(Pt. 4) Siem Reap and The 7th Wonder of The World: Angkor Wat

The majestic Angkor Wat is a real heart-throb who won my heart. It is indeed the 7th wonder of the world. Not to be missed out while visiting Angkor Wat is Angkor Thom, the greater circuit.

 FYI, this is going to be a very long and insightful article.

The admission fees to enter Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom have increased tremendously in the last 2 years. Passes are sold in one-day ($37), three-day ($62) and seven-day ($72) blocks that must be used on consecutive days. Photo taken on the spot is free as it is required for the pass.

Although the Angkor Wat’s visiting hours are from 5 am until 6 pm, it is best to reach ticket counters by 4 am to join the long queue. A great tip that Tim has offered is to buy the tickets the day before the visit after 5 pm for it to be eligible to use for the next day. Entries after 5 pm at Angkor Wat is considered free but a valid next day ticket is still required to be shown; in other words, it is free to watch the sunset from Angkor Wat.

According to locals, the increased of the fee is meant to assist the medical centre for children in Siem Reap. However, locals do not see an improvement at the medical centre, yet.

Angkor Thom is the area outside of Angkor Wat (main temple). Tours are usually separated into two types for Angkor Wat. The greater circle consist of all the famous temples in Angkor Thom including Angkor Wat. While the smaller circle consist only of Angkor Wat.

The Majestic Angkor Wat

My hostel mate, Hye Rin, shared this tour with me. Tim picked us up at about 4 am to be in time to buy admission tickets for the sunrise. The whole ticket purchasing process took about 35–45 minutes as the queue was rather long.

As Tim is not a certified tour guide, he was unable to follow us onto the inner grounds of Angkor Wat. It was fine by us since I have been to the museum on the first day of my trip so I have a clear understanding of Angkor Wat. Hye Rin brought her guidebook along.

Angkor Wat’s name is possibly the most generic name such a majestic temple can be called. Angkor Wat means temple city in the Khmer language. The name that we know today is not the original name that was given to this temple when it was built in the twelfth century by the usurper, King Suryavarman II (1113-1145/50 C.E.). Researchers have found several references to the king and events that took place in the temple but not the original name.

angkor wat, cambodia, siem reap, sunrise
No filter, no edit. This is exactly how Angkor Wat looks like while we waited for the sun to rise.

Wow — was the only word both of us had in mind as we stood right in front of the entrance of Angkor Wat. I have been to many ancient temples around South East Asia, but nothing quite like Angkor Wat. The term majestic is exactly the right word to explain what was laid before our eyes.

It was crowded and we had a hard time looking for the perfect spot to watch the sunrise. We found out through the guidebook that the best spot to watch the sunrise would be on the left side of Angkor Wat. Stand right behind the pond on the left corner to have the full view and a great photo.

Flocks of visitors rushed in to explore the first floor of Angkor Wat right after sunrise. Hyerin and I decided to simply walk directly to the middle tower’s highest-floor, which is the third floor. We believe that this is the best strategy to get away from the crowd and we were right about it. There were less than 10 visitors when we arrived at the highest floor of Angkor Wat.

Embracing the architecture

We walked around the third floor while enjoying the intricate carvings on the walls. The third floor supports a total of five towers. There are four towers that are located in the corners and in the middle stands the holiest tower. We could not go up to the top of the middle tower as it was closed for a holy festival.

cambodia, siem reap, angkor wat

cambodia, siem reap, angkor wat
Oh! I will definitely come back to Angkor Wat just to climb up this holy tower.

By then, we were almost standing at 200 meters above ground levels and yet, did not felt like it was true. The temple’s architecture is undoubtedly stunning. As we touched the walls of the temple, we imagined the possibilities of how grandiose Angkor Wat used to be. Today, Angkor Wat is still the largest Hindu temple ever built as its ground covers a total of 500 acres. In fact, it is believed that Angkor Wat is a portrayal of sacred mountain mount Meru.

