I have always longed to go to Angkor, but in my decade-and-a-half as Vogue’s Travel Editor I never made it. And anyway, I secretly wondered how you could possibly visit the world’s biggest temple complex in a way that feels at all personal – there are over two million visitors a year, so wouldn’t you feel you were just a number being processed?
cazenove+loyd had the answer: bicycles. We started early, and soon we were pedalling behind our wonderful guide, Kanya, along sandy tracks beside a temple wall, past ponds where water buffalo grazed. The path through the forest opened into a clearing and before us stood Ta Prohm, a magical temple which dates from the late 12th century and has been left largely as it was when rediscovered – partly reclaimed by nature and strangled by trees. It is incredibly picturesque with the tree roots flowing into and around the ruined buildings, and also very moving: I defy anyone to visit here without having an Ozymandias moment contemplating time, mortality and earthly vanities. But just in case… this temple also starred in the film “Tomb Raider”.
We glimpsed a big group of tourists arriving, but by then we were pedalling off onto another deserted path to the temple of Ta Nei. By now the day had become incredibly hot and humid – cazenove+loyd can fix most things, but not the climate. As we cycled away after this visit, Kanya and his bicycle suddenly dived off the track into a little garden overlooking a paddy field. There, like a mirage, was an utterly civilised breakfast, laid out on a table just for us. Rarely have cold towels been so gladly received or croissants so rapidly devoured.
After breakfast we went to one more temple, Ta Keo, then cycled on a bit further before stepping into the welcome coolness of an air-conditioned car. We’d had a memorable visit on a human scale with scarcely another human being in sight. Teenage boys are not always the most ardent sightseers, but it turns out that if you give them a bike they are completely happy, as well as exercised. I need not have worried – it was the perfect introduction to Angkor.