We saved the best for last. The ultimate destination for the way is the temple complex of Angkor Wat - the largest religious monument in the world. It is my 14th UNESCO World Heritage site.
Built in the 12th century as a state temple, Angkor Wat has been the subject of awe from travelers and explorers alike. The first European to see the temple - a Portuguese monk - was said to have been dumbfounded on how to describe the wonder. It is also said to be the reason why France took Cambodia as a protectorate, and the reason for it to invade Siam, to take control of Angkor Wat (1).
I had a glimpse of how huge the complex is as soon as I set sight of the massive moats that protect the area, surrounding the outer wall. I crossed the earthen causeway to get to the main entrance. Statues of serpents called nagas adorn the balustrade at the entrance. Towers carved with intricate sculptures pierce the sky, giving the complex its iconic look.
I shared the similar disbelief that the European explorers had when I saw the main temple. It was too massive and intricate, seemingly too impossible to have been conceived and constructed by an ancient culture.
That awe was validated when I got inside the temple. Bas-relief of mythical creatures adorn the walls and a labyrinthine passageways connect the galleries to one another, topped by vaults constructed of sandstone. In some ways Angkor Wat was more impressive than the Mayan pyramids like El Castillo.
I did not have a set route rather I randomly explored the alleyways and galleries, stopping by to take a photo or two. As I reached the far end, I doubled back then went back to the entrance. I stayed for a while at the outer wall, catching my breath and admiring the temple from afar. I then went back to the hostel.