Angkor Wat Day 1

Angkor Wat Day 1. Yesterday, the driver asked me if I needed a tour guide. He said he knew a good one so I nodded. There he was, showing up with the driver in the morning.

It was around 8:45 in the morning. We saw a group of people in the streets at the city centre so I asked the tour guide what was going on. He told me this group of people were celebrating Human Rights Day. ‘Celebrating human rights day?’ The tour guide said ‘yes because there are no human rights in Cambodia. They want more human rights.’  That was an interesting answer. ‘You mean they are protesting?’ ‘No, they are celebrating.’ The tour guide confirmed.
Get ready for a 3-day Angkor Wat tour. πŸ™‚ I blow it up here so that you can see the entire map clearly. πŸ™‚
South Gate, Angkor Thom. I bought a 3-day Angkor Wat pass. We first went to Angkor Thom through which you can go to Bayon where you can see a lot of Buddha’s faces.
Statues at the South Gate
Statues at the South Gate

The tour guide always emphasized that in the Angkor temples, there is a mixture of Hinduism and Buddhism. These two statues are situated at the entrance of the South Gate of Angkor Thom. One is smiling and the other is not. The smiling one is the face of Buddha and the other one is the face of a Hindu god.

Bayon. It’s a temple for men.
Apsara dance – a traditional dance in Cambodia. You can see this kind of images everywhere in Angkor Wat. People are still doing this dance today. My students taught me how to do this too. I took a photo of an Apsara dance performance on a lake here in 2019.
Soldiers from China
Khmer soldiers

In the past, Cambodia used soldiers from different countries to help them fight in the battles.  Some are from Thailand, and some are from China. You can see the different faces between the Khmer soldiers and the Chinese soldiers.

Bayon – the vantage point
Bayon – the vantage point

This is a very famous spot. Here, you can see many faces of Buddhas. It’s quite impressive. The faces are immense. When you look at them closely, you will see that each brick was carefully carved and measured. It seems to me that the people in the past were very good at this. Wherever you go, you can find carefully carved and precisely measured stones laying on top of each other, e.g. Persepolis in Iran, Stonehenge in the UK (I don’t know when I can write that. I went there before 2005 when I was still using an SLR camera), palaces I visited in China and here in Cambodia. Where can we find this kind of skill in modern days?

You can see all these goddesses everywhere in the temples.
Elephant Terrace, another famous spot in Angkor Thom. Elephants for Khmer (Cambodians) were very important. They were used in battles. When they were not fighting in the wars, they were used for transporting goods. You can see elephant statues or carvings everywhere in the temples.
Ta Prohm. This is one of the reasons why Ta Prohm is so famous.
The whole temple was unfortunately (or fortunately) being ruined by the roots of these fig trees. But because of this, it has become a very attractive site. A mixture of nature and man-made buildings…, they blend so well that it doesn’t give one a feeling of human intrusion.
Can you see the face of a Buddha? Focus on the middle of this picture. It’s behind the roots of the trees. It’s smiling. Amazing, isn’t it?
The stones were being pressured down.
Another photogenic spot
Wall of Ta Prohm
Entrance of Angkor Wat

The word ‘Angkor’ means ‘city’ and ‘Wat’ means ‘temple’ or ‘monastery’. The whole term ‘Angkor Wat’ means ‘royal monastery city’. As suggested by its name, the place didn’t just house a temple, it was also a place for people to live in. I believe it was a very common practice in the past – Mont Saint Michel was like this, Machu Picchu was like this (I will write about it later) and many other places. People don’t live in Angkor Wat now unless they are monks. The temple was originally built for the Hindu god, Vishnu, therefore it faces west and so when you visit this place, you go in an anti-clockwise direction.  Whereas for the Buddhist temples, they face the east and you walk in a clockwise direction. For the Buddhist, the east means life. Angkor Wat has 3 levels. According to the tour guide, the first level means hell, the second means earth, and the third means heaven.  That means all the visitors have to go through hell in order to get to heaven. πŸ˜‰  Angkor Wat was built of sandstones. That’s why when the sun sets, the colour changes.

You can see a lot of carvings of goddesses on the walls but this one is different.   If you look closely, you can see she’s grinning because, according to the tour guide, she was happy about the peacefulness of the country.

Angkor Wat had gone through many dynasties. Some kings believed in Hinduism while some believed in Buddhism so you can see carvings of both Hindu gods and Buddhas. As mentioned before, originally Angkor Wat was dedicated to the Hindu god but when Jayavarman VII came into power, he converted Angkor Wat into a Buddhist temple.

When you walk around Angkor Wat (and other ancient temples in Siem Reap), you will find that most of the places have turned black. At first, I thought it was from the bomb during the wars but the tour guide explained that it was actually because of acid rain. Yes, acid rain. He then showed me the bullet holes etched in the columns of the temples, ‘these are from the wars.’  They are not hard to find at all. But do you really want to trace them?

After crossing the moat, you can see the main part of Angkor Wat. According to the tour guide, the central tower symbolizes the Himalayas. The four towers surrounding the central tower symbolize the four countries around the Himalayas – China, India, Nepal and Bhutan (I will write about Nepal and Bhutan later).
The sun was setting. Which sunset is better, this one or the one over the rice field here?
The waitress in the hotel I was staying at invited me to see her performance at a restaurant. She reserved a table for me which was on the left hand side of the stage because that was where she danced. The performance included a buffet (or the other way round). The restaurant was probably a famous restaurant. I saw a tour group there when I arrived.

The driver told me normally, Apsara dance performance including a buffet cost much less than USD10. It was ok for me back then. The performance was good. I tried a non-alcoholic drink called Svakum there too. It’s a mixture of pineapples, oranges, mangoes? and coconut milk? It was actually quite thick but I liked it.

I desperately needed a rest as I needed to wake up early to catch the sunrise in Angkor Wat tomorrow.

Stay tuned. πŸ™‚

10 December 2008

P.S. Interestingly, on the same day in 2019, I visited an off the beaten track in Cambodia πŸ˜› Check it out here.

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