The city of temples




December 2014 • Canon 60D camera

UNESCO World Heritage site

The big day had arrived. The reason I had travelled to Cambodia was to see the temples of Angkor Wat អង្គរវត្ and Bayon ប្រាសាទបាយ័ន. Today we would be visiting both. Angkor Wat would be in the morning and Bayon, later in the afternoon. Angkor Wat is a very large, specific temple that is part of a larger temple complex area called Angkor អង្គរ . Angkor was the ancient capital of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th centuries, with Angkor Wat built in the 12th Century by King Suryavarman II.

Angkor became of interest in the 1800’s when Cambodia was colonised by the French. Angkor Wat has been translated as ‘Capital’ or ‘City of temples’. There are over 1000 temples in the area—some are just rumbles of bricks, others are fully restored. Angkor Wat is the best preserved example of Khmer architecture in Cambodia. The weather was cloudy this morning with a nice cool breeze. From Siem Reap, the town where all tourists stay to visit Angkor, we traveled by mini bus to the back of Angkor Wat.

Channy, our tour guide throughout Cambodia, said this would be the best way to avoid the tourist crowds and get some good photos. First impressions from the outside was how wide the temple looked. Also the bricks were not as large as the temples I saw in South America, such as Tikal in Guatemala or Saqsayhuaman in Peru. As we entered the temple, Channy gave us the history lesson of the temple.

Angkor Wat has three rectangular areas, with each area higher then the other. I was fascinated to find out the temple was in fact built for the Hindu religion and not Buddhism as I originally thought. Angkor Wat was built as a temple dedicated to the Hindu deity Vishnu. Over the centuries with the fall of Angkor, Buddhist Monks cared for Angkor Wat and became a temple for the Mahayana Buddhist deity Avalokitesvara, and a place of pilgrimage thereafter.

The many bas–relief on the walls in the first area depict scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, sacred Hindu texts. There were bas–reliefs dealing with Heaven and Hell; showing punishments for bad people, rewards for good. Apsaras are everywhere. In Hindu culture, they are female spirits of clouds and water, depicted in a state of dancing. We then climbed some steps up into the second area. The Sun had finally come out, and the crowds of tourists were slowly trickling in.

Did you know...

Angkor Wat is such an important symbol of Cambodia that it appears on the national flag. It was added to the flag in 1850.

The third section can be reached by some steep steps. Normally there is a line to wait and climb up during peak season and busy parts of the day. Lucky for us we were visiting early in the morning so we went straight up. I found this section the most impressive. Tall lotus–shaped circular towers dominate this area. The worn out texture of the stones makes you feel like you are stepping back in time.

There are corridors connecting the towers with small Buddha shrines dotted around the place. We then made our way back towards the front of Angkor Wat to get a view and photos of the outside. By now the area was swarming with tourists. Channy mentioned that tomorrow morning we would be back here, to witness sunrise over the temple. 

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

A popular event at Angkor Wat is to watch sunrise over the temple. You will find many opinions about doing this. Some claiming it to be like a spiritual experience and others saying it is not worth the effort because of all the tourists.

I say go for it. Since you have travelled from another country to see Angkor Wat, waking up early won't do you any harm. Yes there are a lot of tourists around at that time.

You will need to go early to get a place in the front of the temple, especially if you want to set up a tripod to take photos and videos. You also have to bare in mind that you are also at the mercy of the weather. If it's cloudy then you won't get a perfect surprise. Overall I was happy to have gone.

Final thoughts

Just like Machu Picchu, you had to marvel at how the ancient people were able to create such an architectural wonder without any modern day tools. Angkor Wat was larger and more detailed then I had expected. There was so much history to be learnt, I could have spent most of the day here. After the cloudy start it warmed up nicely with blue skies and the sun shining down on us.

Don't forget to wear sunscreen as there are a lot of open areas in the temple. If your time is short, I recommend making your way to the third central area to avoid queuing up to get in. Try and get there in the morning to avoid the crowds. If you are visiting in peak season then you won't be able to avoid the tourists. Pack a wide angle lens if you want to capture the scale of the buildings and towers.

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