The arrangement of how Angkor Wat was built is sometimes called a quincunx. Quincunx is a geometric pattern consisting of five points arranged in a cross, with four of them forming a square or rectangle and a fifth at its centre. The tiers of Angkor Wat gradually rise one above and progressively smaller than the other till the towers reach a conical shape. The overall construction of Angkor Wat is meant to imitate a lotus bud.

Little that most people know, the five towers of Angkor Wat can only be seen from certain angles. For example, you will not be able to see all five towers from the entrance. It was ingeniously planned and structured to achieve this effect.

Churning of the ocean of milk

This majestic temple was in dedication to the Hindu god, Lord Vishnu. However, the full purpose of this sacred building is still debatable. Archaeologists believed that Angkor Wat is not only a temple but may also be a mausoleum of King Suryavarman II.

There are approximately 1,200 square metres of carved bas-reliefs in this temple. These bas-reliefs represent eight different Hindu stories yet, the most important narrative is the churning of the ocean of milk. This depiction is located on the first floor of Angkor Wat. It is best to walk from left to right to have a clear interpretation of the carvings.

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“The churning of the ocean of milk depicts the beginning of time and the creation of the universe. Its carving depicts 88 asuras (demons) on the left, and 92 devas (gods) on the right, who used the serpent to churn the amrita (elixir of life). It is the story of the good winning over evil,” we eavesdropped from one of the tour guides explaining to his American guests.

We noticed that the gods and demons seem to be playing a game of tug-of-war using a Naga (serpent king or also known as Vasuki, the serpent of Mahadev) as their divine rope to churn the amrita. We could not help but to wonder where did this holy war was held. Hyerin flipped opened her guidebook to look for answers.

cambodia, siem reap, angkor wat

Before she could find the answer, we heard another tour guide speaking in Mandarin explaining that the naga was coiled around Mt. Mandara. This mountain is believed to be the abode of the god Krishna. Additionally, Lord Vishnu who was incarnated to be a large turtle lent his shell to be the pivot of Mt Mandala to assist in the churning process.

Mighty Hindu gods like Brahma, Shiva, Hanuman (the monkey god) and Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth and prosperity) were all present in this depiction at Angkor Wat. As we walked towards another part of the carvings, we overheard another Korean language tour guide. He explained that a host of heavenly female spirits sing and dance in encouragement for the gods to win. Once the amrita was churned, Indra, king of all the god, descended from heaven to catch it. Phew! We are lucky that the gods won!

cambodia, siem reap, angkor wat

Tip: There are plenty of tour guides speaking Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, English and Spanish. If you are on a tight budget and is multilingual, you might be able to eavesdrop or overhear them explaining. Or, check with your hostel if they provide audio guides for rent.

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom is not just another temple. Angkor Thom, aka Great City, is an old fortified city that spreads out in various locations. Within its fortress, you will find many other ruins of temples.

Tim informed us that the most amazing temple in Angkor Thom is Bayon Temple and Angkor Thom is in the Bayon style. Of course, we were slightly clueless what he meant by Bayon style. The temples in Angkor Thom are of large-scale constructions. Most of the buildings were built with laterite, which is a type of solid rock which is rusty-red in colour.

As I do not have much information on most of the temples that I have visited in Angkor Thom, here are some photos that I have taken of my favourite temples in the area.

Terrace of Elephants

Bayon Temple

cambodia, siem reap, angkor thom

Preah Khan

The below images are from Wikimedia.

Ta Phrom

Or, better known as Tomb Raider Temple, was one of the highlights of our visit. It was built in the late 12th – early 13th centuries. Ta Phrom was originally named Rajavihara, and was built as a Buddhist monastery and library. It is located at the southern edge of the East Baray of Angkor Thom.

siem reap, cambodia, angkor thom, ta phrom
Remember to follow this flow or you might end up lost like we did!

There are many other temples to visit in Angkor Thom. However, these are the ones that you must not miss when you are in Siem Reap.

The End


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