We explore Angkor Wat in depth in relative calm and with few crowds. Before us are sandstone carvings of apsaras and battle scenes. The Hindu-inspired bas-relief at Angkor Wat seems to go on forever with the detail, found throughout the entire complex, a marvel. Apsaras seem to dominate the carvings around the complex. They are portrayed in various costumes and headdress, taking their place as the celestial dancers for use by the royal Khmer court. Over time, Angkor Wat became a Buddhist temple having originally been dedicated to Vishnu.
The temple proper stands on a raised platform and its inner walls depict battle scenes, which includes the longest continuous historical stone carvings depicting King Suryavarman II inspecting a parade of his troops and launching war. The walls of the court are an abundance of stone carvings. It’s hard to not be awestruck.
Passing through one of the gates to enter Angkor Thom complex is possibly the coolest and most imposing gates you’ll ever go through. A bridge stands before the gate, lined with sculpted statues of gods and demons. This represents the Churning of the Ocean Milk from Hindu mythology. This is, we are told, the best preserved bridge in front of Angkor Thom. This gate with its Buddha-face-tower and sculptures along the balustrades is one of the iconic emblems of Angkor, along with the five towers of the Angkor Wat, the Bayon face towers, and the stone-cracking trees of Ta Prohm.
Angkor Thom’s main attraction is the Bayon temple at its centre. Apart from the Angkor Wat, it is the most visited and photographed monument of Angkor. It is famous for its face towers, each with four giant faces, looking into the cardinal directions. You feel watched. There is something beautiful of seeing the huge ‘smiling’ yet mysterious faces that adorn Bayon. On reflection, what are they thinking? It’s these faces that make Bayon one of the big three temples in Angkor. There are also some phenomenal carvings worth taking in.
Nothing at Angkor Wat can be as imposing as the overgrown grandeur of Ta Prohm, the movie location for Tomb Raider. Yes, this is Angelina Jolie’s temple. But it is much more than a film set. This amazing temple speaks volumes on its own, being reclaimed from the jungle. After Angkor Wat was abandoned, the temples disappeared under dense jungle growth, seemingly forgotten by time. than At Ta Prohm, you get a sense of how the jungle claimed these massive temples with trees growing through and over the temple. This is a place where jungle and temple come together, seemingly a harmonious combination of stone and wood, even though tree roots seem to be strangling the building.
Banteay Srei is one of a few temples in the Angkor complex that was not commissioned by a King, which may be the reason why this temple is smaller in size. It was built with red sandstone, giving it its distinct pink colour, and was initially a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. As with many temples in Angkor, the temple fell into disuse with the jungle taking hold and wasn’t rediscovered again until the early 1900s. The central compound is covered with carvings. Banteay Srei wowed us with its intricate carvings that have survived the forces of nature and time.
Elephant terrace and the Terrace of the Leper King
The wonderful Elephant Terrace culminates at the Terrace of the Leper King. The walls have incredible bas-reliefs. The terrace of elephants was used as a giant viewing stand during public and royal ceremonies. Many lions decorate this enormous path as well. The Terrace of the Leper King was named after the god of the underworld, whose naked statue perches on top.
As satisfying as the sunrise was, the day spent touring through the temple complex and learning about Khmer culture and Hindu and Buddhist religions was gratifying and humbling. Angkor Wat has just so much to offer and thoroughly deserves its status as a wonder of the world.