Angkor Wat

Angkor Travel Blog

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Sunrise over Angkor Wat

4am start (do I need to keep complaining?) today, pick up at 5am in time to get to the Angkor Wat complex, buy a 3 day ticket ($40) and get to the infamous Wat itself in time for sunrise. Angkor Wat is the biggest religious building in the world and the silhouette against the lightening sky looked more like sunset in purples and pinks.

 

No time to look around properly though as we moved on to the Bayon temple and Anghor Thom complex. I had low expectations of all this temple-exploring, and when the tuk-tuk driver said that most people spent 3 hours exploring my initial thoughts were that there was no way I would spend that much time here without getting bored.

Sunrise over Angkor Wat
But very soon I found I was fascinated in spite of myself! The Bayon temple has 216 giant faces of the ruling king (at the time) and thousands of bas-relief walls in 'rooms' around the temple. The temple isn't much to look at from the outside but inside we spent a happy hour exploring the reliefs, dechipering them and speculating when we didn't have any detailed information.

 

From here we walked across to the Baphuon which is approached by means of a long, raised causeway bringing to mind processions of soldiers, heroes, monks, or royalty filing in front of crowds of thousands all cheering and waving banners. Feeling like something out of Gladiator we walked the causeway towards the looming 'temple-mountain' - so called because it was built to represent Mount Meru in the 11th century.

Justice towers
It is also known affectionately as the Biggest Jigsaw Puzzle in the World as it was taken apart by archeologists before the civil war but the records were lost during the Khymer Rouge years and has been restored only after excruicating research. Many pieces still lie around the site, presumably awaiting a home again (we had a go but didn't get far) and the back of the temple was under scaffolding as people worked on the construction and restoration. Again I was taken with the temple, more than I expected and had a lot of fun wandering around this and the surrounding ruins though my vertigo was well and truly in operation...

 

Both temples lie in the old city walls of Angkor Thom, so we then explored the other ruins and the city walls themselves; Phimeanakas, another temple mountain that I refused to climb on account of the prohibitively narrow steps (you can't convince me people worshiped up on top in days of yore, the architect either had a sense of humour or had no feet), though Richard toiled to the top balancing precariously on the stone ledges only to discover stairs on the other side (I joked that there would be).

Monks looking at bas-relief carvings in Angkor Wat
And also Preah Palilay which was my first look at a "tree ON a temple" which is really, really cool the first time you see it. It begs the question, how is this possible? Since stone is hardly nutritous enough to support a tree, however the revelation that the temple had been covered with soil for many years cleared up that little puzzle.

 

One city gate we had entered the complex through by tuk-tuk, and the gates were surrounded by statues of soldiers holding back a long Naga (7-headed snake usually depicted over Buddha meditating) on either side of the approach like a stone tug-of-war. The opposite gate we would exit by on our way round the temple circuit. In the centre was a huge wall of bas-relief carvings, originally used for watching public ceremonies and parades with processional steps in the centre.

A split second before the monkey attacked
The walls and steps were beautifully set in the landscape and we sat at the top for a bit marvelling at the magnificence of everything. From here we could imagine the grandeur and spectacle amidst the ancient forest setting. These were supported on either side by the Terrace of the Leper King and Terrace of the Elephants (we missed the first one), and faced another temple, Prasat Suor Prat which had two towers at which the king would either have watched tightrope walkers perform, or would have incarcerated suspects of crimes. Much like the medieval logic on witches, which ever poor sod died first was the guiltless one, and the other would be put to death.

 

A quick stop at Thommamon & Chau Say temples, which are basically identical but for the fact that one is in a serious state of disrepair, and the other undergoing a vigorous programme of restoration.

Sunrise over Angkor Wat
In years to come it will demonstrate what they both would have looked like back then.

 

After here we drove to Ta Prohm which is perhaps most famous for it's use in the films Tomb Raider and Two Brothers. This crumbling ruin has been grown over by trees that also are growing ON the walls, not just through the temple itself. I wanted to see this especially because I heard the 'tree temple' is on the 'last chance to see' list. The trees are growing so big that they are destroying the temple, and the choice is to save either trees or temple and the temple won. Personally, despite this being the temple I most wanted to see, I was under-whelmed by it, by contrast to the others that I had low expectations of and loved.

Sunrise over Angkor Wat
The temple itself was a maze of ruins, the carvings weren't as spectacular, the layout was confusing. I didn't 'get' anything from it really, though the trees really are impressive. I would save them personally....

 

Amazingly we managed to squeeze another two temples (before the Big Kahuna) into our jam-packed first day; Banteay Kdei and Sras Sang. The first we swung round quickly to escape the large group of Japanese tourists who stamped and waved at us to get out of their photos (after which we made very sure we loitered enough to ruin as many as possible). The second one I liked the windows, and we spent much time trying to get cool photos of the endless door frames stretching into the distance but being repeatedly foiled by a women with a large blue umbrella.

