. sunrise at angkor wat & the ancient city of angkor thom .

Watching the sky turn from pitch  darkness to a shade of crimson red as the Sun slowly creeps over the horizon is often on the “Must Do” list for any tourist who visits Siem Reap. Wanting to experience the “magical” moment of viewing Angkor Wat in its full glory, we pulled ourselves (with much effort) out of bed at 3.30am and got ready by 4.30am where we were greeted by an equally sleepy but friendly Tuk Tuk driver. Finally, after so many months of anticipation, we were on our way to visit one of the wonders of the world, the spectacular millennium old Angkor Wat! In real life!

Must do factor: *** out of 5 stars

Scam alert: Take note that you might get approached by locals who will try to pass you some  joss sticks to pray to a (or rather, any) Buddha statue for good luck. These are touts who are shamelessly using religion as a means of business, and if you do not want to be a victim of a scam, just walk away.



And, just in case if you think that catching the sunrise together in another country is 1 of the most romantic thing to do, please check out this scene! Yes, despite the rather deceiving peaceful pictures of sunrise, we were (in actual fact) surrounded by hundreds of other tourists – budding photographers and otherwise – who woke up in the wee hours of the morning with the same intention in mind.Welcome to the touristy Angkor Wat … a place where you can never escape the hordes of people.



Angkor Thom

Constructed: Late 12th – Early 13th century C.E.
Reign: King Jayavarman VII
Religion: Hindu

“Angkor Thom is a 3km² square walled and moated royal city and was the last capital of the Angkorian empire. After Jayavarman VII recaptured the Angkorian capital from the Cham invaders in 1181, he began a massive building campaign across the empire, constructing Angkor Thom as his new capital city. At its height, Angkor Thom and its surrounding area was known to be home to an estimated 1 million people.” *

*all information from Siem Reap Angkor Visitor Guide


The causeway leading to the South Gate is flanked with 2 rows of stone guardians at its sides. According to the guide book, the causeway is a depiction of a well-known Hindu myth, the Churning of the Sea of Milk (gods and demons pulling the serpent from each end).



South Gate of Angkor Thom

As with all 5 entrances to the city, the South Gate is easily recognized by the 4 faces (some guides suggest that the face is a representation of either/both King Jayavarman VII and Bodhisattva) at the top of the tower gate. Our gate way to the fascinating and mystical world of Ancient Cambodia!


Bayon

Constructed: Late 12th Century C.E.
Reign: King Jayavarman VII
Religion: Buddhism
Style: Bayon

“The giant stone faces of Bayon have become one of the most recognisable images connected to classic Khmer art and architecture. There are 37 standing towers, most but not all sporting four carved faces oriented toward the cardinal points. Who the faces represent is a matter of debate but they may be Loksvara, Mahayana Buddhism’s compassionate Bodhisattva, or perhaps a combination of Buddha and Jayarman VII. Bayon was the king’s state temple and in many ways represents the pinnacle of his massive building campaign. It appears to be, and is to some degree, an architectural muddle, in part because it was constructed in a somewhat piecemeal fashion for over a century.” *

Must See factor: ***** out of 5 stars




At first glance from afar, Bayon does not seem to stand out as it simply looks like a plain temple with many towers. Upon a clearer look,  Bayon reveals itself in full glory. This uniquely designed temple, complete with fine and elaborate carvings and bas reliefs, is MK’s favourite temple in Angkor Park. With hundreds of giant faces towering over you from its 54 towers, you cannot help but feel like you are being stared at from every corner. It almost seems like you can run, but you can’t hide or escape … No matter how hard you try, you will always be within sight.


It was by sheer luck that we overheard a Mandarin-speaking tour guide telling a group of tourists from China that this is the only representation of King Jayavarman VII/Buddha that smiles. Hence, this recognizable face is the most photographed amongst the hundreds of faces of Bayon.


Elaborately carved bas relief – Apsara Dancer



Baphuon

Constructed: Mid 11th Century C.E.
Reign: Udayadityavarman II
Religion: Hindu

“Huge temple mountain in the heart of Angkor Thom. This 3-tiered temple, once massive and grand, was the state temple for its builder, King Udayadityavarman II. Its outstanding appearance caught the attention of a 13th century envoy from China, Chou Ta-Kuan, and in his report, he described Baphuon as “The Tower of Bronze…a truly astonishing spectacle, with more than ten chambers at its base.”” *

Unfortunately, much of Baphuon had collapsed into ruins and it is currently undergoing major restoration works. As such, all visitors are prohibited from entering the temple site.

Must See factor: ** out of 5


A portrayal of how Baphuon might have looked like back in its heydays. What a spectacular temple, isn’t it?

source

Phimeanakas

Constructed: Late 10th to 11th Century C.E.
Reign: Jayavarman V
Religion: Hindu

“Impressive laterite and sandstone pyramid. The lack of surviving carvings leaves it artistically uninteresting, but it is the tallest scalatable temple in Ankor Thom, providing a nice view from the top. Legend has it that the golden tower crowned the temple and was inhabited by a serpent, which would transform into a woman. The kings of Angkor were required to make love with the serpent every night, lest disaster befall him or the kingdom.”

Guess it ain’t easy being the ruler after all right? He was left with no choice – Make love with the serpent or be left with a collapsing and doom kingdom. In all honesty, I cannot imagine which is more humiliating. Speculation about the myth aside, Phimeanakas was the first temple where we got to scale the steep and narrow steps to reach to the top tower. Despite it being the tallest temple in Angkor Thom, the view from above was nothing much to praise about. Didn’t manage to catch a glimpse of the surrounding temples as they were either too far out or covered by the canopy of trees. Nonetheless, we couldn’t be more proud that we beat all odds (Well, basically the intense heat and scorching sun) and climbed to the top of our first temple tower! Thumbs up!

Must see factor: *** out of 5



View from the top


Terrace of the Leper King

Constructed: Late 12th Century C.E.
Reign: King Jayavarman VII
Religion: Buddhism

“A double terrace wall with deeply carved nagas, demons and other mythological beings. The terrace was named for the statue of the Leper King that sits on top. Why the status is known as the leper king is a matter of debate. According to some, the status depicts the Hindu god Yama, the god of Death. He was called Leper King because discolouration and moss growing on the original statue was reminscent of a person with leprosy.” **

Must See factor: ** out of 5

** info from wikipedia



Some of the bas relief at the leper king terrace. This is one of the few times when I really wished that we had enlisted the services of a personal guide so that we can foster a better understanding of the various depictions and bas reliefs. Somehow, I cannot help but to feel like a lost and clueless kid, wandering in a museum that is so steeped in history.


Quick lunch at one of the street food stall.

Following lunch, we took some time to explore the ruins of a group of small temples that were relatively unvisited. Located off-the-beaten track from the usual tourist’s path, this group of temples (which I believe belong to the Preah Pithu group) is well worth a visit if you enjoy visiting some ruins without the maddening crowds. In all honesty, this group of small temples look not much different from the other ruined temples that we had already visited earlier but it was precisely the lack of people that made the quiet moments spent at the Preah Pithu group so special and magical.


Victory Gate

Once again, we were greeted by the 4 faces of King Jayavarman VII/Buddha as we made our way out of Angkor Thom and onwards to other spectacular temples & ruins that await us.


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