THE ANGKOR TEMPLES
Updated: May 28, 2020
It was 4 am and I was wide awake. Sleep seemed to be escaping me the last couple weeks but at least this time, it was for a good reason. Visiting Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples has been on my to-do list for a long time so I wasn’t too upset when my alarm went off to get me up and there in time to watch the sun rise over the temple.
The tuktuk driver was waiting outside the hostel as promised and it was a cool, dark drive through Siem Reap to reach the temples of Angkor. The sky had the faintest hint of light by the time I’d made it to the drop-off point and I was excited.
To reach the interior temple complex, visitors cross the moat surrounding to entire complex via floating dock. Its still dark at that time of day and despite all of the people, very calm. Once inside the complex, most visitors head to a couple different spots to get the best vantage point for sunrise. The most popular spots are just around the two ponds on either side of the main walkway into the temple. The first day, I was right there with everyone else and honestly glad I was. My ticket was good for 3 days and I went for sunrise all three days. The first day was without question the most beautiful sunrise. The other two days, I found a quiet, 900 year old limestone corner and tucked in to enjoy the sunrise with a coffee and my book.
'Cool photo, but can you please put your arm down now? Thanks.'
The view from inside Angkor Wat.
This is the first stop on every tour and with good reason. It is the most famous and the best preserved of the temples in the area. It is also the largest religious monument in the world, depicting the Hindu universe. The original temple was built in the 12th century in traditional Khmer style as a state capital and king’s temple. Its use eventually turned into a Buddhist temple but later fell out of favour and was abandoned in the 16th century. It was ‘rediscovered’ but the West in 1860 and since then, become a Unesco World Heritage Site and has over 2 million visitors a year. The first morning I arrived to buy my entry ticket, the counter about the lines already read over 1000 tickets sold that day - by 5:15 in the morning.
The interior building is just as stunning. The walls are all carved with bas relief depicting stories of Vishnu and all of the other Hindu gods. My favourites were of the Apsara spirit dancers, beautiful women thought to be the ones to commune with the gods. Between it’s size and all the details to take in, Its easy to spend a few hours wandering around the temple.
Bayon Temple was my favourite of the ones I visited. Like Angkor Wat, I stopped here on all three days. I liked Bayon the most because it is the most unique with its distinct towers, each carved with four giant Buddha faces. There are 216 faces in total that are meant to represent the sublime states of Buddhism – charity, compassion, sympathy, and equanimity. The temple also had multiple construction phases throughout its life so it feels a little like a maze to navigate through all of it. On occasion, it offered up a nice little secluded pocket that I could have to myself, away from the rest of the crowds.
This is the temple most famous for being featured in Tomb Raider. It’s other defining feature is the silk-cotton and strangler fig trees and their massive roots that grow on, under, over and near the temple. They are massive and the best looking roots are priority photo ops for most visitors.
I could probably climb this, right?
Large parts of the temple have been restored using the original stones and it was still in progress when I visited. It is thanks to the production of Tomb Raider that the restoration can happen. A lot of the $10,000 a day production fees were allocated towards restoration projects.
The first day of the temple visits, I shared a tuk tuk with two guys from the hostel. Ta Som was one of the later stops of the day so I’d gotten to know them well enough to know that when a monk passed us and then one of the guys disappeared, he was definitely chasing that monk for a photo. I eventually caught up with them just in time to catch a fleeting moment him standing in a doorway, orange robes bright against the shadows. I’m not sure what the etiquette on this is really but the monk had obligingly posed for the photos and a smirk on his face when he left. I’m sure this sort of thing happens to him often.
There were far too many photos and temples left unexplored but definitely worth a trip to explore this ancient city.