The Amazing Wats of Angkor – Day 313

Sun 9th Dec

Today is an extremely early start but it’s not a problem when it’s for something as awesome as this – this morning I’m going to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat!

Onederz Hostel caters for this tour well and they offer breakfast from 4am which is great. I meet some lovely people over breakfast then at 0430, we’re on our way. The price for transport and a guide through the hostel is 12$ and the entry ticket for 1 day is now 37$ (it went up from 20$ in 2017).

Our guide Curly is friendly and informative. Once there, the crowds have already formed in front of the lake to get the ‘money shot’. I spy a gap right at the front and excuse my way throu…the view was well worth the tuts and sighs I got – as I was welcomed by this awesome spectacular beautiful breathtaking sight….this was more than worth getting up at the crack of dawn for!

At right this minute, I am so glad I added Cambodia back on my agenda.

After a good 30 mins here, loads of photos, we regroup and it’s time to enter this 900 year old wonderment and the 7th of the Seven Wonders of the World (so I am told).

Many people just think of Angkor Wat and this famous temple, but Angkor was the name of the city, or Angkor Thom…the Angkor Empire with Angkor Wat being just one of the many temples within it. There were and still are hundreds of them.

Angkor Wat is spread across more than 400 acres and is said to be the largest religious monument in the world. It was built by Emperor Suryavarman II who ruled the region from 1113 to 1150 and it was the state temple and political center of his empire. It was originally constructed as Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu. However, towards the end of the 12th century, Angkor Wat gradually transformed to a Buddhist centre of worship, which continues to the present day.

It has a 65m central tower that is surrounded by four smaller towers and a series of enclosure walls – a layout that recreates the image of Mount Meru, a legendary place in Hindu mythology that is said to lie beyond the Himalayas and be the home of the gods. It was surrounded by a huge moat to help with the stabilisation of the temples foundations.

The temple is a powerful symbol of Cambodia – a source of great national pride and has been part of the national flag since the introduction of the first version around 1863.

Angkor Wat is huge and grandiose with enormous sand stone towers, deep wells and court yards

along with enormously long intricately carved bas-reliefs (carvings depicting historical events and stories from mythology).

These huge sandstone blocks are from the holy mountain of Phnom Kulen which is more than 50km away.

They were floated down the Siem Reap River on rafts. The logistics of such an operation is mind blowing and the workforce mammoth. According to inscriptions, the construction of Angkor Wat involved 300,000 workers and 6000 elephants.

It’s hard to take in the enormity of this place and I’m so glad I have a guide or fear I cd be in here forever. We join a queue to go up to the upper level and then it’s up some massively steep steps. The steepness is apparently because reaching the kingdom of the Gods was no easy task. Not only is the inside beautiful, full of carved apsaras (heavenly nymphs)

but the views out over the complex are quite exquisite also.

As we leave, we pass the lake again and get another great view of those world famous towers and their mighty reflection in the lake

before getting back in the bus to take us to temple 2 – Bayon Temple.

This was built in the late 12th or early 13th century as the state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King – Jayavarman VII. This temple stands at the centre of the Angkor empire and is sometimes called Jayavarman’s Temple. It is a phenomenal sight due to its most well known feature – its many towers with gently smiling faces on each side.

There are some 50 towers around the temple, with over 200 faces l, each made all the more interesting by their wear and tear.

Each face is 4 metres high and is facing one of the cardinal directions of the compass. They all have the same serene smile, with eyes closed, representing the all-knowing state of inner peace. There are also many complicated and exquisite bas-reliefs around the temple, with scenes depicting land and naval warfare, market scenes and others depicting the construction of the temple itself.

When it comes to the faces, there is some debate over who they actually represent. Some scholars suggest that they are of King Jayavarman VII while other theories that they are the face of a Bodhisattva (Buddhism’s compassionate and enlightened being), or a combination of Buddha and Jayavarman.

We wander up through into the temple and have a much better close up view of the towers and the faces. It is a bit crowded in places but this is a truly wonderful place. Angkor Wat is immense but here has a lot of character. Curly also shows us a great photo opportunity!

It’s now 1030 and having been up since half 3, it feels like lunchtime. Luckily a break stop is next and we’re ushered into a roadside restaurant. I’ve eaten curry for breakfast so a bit of local Khmer food now isn’t a problem. Anyone visiting Cambodia must try the green bean dish with meat of choice.

Suitably full, we make our way to our third temple Ta Phrom. Famous these days for the 2001 location filming of Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider film. It’s even now referred to as the Tomb Raider temple.

This temple has not been fully reclaimed from the jungle and many of its walls and structures are being strangled by the trees and roots that over and around these ancient buildings…some even acting to hold them up.

The overgrowth and non restoration give this place a great ambience and if it wasn’t for the boards of tourists, you would think you’d stumbled across this place on a jungle trek.

Ta Prohm Temple was actually a monastery – one of King Jayavarman VII’s first major temple projects from the 12th-13th century. It is estimated that this vast, 600-room structure and the surrounding area once had a population of over 70,000 people. The temple was home to high priests, monks, assistants, dancers and labourers. It controlled a great wealth of jewels and gold, as well as an estimated 3,000 nearby villages.

As this temple is smaller than a lot of the others, it does get extremely crowded and congested…especially at key photo points.

Our last stop is at Angkor Thom which was the last capital of the Khmer Empire – a fortified city established in the late 12th century by King Jayavarrman VII. It’s famous for its tall entrance towers at each side with the same faces adjourning each, the same as those in the Bayon temple.

It’s a quick walk through here and I live the rusticness of this place also

and the tour has lasted a bit longer than the hostel had said. We get back around 1pm rather than the stated 1130. But it was a fabulous and informative day in a captivating place with a great bunch of people.

There’s now no rest for the wicked as I have to get me to the airport for my flight to Phnom Penh.

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