The Temples of Angkor

The temples of Angkor are ancient, massive, stunning feats of architecture.  Angkor was the capital city of the Khmer Empire from the 9th century until the 15th century and may be the largest pre-industrial city in the world.  “Angkor” is actually the Khmer word for “city.”  There were more than 1,000 temples that made up the Angkor complex, although now many of them are just piles of brick and rock.  The ones that still stand and have been restored include Angkor Wat (the world’s largest single religious monument & Cambodia’s #1 tourist spot), Bayon, Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm.  They are now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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The religious history of the temples is interesting.  Angkor Wat started off as a Hindu temple, as it was built by a Khmer king who was Hindu and dedicated the temple to the Hindu god Vishnu.  But the king who succeeded him was Buddhist, and he had all the temples altered so that they displayed images of Buddha instead of Hindu gods.  Later, after HIS death, there was a religious revival of Hinduism across the Khmer Empire and many of the Buddhist relics were desecrated and replaced with lingams.  But now, Buddhism is once again Cambodia’s primary religion and Angkor Wat is considered a Buddhist shrine.  In the 15th century the city of Angkor was abandoned after being invaded by Ayutthaya warriors and possibly flooding from monsoons.
It is impossible to visit all of the Angkor temples in one day.  Tours are typically organized as either “small circuit” or “big circuit” for half or full day trips, or you can buy a three-day pass.  I chose to do the “small circuit” half-day trip, and for me that was plenty.  The temples are fascinating, but when the temperature reaches 90 degrees by 9:00am, and you still have three hours left of your tour, the motivation to see more definitely goes down.  I visited Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom/Bayon, Ta Prohm, and the Terrace of Elephants.  Angkor Wat is known for its iconic towers.  Angkor Thom/Bayon is known for its giant faces.  And Ta Prohm is known for being the filming location of Tomb Raider.  Each has its own unique characteristics.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to enter some parts of the temples because I didn’t have on a sleeved shirt and apparently a scarf wrap wasn’t sufficient.
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The tour started at 4:00am when we were picked up by a tuk tuk driver and driven to the ticketing office.  Each ticket is printed with your photo on it, so it’s a bit of a process to purchase it.  Fortunately there wasn’t much of a line when we arrived.  The thing to do on a sunrise tour is see the sun rise from behind the Angkor Wat complex.  We were dropped off shortly after 5:00am and waited and waited and waited some more as the masses of people continued to arrive.  Before long there were hundreds of people waiting for the sun to come up over the temple.  I eventually got tired of waiting and headed inside.  I wanted to enter ahead of the swarm and I’m glad I did.  There were quite a few people already inside, but nothing compared to when I left an hour later.  And I was still able to click some decent photos of the sun behind the temple at 7:00am.
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Angkor Wat

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Angkor Wat

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Angkor Wat

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Angkor Wat

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Angkor Wat

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Angkor Wat

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Angkor Wat

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Angkor Wat

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Angkor Wat

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Angkor Wat

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Angkor Wat

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Angkor Wat

THE MASSES

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Here come the hordes

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Hundreds waiting for sunrise over Angkor Wat

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Really???

On my way back to the tuk tuk, I spotted a horse and thought it would be a nice photo with the horse in front of the temple.  So, I walked over and knelt down about 20 feet from the horse to get a good angle.  I snapped one picture before the horse noticed me.  He started toward me at a pace just shy of a trot.  At first I thought he was coming over to say hello and I was pretty excited about it.  But when he didn’t slow down as he was just a few feet away, I realized that this wasn’t just a meet-n-greet.  I thought he was going to trample me, so I turned my body away, still kneeling.  He didn’t trample me, but he did bite me HARD on the back of the arm.  He even broke the skin.  I had a nasty bruise for weeks, and even now, a month later, I have a hard knot under my skin where he bit me.  I have a history of bad luck with horses when traveling, so I’m not sure why I thought I could get away with taking this guy’s portrait without permission.  Silly me.
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Pre horse attack

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Post horse attack

After Angkor Wat, we went to the Angkor Thom complex, which includes Bayon.  Inside Bayon I found a pile of fresh human poop in a remote area of the complex.  At first I thought, WTF?! But then a few things occurred to me:
  1. This is Cambodia.  It’s common for people to get stomach bugs here.
  2. There are very few toilets at Angkor (and by “very few” I mean I saw only one)
  3. Sometimes it’s true:  When you gotta go, you gotta go
And I felt bad for the perpetrator, because how much would that suck to almost crap your pants and have to drop trou at Angkor?
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Bayon

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Angkor Thom

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Bayon

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Bayon

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Bayon

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Angkor Thom

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Bayon

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Ankor Thom

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Ankor Thom

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Ankor Thom

Our last stop was at the “Tomb Raider” temple, Ta Prohm.  This one is really cool because there are huge trees that have grown up through the ruins, making it look very natural and surreal.  This was both my favorite and least favorite of the temples, as it t was very visually interesting but also heaving with tourists by the time we arrived.  It was nearly impossible to take photos without other people in them, which leads me to my last paragraph.
More than two million people visit Angkor each year and some archeological experts believe that the sandstone monuments will not be able to withstand such traffic long-term.  But the Cambodian government is unwilling to limit the amount of visitors to its largest tourist destination (and money-maker).  It will be interesting to see if Angkor still stands 50 years from now.
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Ta Prohm

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Ta Prohm

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Ta Prohm

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Ta Prohm

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Ta Prohm

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Ta Prohm

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Ta Prohm

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Ta Prohm

Other pics from Siem Reap:

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Indian food at the Indian. So good!

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At the night market

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Decorations for Khmer New Year

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Lanterns floating in the water in front of Angkor Wat

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