What Can I Say About Angkor Wat?

“It’s an irritating reality that many places and events defy description. Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu, for instance, seem to demand silence, like a love affair you can never talk about. For a while after, you fumble for words, trying vainly to assemble a private narrative, an explanation, a comfortable way to frame where you’ve been and what’s happened. In the end, you’re just happy you were there – with your eyes open – and lived to see it.”

Anthony Bourdain

How does one write about a place like Angkor Wat? How do I go about saying things that haven’t already been said—more eloquently, even—or things that are impossible to say? Do I focus on the incredible heat, which only allowed us to visit the temples for a few hours at a time before heading back to our hotel? Do I talk about our guide Dy, his knowledge and pride in the area? His taking us down quiet backroads so we could enter some of the temples without running into hordes of other tourists?

Do I try to sum up the history of Angkor Wat and the surrounding temple complexes in a few words? Try to explain the sprawling immensity of the area? The incredible amount of slave labor that contributed to making something so impressive? Do I focus on Angkor Wat? Angkor Thom? The 216 faces carved into the Bayon temple? The intricate carvings throughout all the temples? Do I try to describe standing in front of Angkor Wat early in the morning, waiting for the sun to rise behind it, only to find that nothing—not words, not pictures—could ever capture that sight?

Then, do I just post pictures and let them speak for themselves? Can pictures even capture what we saw, the feeling of the place, the immensity, the beauty? Will anything other than actually going there, actually seeing it with your own eyes, ever suffice? How could it?

When you do visit Siem Reap and Angkor, I would highly suggest booking Dy as your tour guide. We received a free guide through our hotel, requested him specifically and were not let down. He was nothing less than stellar. From the looks of current TripAdvisor reviews, he seems to be working at Angkor Guide Sam.