Asia is home to nearly as many temples as chopsticks. Now I’m no mathematician, but I recon that’s a lot, and I ended up visiting more temples than I could count on my fingers and toes. From such extensive temple dabbling, I soaked up a huge amount of cultural, history and religious knowledge, but the main thing I learnt was this; once you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all. You’d think they’d vary it up a bit, perhaps a slide down the side of the taller temples, a billiards room or even a trampoline. But no, all the architecture is the same, so too are the hoards of kids trying to sell you postcards amongst other useless junk, at each site.
My first experience of temples was in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where I went to marvel at the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat and it’s temple friends. I started my temple adventure with an elephant ride to watch the sun set at a temple on a hill. I couldn’t understand or pronounce the elephant’s name because it was pretty Cambodian, so I called him King John.
Upon summiting the hill, I climbed the steps up to the top of the temple and one thing is certain, ancient Cambodians had no sense of health and safety. Those stairs were steeper than a giraffe’s neck and about as wide as a matchbox. You would have thought they would have built an escalator by now considering the amount of tourists. After waiting a while for the sun to set, it was just about to disappear behind the treetop laced horizon, when suddenly a woman ran out proclaiming that the sunset was cancelled and we had to leave. Well that’s a first.
Siem Reap Sunrise
The next morning I awoke at ridiculous o’clock to go watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. The whole way there I was praying it wouldn’t get cancelled as I was now under the impression that the sun here doesn’t abide by rules, it does what it wants, if it wants to set, it’ll set, if not, eff it, it won’t. As it goes, it was my lucky day and the sun decided to show up.
The rest of the day was filled with visiting temple, after temple, after temple, including the one where they shot Tomb Raider (there wasn’t even a gift shop). Needless to say they were all identical and I don’t know how some people spend a week looking at them. I barely lasted a few hours, but then again I do have the attention span of a dry roasted peanut.
Buddhists in Bangkok
The next set of temples I endured were the Buddhist temples of Bangkok. Yes they are different to the ancient temples of Cambodia, but these ones are all pretty similar. The only thing that changes seems to be the size of the golden statues inside.
Upon entering them, all footwear must be removed, which wasn’t ideal for a couple of reasons. Firstly I was wearing hi-tops, which are a right pain in the A to keep taking off and doing back up, so if you pay them a visit, wear some flip flops. Secondly is the fact that tattoos of Buddha are deemed offensive, and the lower down the body they are inked, the worse they offend. Needless to say, one on a foot is like a big middle finger right in the face of the friendly robed monks. Unaware of this, I thought it would be pretty sweet to have a big smiling Buddha on my foot. As such I was reluctant to keep getting my foot out in such a holy place, fearing a band of monks would beat me mercilessly with sticks.
As much as I found the temples repetitive, they are a must see, especially Angkor Wat, but maybe just go to one and take loads of photos and pretend that you went to them all. That way you can spend the rest of the day sipping on 20p bottles of beer by the pool.