Three o’clock in the morning is early where ever you are in the world, and there are few things I will get up to do at that hour, but visiting Angkor Wat is one of them. It was a short drive, only 5.5 km from Seim Reap. We did bring a flashlight for our trip, however at that hour, we didn’t think to bring it with us! It was dark when we arrived at the temple, and it would have been good to have the light on the uneven grounds, and walks. Either way, made it to the pond where we would sit to wait. We listened to the monks near by chanting, and the birds were waking, it was a beautiful and serene time of the day, I was so pleased we went that early.
I have used this photo below so you can see the magnitude of this complex.
Angkor Thom which means “Great City” was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer Empire. Within this city are many temples, with Angkor Wat Temple being the most famous, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the largest religious monument in the world at almost 163 hectares. It was built by a Khmer King, Suryavarman II in the early 12h century as a Hindu state temple, but was later changed to a Buddhist temple nearing the end of that century. The temple was built with 5 to 10 million sandstone blocks, each weighing approximately 1.5 tons. It is believed they used elephants and rafts to haul these blocks along rivers and canals from Mount Kulen, over 40 km away. The moat obviously was built by hand, which was a huge endeavour on its own. Each and every surface, including the beams, columns and roofs are covered in carvings of winged dragons pulling chariots, warriors, unicorns, dancing girls, elephants with men atop, and warriors. One gallery wall has over 1000 sq. m. of carvings. Much of the scenes and carvings include the 7 headed snakes, adopted from the Chinese by the Khmer. In 1860, a French explorer discovered the temple(s) that were being eaten up by the thick jungle. The view from the top of the temple was spectacular. Photos never do justice.
Much work was needed to restore Angkor Wat, and the other temples. Vegetation had taken over and it had to be removed meticulously. During the time the Khmer Rouge were in control, work ceased and they actually used remaining wood from the temple for firewood as they camped in the area. There is a also damage from a stray American shell, as well as bullet holes due to the Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge having gun fights in the area. However, it wasn’t until after the wars that the real damage began. During the period of the late 80’s and 90’s thieves entered the complex and knocked off, and stole most of the statues heads. Unfortunately many of the treasures from all the temples were stolen. There are many temples here, and we did see several. The gates to the temples, and the bridges crossing the moats are all pieces of art as well, with the same intricate carvings, works of ancient beauty all over this area.
The Bayon Temple, just north of Angkor Wat, is a spectacular temple. There are four faces carved on 54 gothic towers and each tower is topped with a lotus flower, which is common in Buddhism as the lotus flower represents purity, spiritual awakening and faithfulness. Each of the faces looks in a different direction – north, south, east, and west. Charity, compassion, sympathy, and equanimity are the four states of Buddhism, of which each face represents. The 54 towers are said to be a representation of the Lunar Calendar having 54 days , and I don’t think it was acoincident that the Khmer Empire of King Jayavarman VII had 54 provinces.
The temples seem all the same, yet are so different in so many ways. The last temple we visited was the Ta Prohm. It was made famous in the Tomb Raider movie, we hadn’t seen it. It is a great example of how the jungle can take over the beautiful architecture that man has made, totally destroying anything in its path. We also made a quick stop at the Terrace of the Elephants. Much of this was made of organic material, so has long disappeared, however the retaining wall and the foundation platforms remain. The wall is over 300 meters long. Bas-relief sculptures of elephants, horses, beautiful dancers, and of course warriors. It was used by the King to watch his army returning from battle, as well as parades and religious ceremonies were held on the grounds.
Touring all these temples was fantastic. I know there are many more, and we did get the chance to go to others, but for today, it was enough, and time to head back into Phnom Pehn as we had tickets to go to the Phare Circus that evening. This circus is Cambodia’s answer to Cirque! I highly recommend not missing this event. Without a doubt one of the most amazing shows I’ve ever seen! Without words, only music and acrobatics they told the story of a young girl growing to an old woman through the horrific history of Cambodia. There are many videos on Youtube, and you can check out the trailer to the show we saw, Sokha here.
It was another successful day in Cambodia, a great deal learned as we toured through temples and the streets of Seim Reap. Tomorrow another day in paradise, and a tour of a silk farm.