For me Angkor Wat was one of the most anticipated destinations after Pyramids of Giza, it’s not that I am quite a history buff but places like these are like Time Machine. Press a button and its 3000 B.C. or 12th century.
Got off the aircraft, walked toward the WIP terminal under the bluest sky I have ever seen, immigration check, baggage, currency, local SIM and I was out bargaining with the tuk-tuk guy for the hotel transfer. And we extended his service for next two days as we were exploring SiemReap.
Our first port of call was Angkor Wat, now if you buy the ticket after 5 pm, it’s valid for that evening (i.e. sunset) as well as the next day (sunrise). It’s quite an entrance, surrounded by moat (representing ocean) and the ripple reflection in it of what I was seeing in-front and above me, the temple, blue sky, semi-blacked cloud and palm trees on either side of the cobbled pathway leading to the main complex. And with-in an hour the sky turned from blue to orange. Next morning the tuk-tuk picked us up at 4:45 am, and by the time we reached the complex, there were hundreds of camera waiting for sun to appear from behind this Hindu Buddhist temple.
Angkor Wat was built in 12th century in classical Khmer architecture by Suryavarman-II, to honor Lord Vishnu, it served both as temple and a mausoleum. The outer wall is decorated with bas-reliefs depicting stories from Hindu mythology. As you start walking anti-clockwise direction from the main entrance, it starts with battle of kurukshetra followed by army of suryavarman-II, heaven and hell, churning of ocean of milk, battle of lanka, god vs demon, Krishna vs demon king and finally Vishnu conquering demons. You will also come across the depiction of famous apsaras and devata decorations. As you walk up toward the inner rectangular gallery, you come across these 4 towers at each corner forming a quincunx with the central tower (representing Mt. Meru, home of gods).
Built in late 12th century, Ta Prohm was a Buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of Jayavarman-II. It was also called Rajavihara (Monastery of King). Re-claimed from the jungle this place has been an icon by being on the cover photo of National Geographic and other magazines. The tuk-tuk droped us at the main entrance, from where it’s a 200m walk on the paved road with light jungle on either side leading to the main complex. With trees growing out of the ruins and the thick, grand-old roots gripping the lichened stone structure with its claws, it’s quite mesmerizing. As you walk through the alley with bas-relief decorations on the walls and pillars onto the courtyard with small temples and back to the narrow alleys you get a sense of tug-of-war between structure and nature.
Angkor Thom (Great City), established in late 12th century was the last capital City of Khmer Empire. Its host’s one of the most iconic complexes in Angkor, the Bayon Temple – built primarily as Mahayana bhuddist shrine and made famous by smiling stone faces over the towers, said to be the face of Jayavarman VII depicting “Bodhisattva” (quality of truth and goodness). Another highlight of the complex is the bas-relief depicting day-to-day life (selling fish, cockfight, playing chess, celebrations etc.) and wars (khmer vs chams, victory parade, civil war etc).
Other impressive structure worth visiting is Terrace of Leper King, the outer wall of this royal crematory is decorated with 5 tiers of hundreds of seated apasaras and there are more on the lower basement. Also do look out for the “King with sword”.
Other prominent structures are –
Baphuon – build in mid-11th century this three tier mountain temple, representing My. Meru
Phimeanakas – three level pyramidal Hindu temple is located inside the walled enclose of the royal palace of Angkor Thom.
Preah Palilay – we passed by artists selling their paintings, huge Buddha’s statue (Tep Pranam) and monastery to reach this semi-dilapidated temple, which have been both consumed and supported by trees.
Next day we were on our way to Phnom Penh, early morning WiFi bus, it took us 7hr. to reach our destination. With sleek boutique shops, chic cafes and art galleries, Phnom Penh still exhibit the reminisce of France. We were on quiet a culinary journey for next two days, Tapas at Quitapenas tapas and Friends Restaurant, Khmer cuisine at Fizz, Drinks at FCC overlooking Tonle Sap River and street food around Independent Monument square. Special mention for French onion soup.
As we were strolling on Sisowath Quay crowded with women trying to ascertain their future with astrologers and hawkers selling lotus for offering, birds, fruits, meat, along with families enjoying an evening picnic, it’s hard to imagine life under Khmer Rouge and their killing fields just on the outskirts of the city. In the name of cleansing and pseudo utopia, fellow citizens were stripped of their homes, families and lives. Being at Choeung Ek, killing field had quite a heart breaking and lingering effect on me.
But tuk-tuk is quite an innovation, it’s being used to carry people, goods and everything. The scooter part is constant and the carriage keep changing based on the requirement.