It was quite literally going to be a flying visit, but any way to see Angkor Wat is an opportunity not to be missed; plus, we were going to be doing it style, staying at the luxury Sofitel Hotel, and having a gala dinner at the Bayon Temple, in Angkor Thom.
The hotel rooms were beautiful, but for us this wasn't about luxuriating in our modern surroundings, it was all about seeing as much of this unbelievable temple complex as possible. Angkor Wat was created in the jungle, about 8 centuries ago, around about the same time as the great medieval cathedrals of Europe – in fact, its main tower is as tall as Notre Dame in Paris. The result is this stunning temple complex - the biggest religious monument in the world, covering one square mile. We went to see the sunset at this architectural masterpiece of symmetry, as the sun turned its sandstone towers and peaks into a warm glow – you had to pinch yourself to make sure it was real, it was that magical.
As the sun went down, we were taken round to Angkor Thom, the walled city that was the last of the great Khmer constructions, passing through its enormous gates, decorated with the huge faces of the Hindu gods. Our destination was possibly Angkor's most beautiful temple, the Bayon Temple, which was now lit up spectacularly. Even at night time, it was still extremely hot, but we were by now getting well-hydrated with cocktails, in this most surreal of locations.
We then walked round to the other side of the temple, where an amazing open-air restaurant had been set up and we were served a delicious array of local food while we were entertained by some exotic local dances. It was truly amazing that they could serve up a dinner that was as high quality as this, right in front of one of Asia's most iconic ancient buildings, in a place with no facilities. Words really can't do the occasion justice – one of the best travel experiences of my life.
Well, after this sublime experience, a few of us decided to go for a ridiculous contrast, by paying a visit to Siem Reap's famous "Pub Street". It might not be the most imaginative name in the world, but this neon-lit extravaganza certainly lived up to its name, as a long line of pubs vied with each other for the loudest music, the most outrageous dancing, and the cheapest drinks. It was a sensory overload, that couldn't have been further away from the experience of soaking up the history and splendour of Angkor, but I guess that it's become an essential part of the Siem Reap experience.
Fortunately, we were spared any overindulgence, so we didn't stay long, because we'd foolishly vowed to get up for sunset at Angkor Wat. If the sights are anywhere near as good as what we saw today, tomorrow is going to be another perfect day.