Angkor Wat

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).

Tickets

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.  

Tickets to the Angkor Complex – the beer made them blurry

Angkor Wat

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.

A relic of the Khmer Empire – Angkor Wat

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.

Welcome to Angkor Wat
Floating Dock – Made in Canada!

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.

The main Temple

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

Armed with a small scythe to cut the grass
A Hard Days Work
2 hours later – Where is that 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.

Posing in front of a Window
A Bas-Relief showing an Army marching to war
The shiny parts on the bas-relief are from constant touching by people as they walk by …

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).

91 asuras (demons), anchored by the 21-headed demon king Ravana pull against 88 devas (gods)
Vishnu supervises in the middle of the tug of war (demons to his right and gods to his left)

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.

The inner structure at Angkor Wat
Inner Courtyward – Angkor Wat

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.

Cambodian dressed as Khmer deity
A Khmer Princess
Protecting the Princess
Waving to the crowds
Looking for her Prince!

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!

Just minding my own business
This woman leaned in and not speaking a word of English got close to Ben and took a photo with him
Look at me! I am with a white boy!
He is cute! How much to take him home?

The Bakan

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.

Intricate carving on the lintel over an arch-way
A revered Buddha with missing head. The Buddha, protected by the Naga, a mythical 7 to 9 headed cobra snake popular in Cambodian / Khmer culture.
Indras the God of War on a Lintel above an arch-way
Buddha protected by the Naga
View from the Bakan looking down into the Temple complex
View from the Bakan looking towards the Main Entrance
Revered Buddha images (Standing Buddha and Sleeping Buddha)
Colleen in the Bakan, Angkor Wat
The central tower representing Mt Meru

Descending the Inner Temple

The towers represent the 5 peaks of Mt Meru
Finally! A couple shot!
On the Steps to the Main Temple

The Library

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.

a joint Japanese and Cambodian project to restore the library
Hot but still smiling!

Parting Shots

The iconic image as seen on the Cambodian Flag
A monkey with a mohawk deserves the last shot! He was eating on top of garbage can as we departed.

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.

 

6 Replies to “Angkor Wat”

  1. That is strange but I agree he should have charged. I like the pics. Closest I ever came to living history was standing on the palatinus? not sure if I spelt that correctly where Julius Ceasor stood or at least walked or so I tell myself after two beers.

    Keep the history stuff comming. Excellent work. You and your wife are very good at writing.

    1. Don,

      You spelled it correctly, the Mons Palatinus or the Palatine Hill is the centre of the 7 hills of Rome and overlooks the Roman coliseum, although Ceasar is spelt with an ‘a’. Good thing you are a Celt and not a Roman! Standing on the Terrace of the Elephants gave me the same feeling of history …

      Rob

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