We went to Angkor Wat today. The national pride of Cambodia, UNESCO World Heritage Site, and world's largest religious site. It can be seen on everything from their national beer to many of the company's logos throughout Cambodia. Located near Siem Reap, The area is a flat forested architectural wonderland where the red clay earth, greet trees, and grey ruins create an almost surreal place of beauty. There is no place on earth with as much importance to the Khmer people and it's one of the most intact that has spanned different philosophies of Hindu and Buddhist faiths. In most places we have found, when another philosophy comes in, the old philosophy is destroyed or defaced. Not the case in Angkor Wat.
What is Angkor Wat?
Angkor Wat is a temple complex at Angkor, Cambodia, built for the king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation. First a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu, then Buddhist. It is the world's largest religious building. The temple is at the top of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. It has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag, and it is the country's prime attraction for visitors. Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple mountain and the later galleried temple, based on early South Indian Hindu architecture, with key features such as the Jagati. It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology: within a moat and an outer wall 3.6 kilometres (2.2 mi) long are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. At the centre of the temple stands a quincunx of towers. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west; scholars are divided as to the significance of this. The temple is admired for the grandeur and harmony of the architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs, and for the numerous devatas (guardian spirits) adorning its walls.
This is a direct copy of wikipedia.com for the use of education on this site. This author does not imply nor claim to that he has written this material. There I had to get that legal mumbo jumbo out-of-the-way.
How to Tour Angkor Wat - Not On A Tour
What can WE really say about Angkor Wat? We got up a little late as usual and headed to Angkor Wat at around noon after eating and sleeping in. We took off on one of our motorbikes despite what some of the tuk tuk drivers told us. We had heard from more than one of the tuk tuk drivers you cannot take motorbikes into Angkor Wat, but realized quickly as we arrived and confirmed what we had suspected. Telling us motorbikes weren't allowed was just a ploy to keep us off our motorbike and in their tuk tuks. We can understand the lie for this is the main attraction and livelihood for just about everyone in Siem Reap and the surrounding area. We also have learned through our travels that "tours" can be a scam and a rip-off and elect to explore more than tour.
The Special Feeling
We arrived to the main temple complex of Angkor Wat which is situated around a huge square moat like river and parked the bike. You can never quite explain the way you feel when you go somewhere as special as this. Through all the literary description and pictures, the feeling you have inside is indescribable. We had this awe moment where we realized we were somewhere special in the world. We walked across the main bridge and into the outer wall. We saw the temple grounds, sat under a tree and ate snacks and drank water. The temperature was nearly oppressive. The humidity is what killed us. We trudged through the grounds and took pictures that can better describe what we saw.
Overall we were not hugely impressed with the main temple complex. Dare I say.. disappointed? Not disappointed with the grandeur or the history, but the buildings themselves were not as impressive as some we have seen throughout the world. After seeing what the Mayans accomplished even earlier in human existence, it was hard to top Central America and Tikal. Still very impressive though. Amazing architecture, bas reliefs, and inscriptions on the wall in ancient Khmer. It was fun yet the crowds and endless lines of tuk tuks carrying Chinese tourists in waving processions soured the experience a little for us. Throw in some hawkers that don't take no for an answer, and you have a recipe for a hasty exit.
Taking A Break and Re-Assessing
As we left the temple, we got a coffee at a cafe across the street, and decided to tour around the roads near by. We had heard that there are temple complexes scattered about. We had it in our heads that if the main complex wasn't that impressive then the rest of the "smaller" complexes would be not so impressive either. Nothing could be further from the truth. We drove down shady tree roads through some of the most spectacular ruins of ancient culture we have seen, and comparable in some ways to the temples and complexes of the Mayans yet, much different in their design and layout.
How Big Is Angkor?
While Angkor Wat is the most famous temple, it’s not largest complex in the area nor the only one of importance. In the ninth century the Khmer empire took over and many more temples and structures were built. Much of Cambodia’s architectural wonders of this area date back to the ninth to the 15th centuries. Angkor Wat was built in the early 12th century when the biggest boom was happening The other temples around Angkor Wat are a testament to the sheer grandiosity of a city that must have been incredible. There were an estimated 1 million plus people living in the area at it's height. About 40 additional temples were built around the site of Angkor Wat and more are being discovered in the 400 square kilometres (250 miles) surrounding the area. Hundreds more were built throughout the Khmer kingdom and can be found in present-day Cambodia, Thailand and Laos.
As with many other aspects of the early culture in Cambodia, Indian architectural methods influenced the architecture of Angkor Wat. The Hindu philosophy took root in Cambodia around the second or third century, many temples were built to honor the Hindu gods including Angkor Wat which was dedicated to Vishnu. In contrast with many of the other temples at Angkor, Angkor Wat faces west, a reflection of its dedication to Vishnu, who rules over the western quadrant of the compass. The 11th and 12th centuries saw the largest number of buildings that were undertaken at Angkor. Angkor Wat is a prime example of classical Khmer architecture mixed with the Hindu architecture of southern India, producing a design of harmony and charm that has continued to enchant for centuries. Angkor Wat's architecture has been compared in grandeur to that of the Greek, Roman, and Mayan civilizations.
The temple itself contains two essential elements of Angkorian and Khmer architecture: the pyramid and concentric galleries. The pyramid takes the form of three stepped terraces, with each step bordered on all sides by covered galleries. The galleries indicate the pathway to the central shrine, and towers are constructed in the corners. The central pyramid has five towers which an indication of the temple's central shrine. Everything has meaning. The pyramid is to represent Mount Meru which is the home of Hindu Gods. The 5 towers represent the five peaks of Mount Meru and can be reached by twelve very steep stairways. The moat around the temple is to represent the ocean.
We rode into another complex called Angkor Thom a few kilometers from Angkor Wat. This place was massive and one of the complexes built in the late 12th Century under the Khmer rule. It took us the best part of two hours to ride the perimeter of the square complex of four points. We passed by monkeys alongside the road, over bridges of statues, and through three of the four majestic gates. We saw smaller complexes that had that feel of something very old. We would ride our bike off the main road down into the dirt right up to a complex or temple. There was something very cool about that. We saw so many temples, most of which we didn't know the names of and enjoyed ourselves the entire day.
Concert At The Ruins
We did stop at a little temple complex and there was a man selling bamboo jew's harps. I ended up buying one and doing a duet. It was really satisfying hanging around the uncrowded temple playing jew's harps with the man who made them from a completely different culture. We also stopped by a temple that had roots growing all over the ruins which was special and we had the place to ourselves. There is so much to see and do here, it boggles the mind and we didn't even scratch the surface or see most of the "tour worthy" sites. Shelly even got chased by a monkey bearing it's teeth when I asked her to get close to take a picture. Good thing she was wearing a helmet! Scary and a little funny!
The Sun Sets on Angkor Wat
We headed back around sunset and took some amazing pictures through the day. I used Shelly's camera all day because the previous night I left my camera on the motorbike when I parked it outside. Someone snatched my camera in the night. I was mad at myself in the morning, but madder that I lost all the pictures and videos of us riding, and the entire amazing pictures I took while riding up the Tonle Sap on the Speedboat. All of which may have contributed with my apathy at Angkor Wat earlier in the day. The day and the rest of the surrounding area changed my attitude in a hurry, and we had a spectacular day exploring the ruins. We wish we had a week to visit the ruins right and see everything there is to see, however we were short on time in SE ASia and had to leave the next day. We will be back we imagine.
Getting Back to Siem Reap
Once back at Tan Kang Angkor Hotel, we took a dip in the pool to wash off the dirt and grime of the day and cool off. We took showers and headed back to town to get something to eat. We looked at some of the street food stalls and numerous pizza places touting their "special" pizzas with psychedelic mushrooms or marijuana on them. We still don't understand the allure of some to take drugs in a foreign country like this. It seems to me an unwise thing to do that not only opens you up to getting into trouble or robbed, but shows another country a little about yourself and your country. While walking around, we finally decided on an Indian Place to eat.
The food was great and while sitting there two young boys around 10 years old selling goods, stopped to talk to us. They spoke remarkably good English and were trying to get us to buy their trinkets. They said they learned English by simply interacting with tourists. We were more interested in speaking to them and finding out about their life, than buying anything and they seemed ok with this too. We offered to buy them some Indian food. They turned their noses up respectfully and didn't want to venture out of their normal cuisine in Cambodia. We paid our bill and took them back to the street food stalls and bought them both dinner. We sat outside with the boys and enjoyed talking to them some more and parted ways. The next day we checked out of Siem Reap and were headed back to Saigon to end our motorbike tour.
Change In Perspective
Even in an amazing place like Angkor Wat, you can develop a negative attitude like we did. Sometimes what you expect and what you get are two different things. Maybe it was the heat or losing my camera and all the pictures, maybe we didn't sleep well the night before. The important thing is to not have the attitude we did. We missed out on possible opportunities by having this attitude. We have learned that we need to be open to the issues that arise from the hawkers and heat and try to maintain a positive attitude and simply be grateful we have the opportunity to tour such an iconic place in the world. Changing your attitude is the first step to changing your perspective and throughout the day we changed both.
Here are three photo albums and a video of our day. There is a lot of stuff here. Enjoy!