Justice towers
Karmic retribution I guess.

 

By now we were near exhaustion, but we finally returned to Angkor Wat for a proper explore and to see the sunset. Angkor Wat looked just as beautiful under blue sky as under pink (the real spectacle is from a distance) though the lack of shade between the inner and outer areas made our movements rather sluggish and our comments and speculations nonsense as our brains melted in the heat.

 

We started by walking around the outer 'cloisters' which had walls of beautifully carved bas-reliefs depicting parts of the Rayamana which is a much-loved Hindu story about the hero Ramana and his wife Sita.

Monks looking at bas-relief at Angkor Wat
If I'm not hazy on details, Rama, leader of a far-flung kingdom and storybook bad guy fell in love with Ramana's wife Sita. He appeared to her as an animal and tried to convince her that Ramana had tricked her into marrying him but she refused to believe and slapped him. So he kidnapped her and when Rama found out he got all his monkey armies together to storm Rama's kingdom. So Rama appealed to his daugter, the Princess of the Fishes to dry up all the seas so Ramana and his army couldn't get to him. When Ramana saw this, he sent his Monkey Army Chief Hanuman to seduce the Princess. When she agreed to marry him he asked her who her loyalty was to; him or her father and when she told him she was honourable to her husband he asked her to prove it by giving back the oceans. Ramana reached Rama and he won Sita back, but then Rama appeared to Ramana and convinced him his wife Sita had not been faithful, so Ramana decided to have her killed. She fled, and only returned by proving her fidelity by growing a lotus beneath her when he asked. She came back but then fled again, but then he coaxed her back before they lived happily ever after. The story is like the Indian Hindu story the Mahabharata but for some reason the Mahabharata has disappeared in Angkor Hindu history.

2 of the walls depicted scenes from this story, with Vishnu and Garuda, Hanuman and Ramana fighting the war for Sita.

A split second before the monkey attacked
The other walls were of the King's (current at the time) army; the rank and station of the army chiefs being depicted by the number of parasols they had above them (the King had 17 I think). And the other was the famous 'Churning of the Sea of Milk' which depicts the 88 demons (asuras) and 92 gods (deva) churning up the sea to extract the elixir of immortality.

 

We then walked to the inner mountain temple (again a representation of Mount Meru) which we walked around with increasing slowness. We could not climb the last central tower sadly, though heaven only knows how I would have got up it anyway. It may be due to the many accidents that have occurred here over the years, or may just be due to the time of day as accidents would no doubt increase as the day dwindled! By now we were talking almost no sense at all, and climbing stairs, or picking our feet up to climb over the uneven ground was proving more and more difficult. We went outside again to watch the beginnings of the sunset, when the low sun sets the temple stones a rich orange. But we didn't wait for the whole thing, and walked back out through the grounds, stopping only to take photos of monkeys that I unfortunately got too close to and hazarded a mildly terrifying attack. Lucky I had my plastic ping-pong fan to deter him. But he followed us across the grass, and it took a while for me to feel reassured that he was not following me and planning a second attack!

 

After motoring back we swung past my hotel first for me to grab swimming stuff and then went back to Richard's hotel at the FCC for a well-needed swim at dusk. The FCC is pretty snazzy; big white parasols and deck recliners around a smartly-designed saltwater pool. The lights from the surrounding rooms and the under-water spotlights casting a yellow glow and deep black shadows. Bats squeaking from the trees above, the musky smell of anti-insect candles, and the sound of music floating over the breeze from the distant restaurant. Not to mention how wonderful it felt to slide sticky, tired bodies into the cool, cool liquid...

 

After a cool swim and a hot bath I felt truly zen and we decided just to eat at the hotel. We had a Khymer sharer plate of Amok, Cambodian curry, spring rolls, fish cakes and steamed rice and then I caught a tuk tuk back to my hotel for a bit more sleep before another long day climbing round temples.

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Sunrise over Angkor Wat
Sunrise over Angkor Wat
Sunrise over Angkor Wat
Sunrise over Angkor Wat
Justice towers
Justice towers
Monks looking at bas-relief carvin…
Monks looking at bas-relief carvi…
A split second before the monkey a…
A split second before the monkey …
Sunrise over Angkor Wat
Sunrise over Angkor Wat
Sunrise over Angkor Wat
Sunrise over Angkor Wat
Justice towers
Justice towers
Monks looking at bas-relief at Ang…
Monks looking at bas-relief at An…
A split second before the monkey a…
A split second before the monkey …
Angkor
photo by: ulysses