|Sunrise at Angkor Wat|
Blog Entry #43: Cambodia: The Temples at Angkor Wat
Friday, October 28, 2011
Sunrise at the Temples at Angkor Wat: what a beautiful and serene experience to contrast with our immersion into the Khmer Rouge the day before. We had flown into the Siem Reap airport the previous evening, impressed again by both the beauty of the Cambodian countryside north of Phnom Penh, and the breadth of the flooding along the Mekong River.
|The King returns to Phnom Penh|
Our departure from Phnom Penh had been delayed, as it coincided with the return of the King from time abroad.
|Traditional Cambodian Dance|
After checking into our hotel, we watched traditional Cambodian dancers reenacting Cambodian folk tales and favorite Hindu stories over our first meal of Cambodian fare.
Soon we were stumbling from bed at 4:30 am in order to make our 5:00 am departure for Angkor Wat. We entered the compound, crossed the bridge over the moat that encloses Angkor Wat as an island, and then watched as the sky changed from one magical hue to another, framing the silhouette of the rising levels of temple towers against the sky.
|Sunrise at Angkor Wat|
|Hindu goddesses in Angkor Wat|
Though perhaps the most spectacular and well-known, Angkor Wat is only one of an enormous complex of temples and cities built by the Khmer empire dating to the 9th century C.E. The surprise to me is that these temples are largely of Hindu, rather than Buddhist origin, reflecting the Hindu gods and stories, and only later incorporating Buddhist themes and iconography, under the influence of the great Khmer king Jayavarman VII’s conversion to Buddhism in the 12th & 13th centuries.
|Model of Angkor Wat showing three main platforms|
|NE corner of main temple platform, Angkor Wat|
Angkor Wat, “the city that became a pagoda,” was built during the reign of Suryavarman II during the first half of the 12th century CE, and was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, the Protector. The 82 hectares of the “island” are enclosed by a large rectangular moat, and the Temple is set in the center with a tall pyramid surrounded by concentric rectangular galleries.
|Stairs to upper platform|
The building material is largely red sandstone, quarried in the Kulen Mountains, about 50 km to the north. Angkor Wat is impressive at every scale: from the initial impression one has of the entire site, approaching from the west and seeing it reflected in the ponds at the base of its first platform, to the intricately carved details of Hindu gods and stories that illustrate its walls.
|Highest temple tower at Angkor Wat|
|Angkor Wat from east side|
|Bas relief on West wall|
|Detail of bas relief of the Mahabharata Hindu epic|
|Reclining Buddha, Angkor Wat|
|Buddhist monks at Angkor Wat|
|Entrance to Angkor Thom|
|Strangler Fig reclaims Ta Prohm ruins|
|Ta Prohm ruins|
|Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom|
|Buddha towers at Bayon Temple|
Many of the temples also contain active Buddhist shrines in them, kept by Buddhist monks and others, and it was moving to linger at them, and receive a blessing from the monk while leaving an incense stick at the shrine. We also saw several Buddhist monks in their bright orange robes visiting the temples and pausing before the Buddha statues.
Soon it was time to bid Angkor farewell and make our way back to Siem Reap and the airport for our flight back to Ho Chi Minh City. It will take me some time to absorb all we experienced during our three short days in Cambodia; I am grateful to have spent some time in the land of the Khmer people with their rich and often tragic history, and I hope that I am able to one day return.
Sunset over the flooded countryside of the Mekong River in Cambodia