Sorry, can't remember where this one is from.If there's only one temple you ever visit in your life make sure it's Angkor Wat! There's just something truly special about the place. It has a rare combination of being steeped in history, spiritual and beautiful too. Visit Angkor, it's that good. Without a shred of doubt, this was the best set of temples I visited and one of the top highlights of my trip (I don't have a favorite, there's too many).
Constructed: Early-Mid 12th Century
King/Patron: Suryavarmn II
Style: Angkor Wat
King/Patron: Suryavarmn II
Style: Angkor Wat
If you do decide to visit the Temples of Angkor do you best to get there at sun rise. There's something magical about the way the sun rises over the temple. The down side? You need to leave at 5:30 AM from near by Siem Reap. It's fine if you're jet lagged, not so fine if you've been in Asia for 2 or 3 months already. It's worth it though. You'll see the sky turn from black to purple to a beautiful golden hue and finally to blue. When you look at the pool of water in front of the temple you'll see a reflection that would make you swear it's a mirror... that is until you see the little ripples of water the insects are causing. The hostel workers told me it's over rated, but I think perhaps they simply take it for granted having grown up in Siem Reap. The sunrise is gorgeous, the temple is gorgeous, and the reflection is magical. Here's some proof (and keep in mind I'm a terrible photographer with an outdated camera):
It's butt early in the morning and I'm tired as hell. This better be worth it.... Angkor in the dark.
This is just the reflection of the sky in the pool in front of Angkor Wat. It's so blue and the clouds are so white you almost think you're staring at the sky.
The country of Cambodia was once the Khmer Empire which spanned into parts of today's Thailand, Lao, Indonesia and Vietnam. The Khmer empire existed from 802 AD – 1431 AD and was the largest empire in Southeast Asia during this time. Angkor was the capital of the flourishing empire which attracted Indian scholars to its courts and trade with neighboring countries. At its height the city of Angkor Wat, meaning Holy City, had up to 750,000 people live there. There are accounts of the Khmer Empire and Angkor from Chinese diplomats and trades that visited. This is how archaeologists were able to learn and confirm much of what we know about the Khmer Empire and the temples of Angkor today.
The Khmer Empire faced many battles against the Thais through its history. Eventually Angkor was sacked by the Thais. The Khmer capital of Angkor was deserted and moved to Phnom Penh, the current capital of Cambodia. After being neglected for centuries the forest took back the land that Angkor was built on, enveloping the temples until they were forgotten. This lost city generated a lot of interest in European explorers and in the 19th century it was rediscovered by the French. Today it is recognized as a World Heritage site and different countries are aiding the reconstruction of Angkor.
There is a long rivalry between Cambodia and Thailand which stems from these centuries old conflicts. In fact when the Thais finally sacked Angkor Wat they took Khmer artists, architectures, scientists, and culture with them. You'll see Khmer architecture in many of the temples on Thailand. You can even find depictions of what looks like Thai kickboxing on the walls of some of the temples surrounding Angkor Wat. The rivalry has worked it's way into the names of cities; the town of Siem Reap translates into Thai defeated.
There is quite a heavy Indian influence in Angkor, you can see that Buddhism and the Hindu religion existed with each other throughout the empire's history. Still, if you walk around the temples you will sometime see scratched up statues of deities. These scratches are there because when a King switched the empire's official religion from Hindu to Buddhism (or from Buddhism to Hindu as multiple switches occurred in its history) the faces of the other religion were sometimes scratched up or were modified to represent the new god(s).
Angkor Wat is just one of many temples in the area, but its name has come to represents them all. Angkor Wat is the most famous temple of them all and also the largest religious building in the world. Angkor Wat was built in the early to mid 12th century by King Suryavarman II. It was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu and served as Suryavarman II's state temple. Some say that the temple's westward orientation suggests it wasn't a state temple, but a funerary temple. I don't know, who cares, it's amazing either way.
The three tiered pyramid crown by the five lotus towers stand 213 feet tell. The moat surrounding the temple is about 1 square kilometer, or about 0.4 square miles. There are 2000 distinctive carvings along the walls insides the temple depicting stories and characters from Hindu mythology and the wars from King Suryavarman II's time.
There are four Buddha images insides the temple and it's supposed to be good luck if you pay homage to all four before leaving the temple.
Here's a bunch of pictures of some of what you can see inside Angkor Wat:
Monkey King at Angkor Wat
Cambodians are very proud of Angkor Wat. Despite the hard times they go through now they can look back at their past for strength. Because of that Angkor Wat sits as the image in the middle of it's flag.
If you do take a trip out here the three main temples you won't want to miss are Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Ta Prohm - parts of which are still intermingled with forest growth. Angkor is a short distance from Siem Reap so you'll want to make arrangements to stay there. Don't forget to NEVER STRAY FROM THE TRAIL. There are still live landmines in Cambodia even around the temples.
Ok, more Temples of Angkor in my next post.