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Sunday, 17 July 2016

The Magnificent Angkor Wat

The sun rising like a beacon behind the soaring towers of Angkor Wat is not a sight to be missed. So it was not ideal that Mark and I overslept by more than half an hour this morning. From bed to tuk-tuk in less than three minutes, we were under way and racing the sunrise to one of the most breathtaking places on earth. An hour later, sitting on the steps of a minor temple at 5:30 am and battling exhaustion, we eventually caught sight of the sun behind the main Angkor Wat complex and all thoughts of breakfast were momentarily forgotten. The theme of our trip has undoubtedly been spectacular sights, from the dramatic views of the Sapa valley to the towering rock formations at Halong Bay, and none have been more magical than those we saw today. After spending an hour exploring the ruins of Angkor Wat, we moved on to Angkor Thom. Here, enormous stone faces frown down on the visitors below, the impressive detail and huge scale of the ancient carvings making this temple a favourite among the group. After Bailey and Ethan escaped from some over-friendly monkeys, we visited a third and final temple. Known as the Temple of Trees, this was my personal favourite, and it was easy to see why it had been used in the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider film series. Ancient trees burst through the ruined stone structure, making this place seem almost untouched and giving it a more mystical air than any of the other temples.

 While everyone enjoyed our exploration of the ancient ruins, by the end we were certainly hot, tired, and looking forward to a dip in the rooftop pool back at our hotel. Looking back on the experience, the one thing that saddens me is the commercialisation of such a beautiful historical site. The floods of tourists, many more concerned with taking selfies than experiencing the thrill of the temples for themselves, the endless trinkets and cans of coca cola, all seem to do the ruins an injustice. Nevertheless, when finding an empty corridor, crumbling with age and ordained with magnificent carvings, or standing alone at the top of the Bakan Inner Temple with the jungle stretching out before me, there were moments when the magic of the place really hit me. I know that everyone else had similar experiences, and I know that we all left with a full understanding of why Angkor Wat is known as one of the great wonders of the world.

 Later that evening in the pool, we met another Outlook Expeditions group from a girls’ school in Bromley, London. Needless to say, Robbie was in his element, pulling out killer conversation starters from nowhere and generally being on form with the flirty banter. This was to be expected from the seasoned ladykiller (Ed. While others just preened themselves J) . More surprising was the expertise of none other than Brian Glover, who insisted we refer to him as Brian Lover after his exploits in the pool. It was a nice way to finish our time in Siem Reap; believe me, the calibre of conversation can only hold up for so long among 16 teenage boys, and the reality check of maintaining a civilised and polite conversation was much needed.

 The atmosphere is strange as we near the end of our trip, with everyone looking forward to getting home but at the same time knowing that we will miss Southeast Asia greatly. For now, we’re looking forward to the four-star hotel in which we’ll be seeing out the last days of our trip.

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