Angkor Wat in the rain

Travel Destinations — By on November 6, 2007 at 11:44 am

The temples of Angkor in northern Cambodia, and particularly Angkor Wat, are one of the more spectacular sights in the world. Stephen Brookes and his wife recently visited the temples, but they bucked conventional wisdom by journeying to Cambodia in the middle of the monsoon season. Brookes wrote about the experience for the Washington Post.

We’d come to Cambodia to see the famous temples of Angkor, those magnificent ruins that make up one of the most extraordinary landscapes in Asia, if not the world. And we’d come in July — in the heart of the monsoon, which sensible people had told us was pure madness. Wait until the dry season, they said, when the skies are clear and you’re guaranteed as much sunshine as you can handle. Go during the long, wet summer — when more than 50 inches of rain falls — and you’re certain to get stranded in your hotel, swatting at mosquitoes and hoping you don’t come down with malaria.

But we were here to test the contrarian idea that the monsoon might, in fact, be the best time to see Cambodia. Because the truth is, even though it rains almost every day — sometimes in torrents so thick you can barely see — it rarely lasts more than an hour or two. And the effect is usually refreshing. The rain clears the air, washes away the dust and cools down everything. The landscape turns lush and fragrant, colors take on richer hues and, instead of scorching tropical sun, you get constantly changing light and spectacular sunsets…

We weren’t completely alone, of course. Two elderly monks in saffron robes passed us, and a few Korean families peered intently at each other through digital cameras. But it was easy enough to avoid the tour groups as we made our way through the temple. We climbed higher and higher up the narrow stairways, over the wide stone terraces, past the churning friezes and delicately carved celestial dancers. It was eerily quiet — the loudest sound was the cry of birds in the jungle — and the huge temple spread out below us, infinitely ancient, evocative and remote. We sat in silence, letting the sweep of the centuries roll over us.

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