I bet you’ve seen pictures of Angkor Wat before. One of the most famous temples in the world – and a Unesco World Heritage site, obviously – it’s the most popular destination in Cambodia. It’s actually made up of several temples, one of which is called Angkor Wat, and altogether makes up the world’s biggest religious site. It might also make up this website’s biggest ever photo post. Only time will tell…
Angkor Wat means city of monasteries. Back when it was built in the 12th century, and for hundreds of years after that, it was actually a city, with people living around the temples. It was built as a Hindu temple to one of the three main gods, Vishnu. With Shiva and Bhrama, they form the supreme god/holy trinity of Hinduism, called Trimurti. And as Vishnu was born from the left side of the supreme spirit, Angkor Wat faces west. But to acknowledge the two other divinities, the temple features three of the towers seen above.*
There is a lot more religious symbolism to be found in the architecture of the temples, but the temples were many and our guide’s English limited, so the rest of my notes were pretty muddled…
Today Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples are very much a tourist destination. Bus tours are everywhere, and the guide’s references to Tomb Raider were plentiful. It’s sometimes hard to go past that and experience the temples for that they are: ruins of centuries-old religious buildings, that show incredible architectural feats for the times, with beautiful displays of art and craftsmanship. And there can be a peacefulness to it all. Even in the afternoon sun, the inside of the temples is dim and cool, there’ll be incense burning in a back room, maybe a monk chanting as they bless a visitor. Close your eyes for a second and you could almost picture what it used to be like.
The one thing I really liked was the diversity in the temples I visited. I have to admit that after a month travelling around Thailand and Laos, I was a bit templed out. There are only so many pagodas you can visit before never wanting to see any ever again. But here you’d walk from one site to another and see changing architecture, surroundings and details – such as the jungle of Angkor Thom and the many faces of Bayon Temple.
I am not Cambodian-sized
Wtf is this dinosaur doing here?!
The Archeological Park of Angkor is big. Like, real big – 400sq km big. The best way to visit is to stay in Siem Reap for a while, buy a three-day or week pass to Angkor, and explore over several days to make the most of all the sites. It’s a good idea to hire a bicycle to make your way around in your own time. Otherwise, tuk-tuks offer day-long tours of various sites, and plenty of travel agencies have day tours of the main temples.
Many travellers make it down to Angkor Wat for sunrise or sunset – like, many each day – but I managed to miss both. However, my day at Angkor Wat ended atop the Phnom Bakheng hill, passionately discussing politics with a group of travellers I’d met that day. This I love about being on the road: certainly not the politics chat, but the ability to have the most normal conversations about rather banal subjects in the most exceptional of places.
Not that it makes Brexit or Trump any less bloody depressing.
*Full disclaimer: my knowledge of Hinduism is pretty much non-existent, and this is collated from my guide’s information and the internet. Apologies if anything is incorrect.