Finally, on the third day of our Siem Reap visit, I got to explore the ancient hallways of famous Angkor Wat.
Just a quick Googling about Siem Reap’s attractions and you’ll find Angkor Wat featured everywhere. And why should it not be when it’s one of Southeast Asia’s most important archaeological sites.
It’s described as an architectural masterpiece by the official tourism site of Cambodia, and I wholeheartedly agree. Yes Ta Prohm is great, but it has mostly been left to the mercy of the forest and the elements. Angkor Wat, on the other hand, has been beautifully restored and is being cared for properly. I got there and I could not help but stand in awe at everything.
Now a Buddhist temple, Angkor Wat was originally constructed as a Hindu temple in the 12th century. It is also believed to be the funerary temple for King Suryavarman II. It functioned as a city as well. Its design depicts ‘heaven on earth’ since it is a representation of Mt. Meru – the Hindu equivalent of Mt. Olympus, home of the gods.
Angkor Wat is VAST. Occupying an area of 208 hectares and with its highest point reaching 213 meters, the grandeur and size of the place cannot be taken lightly.
Visitors have to climb stairs upon stairs to reach the top. I am just thankful that they constructed wooden steps for ‘easier’ climbing. Using the original stone steps to reach the top-most part would have been a death-defying exercise. They were so steep and dangerous looking. This is not to say that the wooden stairs aren’t steep, because they are and they sway when the breeze picks up, but at least there were railings to hold on to. Those who have problems with height are likely to find these wooden stairs untrustworthy still.
An hour is way too short to see all of Angkor Wat. One can easily spend long minutes just admiring certain carvings and bas reliefs. The architecture is also very attention-grabbing, and if you have a guide with you, make sure to ask for more information regarding anything you find interesting. You’ll learn more about the history of the place and, of course, about Hinduism and Buddhism as well.
One of the main things I appreciated about Angkor Wat was all the carvings, bas reliefs and decorative features found all over the place. No matter which column, tower, ceiling, door frame, wall, or corner you look – you’ll find amazing things.
You’ll see inscribed ancient language, Apsara dancers, important religious moments, and plenty of beautiful flowers, squiggles and shapes. It took around 30 years to build all of Angkor Wat and I can’t help but imagine a few carvers doing nothing all day but chiseling away the blandness of the temple’s walls. Did they enjoy their task or did they hate it? Did they consider it as art? Perhaps a form of worship or maybe they were forced to do it? What if they made a mistake after doing a large section of the wall, how frustrating could that be? Ahh, how nice it would be to time travel and observe ancient civilisations. P.S. I don’t want to get stuck there though 🙂
The one thing that you cannot avoid in Angkor Wat is the crowd. We visited in November, which was peak season, and the number of tourists there was overwhelming. Anyone looking for solemnity and quiet wonder will find such things very elusive. You can try to tune out the other tourists sure, but based on experience, all the flashing camera and people jostling to pose with a nice backdrop are very distracting.
Still, if you just exercise a lot of patience, you’ll find a few seconds of alone time as you turn a corner. Or if you find a nice spot, just stay longer there as people will move on.
Despite the crowd, Angkor Wat is magnificent enough to warrant a visit at least once when in Cambodia. It is an architectural marvel and definitely provides plenty of insight into the lives of ancient Khmers. Photographers will also find lots of material and inspiration in the temple; just be patient to get that shot with no photobombers. You can also visit the temple to see the sunrise or sunset.
As a whole, I am very happy to have felt and seen Angkor Wat. My friends and I spent a couple of hours there and the guide certainly added value to the whole experience.
Next stop – Angkor Thom (post coming soon).