Siem Reap, Cambodia
The day I visited Borobudur temples in Indonesia, changed the momentum of the bucket list of my life. Until that point of my life, I was the typical teenager – suffering through teenage angst, pimples, shoes, clothes, adjusting to a new country and customs…. blah blah blah. But Borobudur painted this whole new picture of the world that is accessible and yet unexplored to my eyes. Oh, I still have my angst and clothes and shoes; But there is serenity in travelling to a whole new place, experiencing new things and coming back home with the satisfaction that you have ticked something off your bucket list. Angkor Wat holds a special mention for this very reason.
Angkor holds a special place in the hearts of tourist, not only because of its significance in the leafs of history, but also because of the simple and yet grandeur of its architecture. The main reason why you can visit Angkor today can be credited to the efforts of the archaeologists from the Ecole Francaise d’Exteme Orient.
How to get there
Being a major tourist attraction definitely helps in improving the ease of accessibility. Taxis and Tuk Tuks (local mode of transport) are readily available to take you to this popular monument, and both share a similar charge of $15.
What to do
Nothing comes free of charge, except for the view of the place of course. Once you sit in your preferred mode of transport, the first thing the driver will enquire is whether you have a ticket to visit the place. If not, he will directly take you to the ticket counter where you have to make a Temple pass which is valid not only for the Angkor temple, but also for the surrounding temples. The counters are open from 4.30 in the morning till 5.30 pm.
Unlike the Indian system of providing you a ticket, this is a much sophisticated and definitely more convenient form of providing you with access. Once you mention your requirement of a ticket, a picture will be taken which will be attached to your pass and then the printed pass will be provided to you. The whole process takes approximately 5 minutes of your time. Not much, right? This eliminates the whole conspiracy of duplicity and free loaders; each temple has a check point where the pass will be validated with your actual presence.
- For 1 day visit – $20/ person
- For 3 day visit – $40/ person
- For 7 day visit – $60/ person
There is separate section, well lit and legible, available for each category which prevents confusion and the need to ask around.
Experiencing Angkor at Sunrise
Mornings have always been the hardest time for me; most often I do not function well before 12 in the afternoon. So imagine the struggle I would face when I had to get up at 4 AM just for a sunrise. The only thought segment that resounded throughout the whole time was: This better be worth it. I was so glad that at 4.30 AM, the hotel was kind enough to provide me with a English-speaking driver who explained the whole logic of getting a ticket and how to get around Angkor Wat at such a god-forsaken time of the day.
Once the whole business of the ticket was done, the driver rushed me off to the Western Gate, while explaining to me how the outer limit of the temple is surrounded by a moat, with the temple accessed by the causeways, built at the west and the east side respectively.
The moment I stepped on the causeway, I was surrounded by this hoard of tourist guides with their offer of $15 for a complete tour of the temple, including watching the temple at sunrise. As a first timer to the place, it is advised to opt for a guide not only to glean a greater understanding and appreciation of the temple, but also to have a company of someone who knows their way around the temple.
With the guide in tow, as I traced my steps towards the temple in tandem with his explanation, I was enveloped with this serenity and wonder that kept chanting to me: Damn!! Somebody built this whole damn thing centuries ago, and now I m standing here. This weird sense of accomplishment filled inside me, which can not be described in any words.
After crossing the main entrance to the temple, the guide directed me to this lawn-like area where a huge number of people where gathered with flashlights and cameras around a pond-like water body facing the main temple. Numerous hawkers stood in wait for bleary-eyed tourists like me offering breakfast and coffee, which seriously was a more appetizing offer at that point of time. However, seeing the crowd of people standing at the lake and the crowd walking behind me dissuaded me against indulging in any such pleasure. I decided to head off into the crowd to create a niche for me and my camera so that I can capture the moment like so many others have done.
If you think you will just stand there and someone will miraculously move to let you have a glimpse and capture it, you are sorely mistaken. People actually have brought chairs and camped out at the shoreline in that dark, and will not budge an inch for you. Thank God I am thin!! Or else I would have never managed to fit anywhere near there.
Sunrise officially occurs in Cambodia at 6.20 AM, but the play of colors that occurs before that is much more fascinating to observe and document. I think I clicked almost 200 pictures, taken intermittently at 5 minutes interval. This is the best out of the lot.
One thing I must say what impressed me the most was the patience with which people just stood there holding their camera/ video cams aloft. I could immediately contrast the stillness of people in waiting with the indignity of elbowing and jostling of the Indian crowd that I have often encountered. Those who couldn’t appreciate a clearer picture, actually decided to get into the water in hopes of a better picture. I could form check marks against those who are going to go back to their hotels with WiFi connection and upload a new cover image or a profile picture.
As the sky lightened its color, I could hear gasps around me. The view was simple spectacular. One can hold their breath and marvel at the spectacular sight that was unfolding slowly before. It is as if the nature was slowly lifting the curtain to the glory of a man-made structure.
As the ball of fire slowly started peeking over the crest of the temple, all the detail etched in darkness starts clearing up, and I could see the number of people who waited patiently along with me for the ball of fire to finally take its place in the sky.
Characteristics of Angkor Wat Temple
Once the sun is up in the sky, the guide directed me to the main temple and narrate its glorious history. Angkor Wat is one of the temples that has been built with an orientation facing the West, instead of the traditional East direction of the usual temples. This is because the temple has been built in dedication to Vishnu who is often associated with the West.
The Khmer temples are built solely with one main purpose – a palace of God with a shrine so as to allow him to bestow his blessings, especially to the founder and his familiars. Designed in enclosures of quadranglular shape which center on the main shrine or a central group of shrines, the largest shrine of Angkor Wat and its cella boasts of an internal dimension of 4.6 meters by 4.7.
The entirety of the temple (and other similar structures of the Khmer empire) are built using brick, sandstone and laterite. The earliest temples are built in brick since they were easier to use; stone, demanded more manpower and greater skills, made a gradual appearance, beginning with secondary use as door frames and used later solely for basic construction. Laterite was definitely the easiest of all the medium, however due to its rough finishing appearance, was often preferred for foundations and other massive elements. Sandstone , being the most expensive, would often be used as a whole element for important structures such as temples.
What impressed me the most about the whole structure is how the entire temple and its surrounding is dedicated to Hindu symbolism. The moat surrounding the temple represents the mythical oceans surrounding the earth. The succession of concentric galleries represents the mountain ranges that surround Mount Meru, the home of gods. The tower represents the mountain’s peaks which is fairly represented in the experience of climbing to the central shrine.
The most famous creations in Khmer art can be seen on the walls of the mountain. The immense carved area and the sheer dedication involved in each detailing is definitely astounding, to say the least. Majority of these bas-reliefs are adapted from the two Hindu epics – Ramayana and Mahabharata, along with carvings of apsaras and Churning of the Sea of Milk.
The exceptions would be the procession of the King and depiction of Heaven and Hell.
During the entire tour of the temple, one thing I can safely conclude is that other than the exhausting walk, each wall of gallery can be viewed during certain time of the day. While sunrise represents the best time to view the silhouette of the central sanctuary with reflections from either of the water-filled basins, late afternoon is the best time to see the beauty of bas-reliefs showcasing the Ramayana and Mahabharata. One thing is for sure, you can not simply complete Angkor in one day and be satisfied with it.
One of the most important thing that a visitor should always remember while exploring the entirety of Angkor and its fellow temple members; Dress appropriately. At least your shoulders and thighs should be covered. It definitely gets really hot as the day progresses, but people with inappropriate dressing are definitely turned away from the main shrine.