I’ll be honest. I had never heard of Angkor Wat or Siem Reap until we started planning this trip. Colleen gave me snippets of information but it didn’t register. Folks would say ‘ So you’re going to Angkor Wat’ when I mentioned Cambodia. I nodded sagely, ‘Of course’.
Our travels from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap were thanks to the manager at the Feliz Hostel. You see, he knew a guy, Vanny, who had a private car. For $75USD we got a ride to Siem Reap direct to our hotel. Considering it was 320km on slow roads it was a good deal. The hotel that we were staying at offered a much higher rate for the same type of service. The only down side was the Toyota Highlander was a four seater and we are five people.
The huge pool and the 16:30 to 18:30 lounge for my beer fix made the hotel, Le Meridien, an ideal resting place. The first morning I went for a run hoping to see Angkor Wat in the early light. Our hotel was only about 5km from the famed site. Running down the road (RIP Tom Petty) dodging early morning local commuters I turned back at the 1km mark by the Tourist Police who wouldn’t let me pass without a ticket. I ended up running through parts of the city (and lots of mud).
The only place to buy tickets to the Angkor complex is at Angkor Enterprise on Street 60 about 3km from Le Meridien (Hello Monopoly!). To reduce ticket swapping and likely ticket scalping the tickets are personalized with your photograph. A 3 day pass costs $62USD each and be used within 10 days. Ben was free provided we carried his passport as proof. I think everyone in Siem Reap thought we were crazy for walking – Tuk-tuk drivers, tourists, locals as we walked down one of the dustiest roads with the Noon sun beating down. Even the cows by the side of the road were laughing. But we all did it – 6km round trip with minimal complaining. The pool was a pretty nice reward. Surprise!! (we learned afterwards)! The Tuk-tuk driver will drive you to the ticket booth before you start your tour if you don’t like walking.
Built in the 12th century Angkor Wat was originally designed to be a temple in honour of Vishnu and later to Buddha, although some also believe that it is a mausoleum to its creator, King Suryavarman II. It is a massive structure surrounded by a moat and wall some 3.6km long. It is the largest religious structure in the World and a recognized World Heritage site by UNESCO.
Arriving in the morning we met a huge wave of Chinese tourists. One guy slipped and fell in the mud so Colleen gave up her stash of baby wipes to help him out. He did say thank-you so it was worth it.
The main bridge is under construction so the way across is on a floating dock. The bridge is made by CANDOCK, from Sherbrooke – YaY CANADA! I sent them an e-mail that they should promote their product on their website but nothing back.
The first structure is impressive as you climb up the stairs from the floating dock. The bas-relief sculptures are inspiring and give you a sense of history but does not prepare you for what lays beyond.
Walking forward along the main road we meet locals trying to sell trinkets and books, all for 1 dollar US. We carry on past them to soak in the history. The one person who wasn’t enjoying the view was the poor guy cutting the grass.
I could use a Lawn Mower
Inside the Main Structure
The structures are amazing. You can walk throughout with very little supervision or engagement from the staff. The main complex has four long sides that are covered in bas-relief telling the story of the Khmer people – from war and celebration to mythical beliefs. We overhear a guide say this is the best time of year because of the lack of tourists and you can take time to reflect on the meaning of the artwork.
The most famous bas relief is the mythical tale of how the Devas (gods) and the Asuras (demons) used the snake-king, Vasuki, as a rope wrapped around a churning stick and pulled on both both sides for a thousand years to create the elixir of life (amrita).
According to an article by Michael Buckley (http://www.veloasia.com/library/buckley/churning_milk.html), Eleanor Mannikka a renowned expert on Angkor Wat postulates that “the 91 asuras mark the 91 days between the winter solstice and spring equinox in March, while the 88 devas represent the 88 days to the summer solstice after the equinox period. Mannikka says this is just one of the hidden cosmological meanings coded at Angkor Wat, and that the temple is remarkably attuned to the movement of the sun and moon.”
The Inner Temple
The inner temple area which leads to a second story is available for wandering about. Colleen and Emma pose for a photograph while Ben and Hannah explore.
Example of Cultural Dress
A group in period costume surrounded by tourists were just below the main temple. The photos were at a price but I was able to snap these from a distance for free.
Canada meet China
The main temple is a steep climb and children under the age of 12 are not allowed. Ben sat patiently waiting while we took turns going up to see the site. I was busy taking photos when Ben was approached by some elderly people. They started crowding around and smiling at him. I intervened and told him it was okay. They were just curious. I don’t think they had seen a white boy before. They knew few words in English – Mother, Father, Son. They figured out how to ask “where you from?”. I told them, CANADA. It didn’t register. I showed them a Canadian flag. Nothing – blank look. I showed them a map on my tablet – you know that big country above the United States? Nothing. They were proud to note they were from China! They sure loved taking photos with Ben and also with me!
The upper terrace in Angkor Wat was originally open to the four cardinal points and likely housed a statue of Vishnu. When religious worship changed from Hindu to Buddhist the four entrances were walled up and statues of Buddha were erected. Many of the buddhas we saw were decapitated. Likely a result of differences in the Hindu / Buddhist religious fights or destruction from the Khmer Rouge.
Descending the Inner Temple
We left the main complex after three hours and still had many temples to visit. We stopped briefly at one of the Libraries on our way out.
Angkor Wat is over 800 years old and an amazing structure based on Kingly wealth, religious ideology, and skilled artisanship. It is worth a visit.