So what is Angkor Wat? Simply put it is a temple built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II. Originally it was a Hindu temple which has gradually been transformed into a Buddhist one. To picture it's significance on a world scale, let's look at some figures first. Being on a 162 hectare site it is the largest religious monument in the world. According to French explorer Henri Mouhot, who visited the temple in the mid 19th century, it is a rival to the palace of King Solomon and grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome. The temple is the symbol of Cambodia and appears on the national flag. It's of such historical significance that it is on the Unesco World Heritage list.
Of the many temples and complexes which can be found in the area, Angkor Wat is the best preserved. Partly because it has never been abandoned and stayed in use as a Buddhist temple. It received considerable restoration in the 20th century and, as evident by scaffolding, this still continues today. The history of the area is a very complex one, partly because the history of the Khmer Empire is complicated. Around the 12th century, the time of Angkor Wat the empire was in big turmoil. The Khmer empire then stretched from the Chinese border to the Malaysian border, Laos and Thailand officially didn't exist although there is evidence of the Tai people being in the region as early as 800 AD. Laos officially became a protectorate in 1893 and independent in 1945 and again in 1953... Needles to say this all didn't happen without some serious battles. It's fascinating reading but well out of the scope of a travel blog...
If you are a Chinese bus tourist or a funky backpacker, or have been to Angkor Wat and don't want to be reminded of them, then it's best to skip the next 3 paragraphs. Because looking at Angkor Wat today, the first thing that anyone will notice who visited it around the same time we did, is the selfie brigade and the rude Chinese bus tourists... To start with the last one, you've never seen rude, arrogant, ignorant and totally past caring about anyone attitude, until you've met Chinese bus tourists. They yell to each other from one temple to the next (and do so continuously), block everything, push you away just to make their photo, cut in right in front of your camera lens and when they've exhausted every avenue to get photos of mum in front of the monument, they decide to have a picnic right on the steps of it... ruining everyone else's photo possibility.
The selfie brigade has some similarities to the Chinese bus tourists. As the word selfie already suggest, they only care about themselves. For the uninitiated, it's the lot who puts every fart and hick-up on Facebook as the greatest thing they have achieved ever, complimented by messages like 'I'm at K-Mart now, feeling bored'... who cares? The selfishness starts when they select their clothes, which comes in the most hideous colours to ensure they ruin everyones photos. Instead of photos with archaeological ruins on them we get hazy types in floppy 'spiritual' clothes with a nuclear meltdown resembling print in eye shattering fluorescent pink, equally fluorescent yellow, fire engine red and of course chemical green... I came to see an archaeological site, if I wanted to see hideously coloured clothes then I would then I would have visited what's called a trendy store. Show some respect to others and dress somewhat appropriately...
Coming back to what there is to see and what we found there in terms of 'the sights', Angkor Wat is very much worth a visit. We had seen the incredible archaeological sites in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, Angkor Wat is still impressive to see. I'm not going to suggest one is better than the other as the building style between the Aztecs, Mayan and the Khmer is too different to be able to compare. The history is very different too and as such I can only say they are all worth a visit, even if you're not historically inclined. Just sitting back and looking at the richly decorated buildings is inspiring. There is a strange connection for the people living here too. Their ancestors all those thousands of years ago had a job for life building them, now they have a job for life restoring what they built. The progress is slow and its all hand work.
We visited over 3 days, as we might be here only once we might as well see it properly. The first day was a long one which took us out to the Preah Khan temple. As first impressions go it was a good start! I had deliberately avoided anything to do with landmines while in Laos and did the same in Cambodia. Make no mistake about it we both feel that what has happened here, and still continues today as there are millions and millions of these things still lying around everywhere, is terrible. At the same time we don't feel the need to go to a museum and marvel over the results and look at photos of maimed bodies. Yet when we were walking towards Preah Khan we were confronted with it nonetheless and possibly in the most beautiful way possible (if that's the right word to use here). There was a group of musicians, all victims of landmines, playing traditional Khmer music. It not only sounded beautiful and peaceful, but also made this very powerful connection between the beauty of music and ugliness of war. Despite the horrific results of the landmines, they adapted and still played their instruments... thereby symbolically stating they were not defeated. Of course we made a donation, a donation which will be used to help people affected by the landmines. Money well spend.
The temples in the Angkor Wat complex all have a different symbolic signifi-cance. Neak Pean is in essence a complex with 4 different ponds. They represent water, earth, fire and wind which are symbolically linked to statues of the elephant (water), bull (earth), lion (fire) and horse (wind). The pools are based on the Hindu belief of balance, remember it all started as Hindu temples, whereby the water from the ponds would balance the bather and thereby cure its disease. To us westerners this may seem strange, but don't forget we have some strange rituals too, like the healing waters in Lourdes, France for example.
|Another lot doing a selfish photoshoot... having seen again and again it gets quite boring...|
The next morning we aimed for sunrise at Angkor Wat... as did thousands of others! Despite leaving at 4.30 am and arriving shortly after, we found the place packed with tuk tuks, buses and... tourists. Finding a spot along the lake, to take a photo of Angkor Wat during sunrise and its reflection in the lake, wasn't easy. Still, the sight of Angkor Wat with the sun behind it is pure magic! Angkor Wat itself was a selfie-fest, which is a shame as there is so much more to see than silly 'oh what a feeling' poses. It's a majestic building, as you can see in the photos. Unfortunately seeing the inside of the temple wasn't an option. The line of people waiting was longer than the complex and they only let a limited amount of people in at any one time. The amount of tourists was a sign of things to come...
|No it isn't veggie oil... it's petrol! This is my kind of servo, small businesses selling petrol per litre in a bottle!|
The Ta Prohm temple is the one used for the Tomb Raiders movie, whereby Hollywood conveniently added parts on Angkor Thom via CGI as it suited the script better... Seeing nature taking over the temple is impressive to see. It's almost like nature is telling us 'you can build whatever you like... but we will just grow over it'. Beautiful to see how these huge trees simply grow over these huge structures.