The Tem­ple City

One of the most ex­otic des­ti­na­tions in Asia. Why you should take a trip there.

Maxx-M - - 360 - Text and pho­tos by Priscilla Pi­cauly

Have you ever seen the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider? It is about a fear less woman who loves ad­ven­ture. The movie with great sets, shows the lead role, Lara, fear­lessly criss­cross­ing the globe from Eng­land, Venice to Cam­bo­dia. That was the first time I knew about Angkor Wat, the ex­otic tem­ple, deep in the heart of the jun­gles of Cam­bo­dia that is mys­te­ri­ous and cap­ti­vat­ing.

After see­ing the movie, Angkor Wat stuck with me. Sev­eral years later I had a chance to ex­plore sev­eral coun­tries in South-East Asia, including Cam­bo­dia. I took a road trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cam­bo­dia, a gate­way to the ru­ins of Angkor Wat. The tem­ple’s vast com­plex of in­tri­cate stone build­ings including the pre­served Angkor Wat, the main tem­ple, is pic­tured on Cam­bo­dia’s na­tional flag.

Why is Angkor Wat so unique and why does ev­ery­one want to go there? The an­swer is sim­ple (it’s beauty), but first, let me dis­sect this sa­cred tem­ple to you.

Story Be­hind Angkor Wat

Angkor is one of the most im­por­tant ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites in South-East Asia. Angkor Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Park con­tains the magnificent re­mains of the dif­fer­ent cap­i­tals of the Kh­mer Em­pire, from the 9th to the 15th cen­tury. Angkor Wat is the main tem­ple in­side the Angkor com­plex. Built be­tween A.D. 1113 and 1150, it is one of the largest re­li­gious mon­u­ments ever con­structed. Its name means City Tem­ple.

Orig­i­nally built as a Hindu tem­ple ded­i­cated to the Hindu god, Vishnu, it was later con­verted into a Bud­dhist tem­ple in the 14th cen­tury, and stat­ues of Bud­dha were added to its al­ready rich art­work. Its 213-foot-tall (65 me­ters) cen­tral tower is sur­rounded by four smaller tow­ers and a se­ries of en­closed walls, a lay­out that recre­ates the im­age of Mount Meru, a le­gendary place in Hindu mythol­ogy that is said to lie be­yond the Hi­malayas and be­lieved to be the home of the gods. After 1432 the cap­i­tal of this king­dom moved to Phnom Penh (now the cap­i­tal city of Cam­bo­dia), Angkor Wat was cared for by the Bud­dhist monks that re­mained.

How to Get Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, lo­cated near Si em Reap, is the sec­ond largest city in Cam­bo­dia after Phnom Penh. There are reg­u­lar flights from Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Sin­ga­pore, Ho Chi Minh City and also Vi­en­tiane to Siem Reap. There are also buses and vans of­fer­ing ser­vices to Siem Reap from neigh­bor­ing towns. Those who want an ex­tra­or­di­nary jour­ney could take the River ferry from Phnom Penh cross­ing the Tonle Sap River. When you ar­rive in the city, there are lots of ho­tels and hos­tels near the Pub Street, which is a known tourist area for culi­nary and nightlife.

Ex­plor­ing Angkor Wat com­plex is fas­ci­nat­ing but could be chal­leng­ing. The hot and hu­mid weather could go up to 40-45°C, and that can drain your en­ergy. You can rent a moun­tain bike or a mo­tor­cy­cle while ex­plor­ing the com­plex. Al­ter­na­tively, you can rent a tuk-tuk (tra­di­tional rick­shaw), which is more fun but costs more. To re­duce the cost you can share the tuk-tuk ride with other ex­plor­ers. Or if your bud­get al­lows, you could rent a pri­vate car.

Vis­it­ing the Angkor Wat is pos­si­ble any­time of the year, but the peak sea­son is from Novem­ber to Fe­bru­ary when the weather is dryer and cool.

Wit­ness­ing the sun­rise over the tem­ple is some­thing you can­not af­ford to miss. You will need to ar­rive there be­fore sun­rise, around 5.00 am, and stay un­til lunch time. Then rest for a cou­ple of hours be­fore con­tin­u­ing the jour­ney in the af­ter­noon.

It takes about 4 hours to ex­plore just the Angkor Wat. You will need about half a day to ex­plore the al­leys and ab­sorb the in­trigue in ev­ery carv­ing de­tail around the tem­ple (ex­clud­ing the Bayon Tem­ple and Ta Phrom). The com­plex is full of tem­ples, so it’s bet­ter to spend at least three days if you are cu­ri­ous about the re­mains of the Kh­mer king­dom.

