Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Enjoying Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is the most famous temple in Cambodia.  We visited Angkor Wat in the afternoon on Saturday, the same day we went to Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm.

Unlike Angkor Thom, Angkor Wat is a free-standing temple.  It is not within a larger city, as is the case with The Bayon temple within the walled area of Angkor Thom.  Angkor Wat covers about 1 square mile, more area than The Bayon temple itself but less area than the entire city of Angkor Thom.

Visiting Angkor Wat is a relaxing and enjoyable way to spend a day

Angkor Wat was built in the early 12th century by King Suryavarman II.  He did a fine job designing this temple, about 75 years before King Jayavarman VII ("the best king") built Angkor Thom.  King Suryavarman and others came to the temple to worship, but no one lived in Angkor Wat.

We entered Angkor Wat from the back side, near a wooded area.

Other entrances are prettier, but this has a Zen vibe

We had a very amusing experience on the way into the temple.  There were several monkeys just outside of the temple grounds, as well as around the steps and adjoining columned exterior corridor.

Two of the monkeys jumped on the back of another visitor, to try to get at something in her backpack.  The lady didn't know what to do, and was freaking out a bit.  The rest of the tourists, ourselves included, were more focused on capturing the funny photo than helping out the woman.  But our guide Chek came to the rescue, brandishing a water bottle over his head like a weapon to scare the monkeys away.

Not Superman!  Not Batman!  Chek-Man!

On the walls in the same Monkey Mischief Corridor were some amazing bas-relief carvings.  This means they are only slightly upraised above the background stone.  These are so well preserved that some of them look as if they had been recently carved.  The photos show only 2-meter sections of a 600-meter long continuous panel of such carvings.

Chek tells stories of heroes and demons

Was this bas-relief carved 900 years ago or yesterday?

Once you pass through the entrance near the Monkey Mischief Corridor, you enter a grassy wrap-around courtyard that is on the first of three main levels of the temples.  The first level is called Hell, the second level is called Earth, and the third level is called Heaven.  As you can see in the photo below, Hell doesn't look all that bad.

Who would have thought you needed an umbrella in Hell?

Next we walked up to the Earth level.  Earth has a similar wrap-around courtyard, only made of stone.

There is more room for large crowds at Angkor Wat

Looking down at the Earth people from Heaven

There were some pretty spectacular carvings at the Earth level:

Two Hindu BFF's hanging out together

These well-preserved maidens don't look a day over 750

Scores of monkeys hold up the Hindu god Vishnu

The Heaven level was less well-preserved, but there were some nice amenities for the king.

Peeking out at one of the king's four swimming pools

Rainwater filled the pool, which was drained annually
These girls have wilder hairstyles and nice bling
Don't you think you have enough photos yet?

The panoramic views were also pretty amazing.

Looking towards the front entrance to Angkor Wat

We could probably live in this place

The top of Heaven:  What's above that?

Coming back to ground level, we walked back towards the front gates of Angkor Wat.

We were in no hurry to leave this serene setting

On a calm, sunny day (not today), the temple is reflected in the water

In all of the temples, the library is a free-standing building near the front gate(s).  Since the temples were built before the printing press was invented, there was only one copy of each text, often etched on leaves.  As the leaves wore down, they would recopy the text on other leaves.  Temple visitors often needed to visit the library to inform themselves before they entered the temple, especially if they were visiting the king.

The Angkor Wat Public Library

There are three front entrance gates to Angkor Wat.  The middle entrance is for the king only.  Another entrance is used for the other people.  The third entrance is used for elephants.

King's entrance in the middle, people's on the left

Sarah, Chek and Julie don't see any elephants

A 200-meter wide moat surrounds Angkor Wat.  The temple was well protected from the enemies of the Khmer Empire.

The moat is wider than most rivers and very clean

Visitors walk up to the front gate of Angkor Wat

Chek, Julie and Sarah relax at the end of the day

The temple trekking part of the day is over.  Time for Pub Street tonight and Khmer New Year tomorrow!

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