We got up well before the crack of dawn to go to the see Angkor Wat and the other temples and sundry buildings located outside Siem Reap (called Angkor Archaeological Park). The site stretches over 150 square miles and is the home to numerous historical structures. It is considered the largest religious complex in the world and was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1992.
We had hired a tuk-tuk drive for the day who picked us up at our hostel and took us to the site. We were glad since it had rained heavily overnight, continuing until we arrived (and we were glad we didn’t bike the four miles to get there!)
We entered outer Angkor Wat area over a causeway and through a stone gatehouse to watch the sun rise.
Though the clouds hung heavily, the sun did break out right as we left.
Gatehouse to the west:
Instead of fighting the crowd through Angkor Wat immediately, we proceed to Angkor Thom under the advice of our tuk-tuk driver. Ankor Thom was the last capital city of the Khmer Empire.
This is the southern crossing into Angkor Thom also known as the elephant gate.
The 12th century Bayon is the most famous temple of Angkor Thom. It is made up of 54 towers with 216 smiling faces. No one is sure what the faces are meant to depict- possibly the King himself or a God. Each tower had four faces on it in each cardinal directions. We enjoyed the face and the smiles as we also wondered what they were intended to represent.
We saw the first evidence of its continued use as a place of buddhist worship. The entire archaeological site is still used today as a place to worship and is inhabited by local people.
The Bayon also has 3/4 of a mile of bas-relief with more than 11,000 figures included.
We reached Baphuon (part of Angkor Thom complex) and ascended as far as we could to the top. It is a three story temple built in the mid- 11th century. The steps were quite steep, but at least on the largest flights there were handrails. However, they covered our hands in rust!
Meg really loved the various greens in many places. This place we viewed while walking between structures in Angkor Thom.
Outside of Angkor Thom we saw two libraries. We were very impressed at the size and splendour of the two libraries, Thommanom and Chau Say. It showed how much they must have appreciated and respected books and knowledge to have two such grand structures for libraries.
We went to Ta Prohm next which is world famous for being in both Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones Temple of Doom. The temple was originally built in 1186 as a buddhist temple.We saw many of the famous trees growing in, on, and through the stones of the temple. It felt special to be there while the buildings still stand, but before the trees die. Now the site is taking steps to ensure that the trees do not completely overtake the site however it is still a testament of the power and strength of the jungle.
We had lunch and continued on to Sras Srang, a large pool.
While riding in the Tuk-tuk we saw an old bridge. Our driver explained to us that it was a bridge as the river used to run there but over time the river moved. The river is about 40/50 feet to the side of the bridge now.
Finally, we returned to Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat has been in continuous use since it was built in early 12th century. It was built to be an earthly representation of Mt. Meru, the Mt Olympus of Hindu faith. It only took 35 years to complete this massive temple, which is believed to be the world’s largest religious building. In comparison it took about 200 years to complete Notre Dame in Paris, France. The temple has a grand outer wall and a moat surrounding the wall. Inside is a courtyard, and three terraces, the first and mostly second visible here:
From Hindu mythology, the gods and devas churning milk by Asuras (devils) and Devas (gods), wherein both held a serpent and rotated a mountain which rested on a turtle (also an avatar of Vishnu). This eventually resulted in an immortality elixir.
Fortunately it was not too busy and after walking through the outer halls we could ascend the top; it has a large square with four corner towers (the two closest of which form the outer towers in the classic image) with a central shrine in the largest, central, tower.
The central complex is 3 stories tall and the steps were made incredibly steep, as they did not want reaching the kingdom of the God’s to be easy. The upper level is also known as Bakan Sanctuary, containing the five towers and an elevated square between them. After waiting in a queue, we had the pleasure of ending our visit in the Bakan Sanctuary. It was worth the climb, even at the end of a long, hot day.
The four corners are each marked by a tower standing about 100 feet above the innermost terrace. Two of the corner towers and the innermost terrace (central tower obscured from view):
The fifth, central, tower is in the center of the building, standing about 180 feet above the 3rd level. Central tower (seen from top square):
The view from the top was quite impressive and the square felt quite spacious. The central shrine had originally held hindu images and now has various buddhas.
About to exit the grounds: