There are a lot of crazy things I did on my 9-day stay at Cambodia. Since the sole purpose of visiting Cambodia was to visit the famous Angkor Wat temple, I have decided to start off with a detailed post on it.
The Angkor Wat is located at the northern province of Cambodia, in a city called ‘Siem Reap’. Apart from being a UNESCO Heritage Site, it is also the world’s largest religious monument spread over more than 400 square kilometers in area. It contains many ancient temples dating back from the 9th to the 15th century. Some of the most famous ones are the Angkor Wat, the Bayon, Preah Khan and the Ta Prohm. The monument is not only the heart of the country’s religious centre but also served as the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Khmer for several centuries. Angkor is therefore a major site exemplifying cultural, religious and symbolic values, along with containing high architectural, archaeological and artistic significance.
On my very first night in Siem Reap, I organised a couch surfing event where I met a lot of travellers and locals. Lauren from Scotland would be travelling in the country for almost the same number of days as me. We got along well and decided to go for the temple tour together the next day. Visiting a lot of temples within a day could be a boring run so we thought that it would be nice to have some company and share the tour cost. Temple tours are one of the major attractions in Siem Reap and the tuk tuk drivers know this best. They offer three types of tour: half day tour, full day tour and a three-day tour. Thanks to a late night of partying at Pub Street the previous night, we met up at lunch time and decided to take the half day tour to go see the main temples. The tuk tuk cost to the Angkor archaeological area for a half day ticket was 15$ while a one day pass was worth 20$. The Angkor archaeological area included all the major temples and after some discussion with the tuk tuk driver, we decided to visit three temples. The Angkor Wat, Bayon and the Ta Prohm are the most photographed temples in the vicinity and so those were the only names we knew. Both Lauren and I had little idea about the history of these temples and so the tuk tuk driver tried to give us as much information as he could in his limited English. The tours are usually not guided so it would be handy if you do some reading about the temples beforehand or carry a guidebook along with you.
The Ta Prohm Temple:
We wanted to catch the sunset at Angkor Wat and decided to visit the other two attractions first. Our first stop was the Ta Prohm, a 13th century temple in Angkor Area. Its appeal lay in the fact that unlike any other monument in Angkor, the Ta Prohm has been swallowed by a jungle. It still looks much like what most of the monuments of Angkor had appeared when the European explorers first stumbled upon them. The most popular of the many strangulating root formations is the one on the inside of the eastern most ‘gopura’ (entrance pavilion) of the central enclosure, nicknamed, ‘Crocodile Tree’. One of the most famous spots at the Ta Prohm is the so called ‘Tomb Raider Tree’, where Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft had picked up a jasmine flower before falling through the earth into…Pinewood Studios. After spending about an hour of clicking pictures and getting to know its history, we left to find our tuk tuk driver eagerly waiting for us to visit the next stop.
The Bayon Temple:
Our next stop was The Bayon Temple, another 13th century temple located right in the middle of Angkor Thom. The Bayon temple is known for the huge stone faces of the ‘Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara’, with each facing outward to keep watch at every compass point. Some have dubbed the curious smiling image, thought to be a portrait of Jayavarman (the King who built the temple), the “Mona Lisa of South-East Asia.” There are 51 smaller towers surrounding the Bayon, each with four faces of its own. By the time we had finished touring this temple, our excitement to see the Angkor Wat had gone down drastically neither of us had a particular in history and we knew that the Angkor Wat would probably be just another temple with similar ruins and architectural pattern as per a tourist’s point of view. Since we had already come so far just to visit the Angkor Wat, we couldn’t return without visiting the temple and finally managed to make it there with minutes to spare to sunset.
The Angkor Wat Temple:
Enough has already been said about the beauty of the main temple of Angkor Wat. The 11th century temple was originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu. It was converted into a Buddhist temple back in the 14th century with statues of Buddha being added to the glorious artwork. The three central towers of the temple resemble ancient Hindu temple architecture trends and can be easily located from a distance due to the enormous height of 213 feet. The much hyped sunrise and sunset at the temple was something we were really looking forward to. The temple faces the west and so if you choose to see the sunrise, you can get to view a beautiful sunrise from behind the temple which makes the entire setting extraordinary. But the sun, on the other hand, sets on the other side of the temple and so the temple as well as the sun cannot be fit into the picture together. We still managed to capture some pretty amazing views. We spent some time at the temple. We had had enough of old temples by then and were looking forward to just getting back to pub street and having the 1$ mojitos and 50cent beer. We were happy with the fact that we got to complete visiting the main temples which was supposed to be the main attraction of our trip. We could now sit back and make other plans for the rest of the trip. Since Lauren was also there on an open-end plan and we had gotten on pretty well during the day, we decided to do the rest of the trip together and see how much we could cover. After spending a couple more days in Siem Reap, we planned to take a morning bus to the south of Cambodia to a city named ‘Sihanoukville’. But things had their own way of turning out. Let the consequent turn of events be suspense until my next post about what went wrong…or right!
After all, the magic of Pub Street was yet to strike.