The park is about 20 minutes by tuk tuk from the town of Siem Reap where we were truly spoilt in the beautiful Victoria Hotel. We arrived in the afternoon and made our way via our congenial, ever smiling tuk tuk driver to the temple complex to buy our tickets for the next day. Tickets bought after 5pm can be used in the last opening hour of the day as well as all the next day. Tickets can also be bought for 3 days or for a week and work like passes allowing you to come and go at your leisure during the period of the ticket which is a great idea as it is hot sweaty work exploring all the nooks and crannies and time out either by the hotel pool or at an air-conditioned cafe during the hottest part of the day is a welcome relief.
Our tuk tuk driver then took us to Angkor Wat, built for King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple, capital city and mausoleum. Originally called ‘Preah Pisnulok’, the post humous title of the king or ‘Vrah Vishnulok’ after the presiding deity the temple is so dear to the Cambodians it features on the national flag. Its modern name is from the 16th century and literally means ‘city temple’.
Angkor Wat was originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu, the preserver of the Universe who keeps the powers of good and evil in balance and represents mercy and goodness. Interestingly, considering the impressive and important role water plays in the Angkor complex, in some Puranic literature Vishnu is said to be an eternal, all-pervading spirit who is associated with the primeval waters that are believed to have been omnipresent before the creation of the universe.
The temple of Angkor Wat is one of the largest Khmer monuments and its balance and composition and unusual Western facing orientation (towards Vishnu) mean it is considered by many to be one of the finest monuments in the world and after visiting the temples and pyramids of Egypt and the city of Petra in Jordan at Christmas time I have to agree, it certainly makes an impression! Again we were humbled to be standing where people had stood for centuries and blown away to think that they had dug the massive moat without the use of machines, hauled huge stones from kilometres away with the help of simple wooden pegs, ropes and elephants and constructed such a breath taking monument. Like the temples of Egypt the attention to detail is still beautifully evident despite the intervening years, wars and the natural effects of environmental erosion.
Angkor Wat is unusual among the temples of Angkor in that, apart from a period in the 16th century, it was never completely abandoned. In the 14th or 15 centuries it was converted to a Buddhist temple and its use has continued up to this day.
The architecture of the temple is considered the epitome of classical Khmer style. The entrance to the temple is a causeway over a 200 meter wide moat leading to an entrance pavilion with passages wide enough for an elephant to fit through. On the inside of the 1300 meter by 1500 meter temple wall is another causeway decorated with naga (snake) balustrades which leads to the main temple building raised on a jagati (platform). The walls are skilfully decorated with ethereal aspara (divine nymphs) devatas (guardian spirits) and floral designs.
On either side of the causeway are two buildings called ‘libraries’ although their true purpose is unknown.
(Standing by the pools)
Inside the main building are rooms arranged in a cruciform, each with a sunken floor where a pool used to be and surrounded by a continuous gallery.
One of the rooms is dubbed the ‘Gallery of a thousand Buddhas’ because until recently, this is where the Khmer faithful left Buddha statues. There are still Buddha statues, dressed in orange robes, attended to by elderly pocket sized nuns and the occasional saffron coloured monk who helped devotees place their burning incense sticks and humbly took the offering
The inner enclosure rests on an 11 meter two-tiered pyramid with incredibly steep steps that have been chained off due to some crumbling. From the ground you can see five towers or pasats.