Many Faces in Bay on Tem­ple

Angkor Wat may be the top pri­or­ity when in­side the com­plex, but there are two other tem­ples that dis­play beau­ti­fully carv­ing and ar­chi­tec­ture. One is the Bayon Tem­ple that is about a 15 min­utes

tuk-tuk ride from Angkor Wat. This tem­ple re­minds me of the beau­ti­ful tem­ples in the Java is­lands of In­done­sia; sim­i­lar in ar­chi­tec­ture and build­ing ma­te­rial.

The Bayon tem­ple was built in the late 12th or early 13th cen­tury A.D. by Jayavar­man VII, one of the Kh­mer Em­pire’ s great­est kings. It served as the state tem­ple of Jayavar­man’s new cap­i­tal, Angkor

Thom. Bayon Tem­ple is unique be­cause it is the only state tem­ple built pri­mar­ily as a Ma­hayana Bud­dhist shrine ded­i­cated to the Bud­dha. After the death of Jayavar­man, the fea­tures of the Bayon Tem­ple were al­tered ac­cord­ing to the re­li­gious be­lief of his suc­ces­sors, thus con­tain­ing Hindu and Ther­avada Bud­dhist el­e­ments that were not part of the tem­ple’s orig­i­nal plans.

Bayon Tem­ple dis­plays over 200 gi­gan­tic stone faces. These faces dubbed the‘ Mon a Lisa of South East Asia’ came in sets of fours, each iden­ti­cal, and point­ing to a car­di­nal di­rec­tion. The lo­ca­tion of the faces sym­bol­izes the om­nipres­ence of the per­son whose face is be­ing de­picted. The stat­ues de­pict the face of the Aval­okites­vara, the bod­hisattva of com­pas­sion. This is sup­ported by the fea­tures of the face, in par­tic­u­lar, the closed eyes and mys­te­ri­ous smile, which rep­re­sent the achieve­ment of the state of En­light­en­ment.

Some peo­ple ar­gued that the faces de­picted Jayavar­man him­self, as they bear an un­canny re­sem­blance to other im­ages of the king. It is also pos­si­ble that the stat­ues were meant to de­pict Jayavar­man and the Aval­okites­vara si­mul­ta­ne­ously, thus al­low­ing the king to take on the at­tributes of the bod­hisattva. How­ever, the facts about the tem­ple de­scribe the beauty of Kh­mer king­dom. For a bet­ter in­sight, you will need a travel guide to as­sist you be­cause there are lots of sto­ries be­hind the walls.

The Ru­ins of Ta Phrom

The last stop be­fore end­ing your jour­ney at Angkor Wat com­plex is a visit to Ta Phrom. The lo­ca­tion is far­ther away from the Angkor Wat and Bayon Tem­ples, but this is the fi­nal stop among these unique and ex­otic tem­ples. If you have seen the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Rider, the tem­ple will grasp your at­ten­tion through the great trees that tower above Ta Phrom, the sun­light fil­ter­ing through their leaves, that pro­vides a wel­com­ing shade and cast­ing a green­ish light be­yond the site. Lichens, mosses and other creep­ing plants sprout along the del­i­cately carved re­liefs on the walls.

Con­struc­tions on Ta Prohm be­gan in 1186 AD. Orig­i­nally known as Ra­jav­i­hara (Monastery of the King), Ta Prohm was a Bud­dhist tem­ple ded­i­cated to the mother of King Jayavar­man VII. A rare in­scrip­tion at Ta Prohm pro­vides sta­tis­tics on the tem­ple’ s work­ers. Al­low­ing for some ex­ag­ger­a­tion to honor the king, the in­scrip­tion re­ports of around 80,000 work­ers, including 2,700 of­fi­cials and 615 dancers, is still as­tound­ing. Sadly, Ta Prohm was looted heav­ily in re­cent years due to its rel­a­tive iso­la­tion, and many of its an­cient stone reli­quar­ies lost. Ta Prohm is ex­ten­sively ru­ined, but you can still ex­plore its tow­ers, closed court­yards, and nar­row cor­ri­dors.

Ta Phrom is fas­ci­nat­ing to ex­plore. It will take al­most two hours if you are cu­ri­ous to ex­plore the cor­ri­dors and see more of the iconic tree roots. The most pop­u­lar of the many breath-tak­ing root for­ma­tions is on the in­side of the east­ern­most gopura (en­trance pav­il­ion) of the cen­tral en­clo­sure, nick­named the Croc­o­dile Tree. Some of the roots look in­cred­i­bly stun­ning and are un­usu­ally shaped. Ta Phrom looks lusher than the other shrines per­haps be­cause of the many over­grown trees around the area.

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