Cambodia, especially Siem Reap has always been on my bucket list. I think visiting Angkor, – which is an UNESCO World Heritage – is as special as visiting Rome or Jerusalem in a touristic point of view. Finally, the time has come and even tough I had high expectations for Angkor, I was humbled to see how much deviation people had 900 years ago towards their belief.
Angkor was built in the first half of the 12th century (113-5BC). Estimated construction time of the temple is 30 years by King Suryavarman II, dedicated to Vishnu (Hindu), replica of Angkor Thom style of art. Angkor is a the largest religious complex in the world, Angkor Wat is largest monument and the best preserved part, it is an architectural masterpiece. Its perfection in composition, balance, proportions, relief’s and sculpture make it one of the finest monuments in the world. Wat is the Khmer name for temple (the French spelling is “vat “), which was probably added to “Angkor “when it became a Theravada Buddhist monument, most likely in the sixteenth century. After 1432 when the capital moved to Phnom Penh, Angkor Wat was cared for by Buddhist monks. It is generally accepted that Angkor Wat was a funerary temple for King Suryavarman II and oriented to the west to conform to the symbolism between the setting sun and death. The bas-reliefs, designed for viewing from left to right in the order of Hindu funereal ritual, support this function.
Visiting the temples is very easy and convenient by Tuktuk. You can easily find a tuktuk driver on the street or through your hotel, who will take you to visit Angkor. The price is usually between $15-25 for a day, depending on how many hours you want to go for. The visit start by the official ticket office, the only place where you can buy the daily entrance ticket, which is $37. There is also option for 3 days ticket and 7 days ticket.
We decided to start in the morning with the smaller temples to beat the crowd, because many people start by the famous Angkor Wat Temple. Watching the sunrise by Angkor Wat is a popular tourist attraction, however we did not do that.
Instead, we first visited Ta Prohm, which is famous for being the so-called Tomb Raider Temple. We arrived here around 8.30 am and there were only a dozen of people around. In my opinion this is the most atmospheric temple because it is being swallowed by the jungle and as you walk through it, you can feel as if you were the explorer, the first person to ever visit here. Regarding the architecture style, Ta Prohm is a temple of towers, closed courtyards and narrow corridors, it is amazing to walk through it.
After Ta Prohm we stopped by every small temple and every small ruins, which were beautiful and peaceful, than we arrived to Bayon.
As driving through the beautiful forest with the Tuktuk, we saw monkeys too. I am a big fan of monkeys, so we stopped to feed them with some banana, they were super friendly.
Bayon is mostly-know for its 216 gargantuan smiling faces. The architecture style of this 12th century built temple carries a definitive political statement about the change from Hinduism to Mahayana Buddhism. As you walk around, you may see a dozen or more of the heads are visible from every angle, full face or in profile, sometimes level with your eyes, sometimes staring down from on high, exuding power and control with a hint of humanity. The temple has the most spectacular view from the highest point, from the third level.
We finished the day by visiting the architectural masterpiece, the Angkor Wat Temple. Angkor Wat is representing heaven on earth, while stretching around the central temple complex is an 800 meters long series of bas-reliefs and the central tower is rising 55 meters above ground. The ‘temple that is a city’, Angkor Wat is the perfect fusion of creative ambition and spiritual devotion.
The Cambodian god-kings of old each strove to better their ancestors’ structures in size, scale and symmetry, culminating in what is believed to be the world’s largest religious building, the mother of all temples, Angkor Wat. The temple is the heart and soul of Cambodia: it is the national symbol, the epicenter of Khmer civilization and has never been abandoned, it has been in continuous use since it was built.
There are many things that makes Angkor Wat unique among the other Angkor Temples, but most significantly it is facing towards west which has a symbolical meaning of death.Walking in this temple, one can truly feel the spiritualism of ancient gods and the representation of the Hindu faith.
It was so much to see in one day, if you can divide the visit for 2 days I think that would be better, as there is so much to take in. Walking towards all those smaller and bigger temples, you literally walk in history. There are so many small hallways, windows, faces, features, it is nearly impossible to explore all of those. I think if I would go back there again, I would notice small differences and more details.
I still keep wandering, how strong faith those people had 900 years ago, that they built such enormous architectural masterpieces to show their devotion to the gods. It is really a proof that we, humans, can do anything even without technology and modern equipments, as long as we truly devote ourselves to achieve our goal.