Angkor – The Lost City
So I want to write about Angkor Wat….but where should I start? How do I summarise and create a short description, a starting point for an interested visitor? Can I write something that has not yet been written about what it once was the world’s largest city? What kind of new perspective can I bring? By using words…not much really, because even using words like: amazing, magnificent, overpowering, mighty, marvellous, impressive, stunning, it will still not manage to do justice and portray perfectly the grandeur of this place. So I will do what I do best: use lots of pictures as obviously I have got plenty 🙂 .
But let me still attempt a quick summary and a few words around the pictures…
Angkor is the name of the former medieval capital of the Khmer empire and it was the largest metropolis in the world at its time. The city was built to represent Mount Meru, the ancient abode of Hindu Gods and it should be sitting next to other Wonders of the World. Angkor is still a mystery today and new facts are discovered constantly, facts that are confirming time and time again how technologically advanced the Khmer people were in those times. Recently, a vast network of canals and reservoirs has been discovered using the latest technology: the lidar. These canals were used for storing and channeling the monsoon water….a thousand years ago! I found this technology very impressive therefore I added here a link to this short video which gives a an excellent idea of how the lidar works and what was discovered: Angkor’s Hidden City
I cannot help not to compare Angkor with the Egyptian pyramids of Giza where, for the first time, I was awe-struck by the monumental scale of ancient intelligence display.
The Angkor complex contains today about 70 temples, ruins, tombs scattered across a surface of approximately 400 sqm and referred to as Angkor Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage. The complex is split in a few main parts: Angkor Wat (the main and the most famous temple), Angkor Thom (a walled city also known as “the Great City” and which includes the beautiful Bayon temple), the Rolous group (a bit farther south from the main temples), East Barray, West Barray and many other individual temples in between.
” Wat” means temple in Khmer and Angkor Wat (literally means “the City which is a Temple”) was the main temple complex of Khmer megalopolis and it is still today the largest single religious monument in the world. Originally build as a Hindu temple by King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century, it was transformed into a buddhist temple with the adoption of Theravada Buddhism by the Khmer people. Hidden in the jungle for centuries, the remains of this impressive complex were discovered only around 1860 by a French explorer, Henri Mouhot. Aside from its grandeur and significance, another very interesting fact about Angor Wat is that it is facing west, the setting of the sun, a symbol of death, which is usual for tomb-temples. The main temple was build on three levels and it is surrounded at the first level by thick walls carved with beautiful bas-reliefs. There are 8 galleries on the 4 walls each of them depicting an epic scene such as the Battle of Lanka (scene from Ramayana) or the Battle of Kurukshetra (scene from Mahabharata). A knowledgeable guide could be very useful especially if you are interested in history but the detailed description in Lonely Planet’s Cambodia book can also be an excellent alternative for understanding the bas-reliefs.
Here are some details of the 600m long bas-relief panel surrounding the main temple
As for the time of visit, Angor Wat is very popular for sunrise when hundreds of people are trying to get that “perfect shot”. With so many people, it is not easy to find a spot to enjoy the moment but even if you have to “share” that magnificence with such a big crowd it is still worthwhile.
Even after you’ve had your intake of “magnificence” from Angor Wat, there are many other temples that will not disappoint. One of my favourites was Bayon (the enigmatic smiling faces). Bayon doesn’t look like much from below. If anything, it looks like a messy conglomerate of stones. But as you make your way up to the 3rd level, the beauty starts revealing itself.
Ta Prohm is another “top” temple and it was made even more popular by “Lara Croft: The Tomb Raider” movie. It is one of the biggest complexes of Angor and it was meant as a Buddhist monastery. The temple has not been restored yet and the ruins are being re-claimed by nature. The huge Banyan trees roots covering the ancient walls make for one of the most atmospheric sights of the entire complex.
Here is how the jungle takes back its territory brick by brick, stone by stone with an impressive force, a sheer display of nature’s power
Very close to Banyon stands a very intriguing temple: Baphuon, often called the “world’s largest jigsaw puzzle“. It is believed to have been one of the biggest and most spectacular of Angkor temples at its time. However, today it is quite difficult to imagine it’s size amongst the tones of stones scattered throughout the forrest. The renovations that started before the civil war were interrupted by it and the records were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, thus living an gigantic unresolved puzzle made of hundreds of thousands of stones.
Banteay Srei (the pink temple or the Citadel of Women) is a bit more remote from the main complex but it boasts some of the most exquisite 3D carvings in pink sandstone.
Other significant temples include: Preah Khan, Phnom Bakheng (famous for its sunset views), Preah Neak Pean, Pre Rup, Banteay Kdei, Bakong just to name a few. For a more complete list I recommend Lonely Planet and also one of my favourite sources of information during my trip to SE Asia, the Travelfish online guide.
Practical guide at Angor Wat
- Angor Wat is just a few km from Sieam Reap where is also the vast majority of the accommodation
- Take at least 3 days to visit the complex. I spent 5 days in Siem Reap and I found it the perfect length giving me enough time to explore and experience other interesting sights and activities as well as relax.
- A 3 days pass is probably the best option unless you spent a week in the area and want to explore at a really slow pace. But even with all the grandeur, one tends to get tired of seeing similar sights for days in a row
- Although you can rent bicycles and explore on your own, the sheer size of it makes it a bit more complicated to see as much as you would with a motor vehicle (motorbike, tuk-tuk, car)
- The easiest (and most fun) option to visit the site is to hire a tuck-tuck for the entire day. Some of the drivers can also be very good guides …if they speak English
- Although some travel guides advise against visiting the main sites first (as you might feel disappointed with the rest) I completely disagree. Visiting the most important ones first gives you an immediate feel of the magnificence of the place and it only makes you want to see and understand more. It creates a certain addiction for a few days 🙂 .
- Even with all the crowds I think it would be a crime not to see at least one sunrise and one sunset at Angkor. There is a reason the crowds are so big!
- Being completely hidden in the jungle, there is no proper panoramic view of Angkor so I found the sunset watching from Phnom Bakheng a waste of time and therefore left before the hoards were gathering
- If you do not have a guide, read a bit about each temple before visiting it. It make the whole experience much more intense
More pics? Check below 🙂
Click on an image to see the slideshow