Angkor Wat

Angkor's magnificent monuments attract many thousands of visitors but with careful planning you can find a way to get off the beaten track

The first time it happened was a surprise. Like hundreds of thousands of other tourists that year I was visiting Angkor, the Khmer temple complex in Cambodia that is one of the biggest draws in south-east Asia. But my excitement was tempered with concern that too many people had been here before me.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

Flanking the road from the airport the day before were very different temples, vast bland hotels, seemingly dozens of them, built to cater for the hordes, particularly the burgeoning Chinese market. And on that first morning, as we drove the three miles from the town of Siem Reap to the vast main complex, the tourist-filled buses and the tuk-tuks were out in force. Mmm, I thought to myself, paradoxically both smug and disappointed, my fears that I was too late for Angkor were to be proven right.

Yet even at my very first temple, Ta Som, a small affair chosen by our guide because it wasn’t in the top rank of Angkor must-sees, I found myself suddenly alone. It was just me, walls of intricately carved stone, and the jungle, almost audibly encroaching, a strangler fig oozing its way over one of the main entrances.

As I was quickly learning, one of the most remarkable things about 21st-century Angkor – almost as remarkable as its vertiginous beauty, which retains the power to render you speechless a full 12 centuries after building first began – is that with just a little cunning you can enjoy it almost as you might have done two decades ago, when it was just being opened up after the terrible civil war.

Angkor Wat

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