Temples of Angkor pt.1

31 Aug

Some years ago, while reading my mom’s National Geographic magazine, I came across an article on Angkor Wat and the then-current restoration work being done on the temples. For some reason, the pictures struck my fancy, and I have wanted to visit Angkor Wat ever since. When we decided to move to Thailand, visiting Cambodia and Angkor Wat was one of the things I was most excited about. You can imagine how psyched about life I was when we arrived in Siem Reap, the sleepy village town turned tourist mecca closest to the temples. I won’t go into a huge history lesson, but the essentials are that the temples of Angkor are really old, really impressive, and really extensive. The Khmer empire spent over 600 years constructing what amounts to around 400 square kilometers of temple complexes, which then lay buried in the jungle until the French “discovered” them in 1860 or so. The temples are currently a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and various countries are pitching in to restore the majority of the them. On our first morning, we hired a helpful guide and tuk tuk driver, then set off to the explore the inner temple route. The inner temple route covers the main three temples: Bayon, Ta Prohm, and Angkor Wat. I took a zillion photos (really, a zillion, I counted), so tell help tell them apart, I’ll give you a tiny bit of info on the three temples.

Bayon ~ Part of the larger Angkor Thom complex, built in 1180-ish by a gentleman named Jayavarman VII (turns out he was responsible for a whole lot of building, plus he had a snazzy name). Bayon is known for its many towers which are all topped with huge faces of the God Avalokiteshvara – say that ten times fast. There are 216 of these heads, most smiling, some looking stern. From one side, the entire structure looks like an impressive temple rising out of the jungle, from the other side it looks like a pile of rubble.

Ta Prohm ~ Ta Prohm was built as a Buddhist monastery and dedicated to Jayavarman VII’s mother. Today, trees have been allowed to remain growing all over it, making it look like the jungle is slowly invading. It is quite beautiful and eerie, at least it would be if there weren’t thousands of other tourists in the temple with you. Angelina Jolie once filmed a scene at Ta Prohm for the movie Tomb Raider and when we visited, there were long cues of tourists waiting to snap a single shot of themselves pretending to be Lara Croft. Sigh.

Angkor Wat ~ There’s no getting around the fact that Angkor Wat is pretty darn impressive. The temple itself is surrounded by extensive grounds with outbuildings, a thick outer wall, and a huge moat that one crosses on a long causeway. The entire complex is over 2 km sq. across. From the beginning of the causeway, you can just see the tops of Angkor Wat peeking over the outer wall. Inside, the detail and sheer work that must have gone into building the place are astonishing. There are bas-relief carvings of battles, statues of nymphs, elephants, and other symbolic figures, arches and galleries and ancient libraries. It’s amazing and overwhelming. Most importantly, there is the wat itself. The five towers of Angkor Wat are meant to look like five lotus buds, and are probably one of the most photographed images in the world. Interestingly, despite its location in a Buddhist country, Angkor Wat is actually the largest Hindu temple in the world – apparently India wants to build a replica of Angkor Wat to rectify this.

All in all, our first day of exploring was fabulous. By the end, we were sweaty, tired, and my camera battery was almost shot.  🙂  Here are some of the results of my handiwork:

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One Response to “Temples of Angkor pt.1”

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  1. Angkor Wat Half Marathon 2015 | The Jacksons Take Thailand - December 20, 2015

    […] Many went and did the full temple tour, but since Orestes and I had thoroughly templed on our previous visit, I wasn’t too interested in that. One location I had wanted to visit was the Cambodian […]

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