THE BLOG

Stonehenge Bad, Angkor Better

10/08/2015 10:51 BST | Updated 06/08/2016 10:59 BST

I'm not sure who sits on the committee that gets to select the Seven Wonders of the World, but how the temples of Angkor have never had a look in is beyond me. Stonehenge, for instance, is one of the stingiest experiences you're ever likely to endure, and only a very easily pleased simpleton could squeeze any wonder out of the racket National Heritage have going on there now. You have to pay £5 to a trustafarian in a tabard just to park, and the stones are all cordoned off and about as approachable as Avril Lavigne at a meet-and-greet, and that's even after you've paid the £14.50 it costs to get in past the perimeter fence. You'd have got more satisfaction from a £1 Soho peep show back in the day (before they bulldozed the place to make way for more bijou flats for yuppie bellends). All that money goes into maintenance they say, though why it needs to be maintained after standing freely for 5,000 years is anyone's guess?

For 20USD each, we got a pass to enter all the temples outside Siem Reap yesterday, and so we beheld the sunrise at Angkor Wat and were awestruck at the magnificence of Angkor Thom around lunchtime. In between, Chan - our tuk tuk driver - dropped us back at the hotel for a power nap and breakfast. In the hotel they treat us like gods, bowing, pointing their hands at us in prayer, laughing at our jokes, asking why we allow natural disasters to happen... It's a bit embarrassing actually, but tourism here is relatively new, and I suspect they'll relax eventually. It must be exhausting being in the hospitality trade here, and they could learn a few tricks from their former imperial masters, who don't give a shit about making the right impression.

My partner Claire wondered aloud how gobsmacked the French must have been when they stumbled upon the Ta Prohm Temple when they first came to Cambodia 150 years ago. Ta Prohm is a union of antiquitous ruins and stealthy nature, with trees entwined in the sandstone, and jungle strangling the gopuras as you rock up to the entrance. The French still come here now, and they're easy to spot among the wheezy, flip-flopped Americans and shutter-happy Japanese; they're the ones dressed like depressed archeologists (head to toe in black with a keffiyeh around the neck is à la mode Parisian garb, even far from home and in this heat).

Angelina Jolie famously came here too to film Tomb Raider, and there's a bar on Pub Street that even commemorates the spot where the Hollywood actor once stood and guzzled a pint. I've not seen the film, but I'm reliably informed that Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm are also stars of the movie. Angelina also fell in love with and adopted a child from Cambodia; we didn't go that far, though we did pick up a couple of toy baby elephants and a knockdown Buddha from the night market. Even the mass produced landfill they sell here is better than the souvenir shop at Stonehenge.