Not far from Siem Reap lies the sprawling complex of Angkor Archaeological Park. The site has been home to various capitals between the 9th to 15th centuries where the monarchs ruled lands spreading from Myanmar to Vietnam. Angkor was constructed as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu, during the reign of Suryavarman II. By the end of the 12th century the temple had been transformed to a Buddhist temple. Each new ruler endeavored to create Temples that were larger and more beautiful than their predecessors, culminating in the construction of Angkor Wat, considered to be one of the largest religious monuments in the world.
Angkor Wat at sunset
We had an early morning start at 5 am to reach the temple in time for sunrise, along with all the other tourists. Unfortunately the sky was very hazy so we didn’t get any great photos, but it was still amazing.
Following the sunrise we made our way back along the 475 meter long avenue towards the main entrance. The avenue connects the temple with the main entrance and has elaborately decorated balustrades.
We arrived at the Angkor balloon, a tethered balloon that rises 135 meters for views over Angkor Wat, unless its hazy. The kids enjoyed the trip up, except Tristan who is not fond of heights.
Angkor Wat is surrounded by a 190 meter wide moat. The moat and temple are enclosed by an outer wall with gates on each side and a main entrance decorated with carvings and sculptures. The moat has religious significance to the Hindus. While the central tower represents Mt Meru, the home of the Hindu gods, the shorter temples are mountains, the courtyards represent the continents and the moat represents the ocean.
In fact, the water system in Angkor includes not only the moat, but also a series of man made canals, reservoirs and dikes. The water system was necessary for the population of 750 000 people, as well as to irrigate crops like rice, the staple in the Khmer diet. Some scholars surmise that the reason the capital moved to Phnom Penh, was because the water system silted up because of a period of week monsoons and/or deforestation. Today the moat is used for recreational purposes by the locals and is a gathering point for tourists eager to capture the perfect picture or to just relax.
Returning to the temple after breakfast we were surprised to see a boat meandering around the moat.
The temple maybe an architectural triumph, but it is also filled with artistic treasures. The most visited is the 800-meter-long intricate bas-relief galleries home to over 3000 apsaras or heavenly nymphs that are carved into the wall. Each nymphs is unique and the galleries show 37 different hairstyles on the nymphs alone.
The bas-reliefs tell not only the tales of Cambodia’s history, but also the Hindu myths and legends.
The three story main temple complex is made of laterite, a reddish soil that was shaped into bricks and encloses a square of interconnected galleries.
There are five towers, each topped with large domes that are adorned with rows of lotuses and from a distance they look like giant lotus buds. The towers with its lotus bud tops are designed to be visible when the temple is viewed from any angle.
How best to end the day? A Cambodian curry, all the flavour of a Thai curry, but without the heat.