Angkor Wat

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The temples of Angkor really do have to be seen to be believed, their number and scale are larger than you could ever imagine. They are detailed with breathtaking carvings, bas reliefs that tell the story of their history and the people who built them, and to explore the ruins is to peer into an ancient world of warriors, kings and gods.

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The temples were built between the 9th century and the 15th century, a period in which saw the architectural style develop from its Hindu, Indian origins to the artistic masterpieces of the later temples of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. Over the centuries the artistic style blended the old with new ideas, absorbing creatively and spiritually from neighbouring cultures.

Angkor Wat | Cambodia-2740Angkor {from the Sanskrit for ‘city’} was the capital of the Khmer empire, which flourished for five centuries from AD802 when Jayavarman II declared himself the ‘Universal Ruler’, and encompassed much of south-east Asia at its zenith.

The capital was founded to the north of the Great Lake, Tonle Sap, successive rulers moved from one site to the next leaving behind monuments like the Roluos temples, the Barays {reservoirs} and Pre Rup.

The magnificent temple of Angkor Wat was constructed in the 12th century under the rule of Suryavarman II, it is considered to be the largest religious structure in the world and is the best preserved of the Angkor temples.

Originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, Angkor Wat may have been designed as a funerary temple for Suryavarman II. It is an architectural masterpiece of symmetry and design, preserved from the encroaching jungle by continual use as a place of worship.

The temple is built within a grand moat and the outer wall measures over a kilometre at its longest edge. Like the other temples, Angkor Wat is an earthly representation of Mount Meru, the mythical mountain at the centre of the old Hindu and Buddhist universe, at its heart stands a pyramid, a series of terraces linked by steep stairs leading up to the summit.

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Surrounding the pyramid are galleries lined with sublime bas-reliefs showing battles, histories, mythology and the heavens and hells. In addition to this there are around 2000 beautiful Devata, celestial nymphs poised with delicate hand gestures and fantastical coiffure. Their beguiling features adorn the temple along-side the equally charming dancing Apsara reliefs.

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 It is the most popular place to watch the sunrise, one of those must-do-before-you-die moments. I’ve ventured out twice under the cover of darkness to take part in this ritual, and on both occasions the clouds have conspired against me, resulting in less than impressive photography and feelings more in line with disappointment rather than inspiring.

My favourite time to visit Angkor Wat is late in the afternoon, when the low sun bathes the temple in heavenly light. It’s difficult to avoid the crowds here but the complex is so big it’s not too bad, I would personally avoid the flood after sunrise though.

I’ve been twice privileged in my life to visit the temples of Angkor, how lucky I am! First in 2008 and this time in March 2014. We had arrived into Siem Reap by bus from Battambang and reunited with a whole bunch of friends- Caley, Sophie and Severi, all of who we hadn’t seen since China, and also Jayne and Vaughan who we’d last seen in Phnom Penh.

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On the previous trip we hadn’t strayed further than the more central temples so the plan this time was to explore further afield.

With so many of us, this made things easier and cheaper, we could split transport costs, and it also helped us to avoid the crowds somewhat. The crowds that seem to have multiplied a hundredfold since 2008.

For this trip we bought a three day pass {$40) which gave us unlimited access to the Angkor Archaeological Park for any three days over a seven day period.

This meant we could take our time exploring the temples and have time to chill out and relax as well.

We got settled into our accommodation in Siem Reap, Caley introduced us to the rooftop Triangle Bar that did 35cent draught beer during the day and we spent many an afternoon lounging and catching up.

So how did I find Angkor Wat on a second visit? In the six years that had passed Angkor Wat has seen a great increase in tourists and as the most popular temple it was always busy. 

We noticed small changes within the temple, the steep stairs up to the summit were fenced off, I remember scrambling up there in fear, I’m sure I have photos of it somewhere! Now there is a wooden stair addition, for health and safety reasons I presume, and to prevent too much damage to the stone ones.

It’s very strange revisiting somewhere you have such strong memories of, it can play with those memories, tarnish them, but the desire to return is always a potent one.

 This is the first post in a series of Angkor pieces where I will share with you the majesty and wonder of the Angkor temples, so stay tuned!

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Keep exploring:

How To Do The Temples Of Angkor a perfect 3 day itinerary to see the temples with tips!

Sublime Smiles and Long Corridors: Angkor Thom and Preah Khan. Those enigmatic faces of Bayon!

Banteay Srei and The River Of A Thousand Linga The most beautiful temple of all and the river where it all began.

Beng Mealea: Jungle Temple This Angkor temple still feels lost in the jungle.

How To Travel By Train From Siem Reap to Bangkok. The slow, cheap and wonderful train to Thailand. 

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2 Responses

  1. Ayla says:

    Beautiful photos! Would love to visit here 🙂