers are included. They depart daily, year-round.

Prices correct at March 24, 2011.

For further information

World Expeditions
Ph: 1300 720 000
www.worldexpeditions.com.au

Visas: Australians require a visa which can be issued electronically at evisa.mfaic.gov.kh.

Electricity: 230V at 50Hz. Three types of plugs are used, to take along an international plug.

Time zone: GMT +7.

Currency: Riel, though the US dollar is preferred.

International dialling code: +855.

It is recommended travellers to Cambodia see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there may be specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended. For further information, visit www.smartraveller.gov.au and www.welltogo.com.au.

User comments
I just got back from Cambodia last week. Travelled alone, finding my own way and accommodation as I went...awesome experience, and I would just like to say that 750 for a 4 day tour of the temples is a gargantous rip off! You could do it for way less than half that. Think carefully about all the so called tour groups operating there, because everything is so cheap and easy to just organise yourself....more fun too!!!

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