Is seeing Angkor Wat on your bucket list? If it is, you are not alone. Angkor’s finest temple is one of the world’s iconic sights. It is a place that looks good in pictures but is even more impressive when you are there in person.
Angkor Wat or, more properly, Prasat Angkor Wat is the closest Khmer temple to our base in Siem Reap Cambodia. A short ride in Mr. Panha’s tuk tuk took us from the steps of our hotel to the temple complex’s entrance. Angkor Wat is close enough to let us visit twice, once in the morning and once in the evening.
A 2.2-mile long manmade moat and an impressive outer wall separate Angkor Wat’s temple complex from the surrounding terrain. Tourists enter Angkor Wat by crossing over the 600-foot wide rectangular lake on a massive stone bridge. On the other side of the moat an elaborate portal building leads through the 15-foot high wall into the complex. Ahead, on the far side of a large terrace, is Angor Wat’s temple mountain with its five distinctive corncob towers.
Our first visit was at sunrise. Still early in our trip to Southeast Asia, our body clocks had us waking up well before dawn. The jet lag made it easier to see Angkor Wat at sunrise. We were not alone when we arrived at the temple. Not even close. Were all these people with us waiting for the sun to clear the horizon jet lagged also? How could so many people get up extra early while on a vacation? There are some dedicated travelers here! We had little choice but to squeeze through the crowd and take a place amongst hundreds of camera clutching tourists at the edge of a reflective pond. Everyone it seemed was seeking a National Geographic cover worthy picture of the oft-photographed temple.
When the sun cleared the temple mountain and too many pictures had been taken, we moved inside to explore Angkor Wat’s interior galleries. Angkor Wat’s structure is highly symmetrical. Three rectangular galleries, each level higher than the other, rise to reach a central tower. Intricately carved stark gray sandstone facades cover the surfaces. During our morning visit we could not visit Angkor Wat’s highest levels. It was a Buddhist day of worship and the upper extremes of the structure were closed to tourists. We would have to return another day to see the remainder of the building.
Two days later we visited near sunset. In the humid heat of the day Angkor Wat’s walls define the cool abstractly decorated courtyards. For a temple built in the 12th Century Angkor Wat is amazingly intact. Even today the spaces inside the temple’s walls are a curious combination of inviting and awe inspiring. The building’s message is clear; the Khmer Empire was powerful and civilized. Suryavarman II, Angkor Wat’s builder, was a great king.
Does Angkor Wat rank as one of the 1,001 places to see before you die? I’ll give you that one. It is hard to imagine 1,001 better or more important places to visit; no thousand and one list would be complete without Angkor Wat.
But does Angkor Wat rank in the top 10 things to see before your end comes? It might but for now I cannot answer that. After all wouldn’t I have to see everything else first? (Or, for the mathematicians out there, everything else minus nine.) Who can do that? Besides, doesn’t “before you die” mean that you will only know for certain on your death bed. I don’t expect to be updating Anotherheader then!
The full picture set is on Picasa.