This morning we woke up at 3:30 to be in Angkor Wat for the
dawn. Angkor Wat was built in c.1130 by Suryavarman as a temple to the Hindu
god Vishnu. It is surrounded by a 190m wide moat, and covers 500 acres (1.5km
by 1.3km). A single causeway crosses the moat and enters the walled premises. A
processional way passes a library on either side, then a pool on either side
before reaching the temple proper, which is based on Met Meru with five towers
and three levels.
For the dawn we waited on the steps of one of the
was hardly noticeable due to the cloud cover (we have not yet seen any blue
sky), so we walked around the temple.
The temple was in very good shape, and it
was the largest we had seen. Around the base level were carved base-reliefs
telling various stories. One was a depiction of a battle between gods (with
Hanuman and monkeys) and demons. Another showed a historical battle between
Khmers and invading Thai’s. The king was depicted wearing a lotus hat on an
elephant (also with a lotus hat) and 15 parasols. The general was the same,
except without the lotus hats and with only 9 parasols. The taking of slaves
and the celebrations were also shown. Another base-relief showed the churning
of the ocean of milk. Yet another showed the judgement of heaven and hell.
Three levels in the picture existed, with heaven on top (with celestial
dancers), earth in the middle, and hell below. Hell was the most detailed, with
gossipers giving their tongues pulled out, thieves having heir necks bound, bad
people being burnt at the stake or roasted over fires or eaten by animals,
adulterers being stabbed with a thousand knives, and so on. And Yama (the
celestial judge) sat between heaven and earth and cast people down or lifted
Another carving showed the story of monks being told to listen, with
the sole monk who did not listen being eaten by a tiger. Another showed a god
who wanted to impregnate 900 women, who were protected by Shiva. When the god
tried to shoot an arrow up at Shiva the arrow came back and killed him, and the
women thanked Shiva for his protection.
On the next level of the temple was the gallery of one
thousand Buddha’s (most of which were stolen). Buddha was shown in many
different poses – sitting, standing, being protected by the Naga, and so on.
The position of his hands were important. One hand pointing down is invoking
the power of the earth lord either rfor meditation (if the other hand is flat)
or for protection (if the other hand is in a stop signal). Two flat hands is
meditation, two hands in a stop signal is anger/aggression.
There were also
1500 apsaras (the celestial dancers) and the hall of echoes.
The third level was reached by very steep stairs (70 degree
gradient), with narrow high steps. This level was smaller and plain, with the
five towers and a Buddha image in the central tower in active use. The climb
down was daunting.
After breakfast at the temple (where I bought some elephant
carvings) we went to the Silk Farm run by Les Chantiess Eroles, a charity that
teaches disabled and poor people trades. We saw the entire silk making process
from mulberry leaves to silk worm to spinning silk from the cocoon to
bleaching, dying and weaving.
Jodie bough a couple of silk bags.
After lunch we went out to West Baray.
West Baray is the largest of the manmade reservoirs made by the Angkor kings, at 8kms by 2.5kms. It is used as irrigation
for rice paddies, and a small beach for locals. We took a boat out to the temple West
Mebon, made on the island. The temple was in poor condition and was small, but
we had a good time trying a fresh coconut and talking to some local kids there.
The ancient god-king built the reservoirs as they worshipped water and water
spirits (like the Naga), and they may have used it to support rice growing for
the large population.
Afterwards we had dinner at the Thai Dead Fish Café, which
was fantastic, with the best tofu I’ve ever tasted. Really nice. Then to the
Angkor What Bar for drinks and back to the hotel in a Tuk Tuk while it poured
down and lightning covered the sky.