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The temples of Angkor Wat

Matt Lauer and the ‘Today’ team explore the history and culture of this ancient Cambodian land.
/ Source: TODAY

Greetings from Cambodia — where day number four finds us at one of the most unique of all of our destinations — the ancient temples of Angkor Wat. Before I tell you about this amazing place, let me tell you how we got here.

I SIGNED OFF from Skibo Castle at about 2 p.m. local time, and we were headed for the airport by three. From there, the trip began — a leg that was one of the all-time longest for the “Where in the World?” adventure. Our first stop in Dubai was seven hours away — an opportunity to refuel and make a crew change for our pilots. Then, another 7 1/2 hours on to Siem Reap, Cambodia, and we arrived just three hours before show time. Given our schedule, I tried to get my work done on the first leg, and sleep the second. It’s at this point in the trip that the jet lag really starts to set in!

Upon landing in the city of Siem Reap, one thing was instantly apparent — it was hot, about 90 degrees and very humid. While my colleagues from the plane would head off to the set, I hopped in a car and headed for nearby Ta Prohm. I spent about 30 minutes there, completing a taped piece on this remarkable site. At this temple, the jungles of Cambodia are literally swallowing up the stone structures, as the roots of the ancient trees extend their limbs. I was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

A stop at the hotel for a quick shower and change was all I had time for, and then it was off to Angkor Wat — just 10 minutes from our hotel. Given that this is not a place that is particularly well known to tourists, I didn’t have a clear picture in my head of what to expect. As we turned the corner into the temple grounds, the impressive stone structures loomed high over the grounds. It was a truly amazing sight. Similar to the sense I got last year at Machu Pichu, I was struck at Angkor Wat with the enormity of something so incredibly old. When looking at it, you find yourself wondering, “How did they do that?” at a time so primitive in so many ways.

A quick note on one difficulty we had at Angkor Wat — the mosquitoes! They were everywhere! As nighttime fell (we did the show at 6 p.m. local time) and our large lights turned on, you can imagine how it attracted the bugs. Our crews told me that tonight was better in terms of the mosquitoes than most they had experienced. Yet the swarms of insects were like none I’d ever seen. Strong bug repellent was a must.

Our guests in Angkor Wat included a female author who had fought injustice in Cambodia for many years, following the massacres of the 70s and 80s, and was anxious to share a bit about life there today. My colleague, Keith Miller, took us on an adventure in the jungle via videotape, but joined me live to talk about it. And an expert on the temples gave us a tour of much of what Angkor Wat has to offer.

What was great about today’s show was that not only were we in an exotic, remote location that boasted its beauty, we were offered an exciting history lesson about this somewhat undiscovered locale. It was a great experience, and one I will never forget.

As usual, I’m already back on the plane for another long trip — day five and our final stop awaits!