We were told they were stunning, but nothing quite prepared us for the sheer wonder of this place.It is such a vast place, we bought a seven day ticket and there was still so much we didn’t see, apparently it’s the largest place of worship in the world.
Our first day was to the big boy himself, Ankor Wat, looking a little like a mighty ancient spaceship. It was built to represent the Hindu universe with a massive moat surrounding it representing the ocean, the concentric galleries representing the mountain ranges surrounding Mount Meru. The towers represent the mountain peaks inhabited by the Gods. The God’s sanctuary is still hallowed ground, only a few tourists are allowed at one time and you must be appropriately dressed. There are gorgeous carvings everywhere, one of my favourites was the Asparas, the graceful celestial dancers.
Next stop was the magical Ta Prohm. This has been left in it’s natural state, partly reclaimed by the huge roots of the cotton wood trees. It’s a wonderful fusion of the man made and natural and the shapes and textures are just fascinating, I was in photographer’s heaven! In certain little alcoves were beautifully dressed buddha statues surrounded by clouds of incense, these are active shrines tended by the buddhist monks and nuns, they’re on hand to decorate you with a woven bracelet and give a blessing.
Sorry to gush but the next temple was one of the most incredible places I have ever experienced. The old cliche ‘took my breathe away’ was actually accurate. I was busy taking pics of the line of Buddha heads which welcome you in when I looked up to see a high gate with a beautiful Buddha’s face gazing serenely on flanked by two in profile. The temple itself is full of these magnificent heads gazing in all directions, you can get close enough to kiss them!
We made the mistake of having an elephant ride around this temple, it was fun at the time but we have since learned that many are cruelly treated (see Matt’s Elephant post)
Next up was the No.1 ‘must do’ when in Siem Reap, watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat. We dutifully set the alarm and took a bleary tuk-tuk ride. We picked up a hitcher en route, a guy on a bike who was worried he was late for the sun and grab bed hold of us while we flew along. As it turned out, he needn’t have worried as the cloud was moodily spoiling the sun’s chances. It was still an interesting time, all gathering together like a faithful congregation, sitting in silence and sipping disgusting coffee.
Our journey to Kbal Spean also took a little dedication, this was a mighty hour’s tucking followed by a sticky jungle uphill walk. It was lovely to be in nature again and we both realised how much we’ve missed it, the place was full of butterflies which added to it’s ethereal charm. We reached our destination which was a very different experience again, this was not a temple but a series of carvings of Vishnu and chums carved into the rocks in a river bed. It was such a peaceful spot and you could really get a sense of the devotion of those monks who embellished this sacred space.
After Kbal Spean we decided to take in another temple on the way back, Banteay Srei. This was a bit of a mistake as we were hot and knackered by then, it gets ridiculously sweaty, we even found we got prune fingers, like when you soak too long in the bath! We were amazed to hear that many people do as much as 8 temples in a day, I wonder if they take anything in after the second one. This was a dinky little temple with some elaborate carvings, allegedly designed by gay architects… there was something rather camp about it.
Last but not least was Preah Khan, another wonder where the elements of jungle had been left in. We sat under a shady tree and listened to the tinkling traditional music played by victims of land mines. We took our time to say farewell to this extraordinary place sitting on the holy water temple, immensely grateful to have had the chance to spend time in this magnificent place.
More lovely pics below: