Finally! After only three days in Siem Reap we finally managed to visit the most important site in the area: Angkor Wat. We had already had the occasion to watch the sunset on Angkor Wat the evening before and now we wanted to see the sunrise behind Angkor Wat. While the sunset hadn’t been completely overrun, we were baffled by the amount of people running into Angkor Wat at 5:30 AM. It seems everybody had the same idea as we did. We decided to sit at the less populated lake on the right side where we could see a lovely reflection of Angkor Wat in the lake as the light started to appear. The left-side lake is filled with water lilies, while this is a great picture as well, it means you can’t see the reflection in the lake. In any case, the masses of people standing in front of the lake make it quite impossible to get a nice picture of Angkor while the sun is rising, so our lake was much better. Shortly after sunrise though, the place was virtually empty. Most of the groups had either rushed into Angkor or, another popular choice, on to Bayon to get the place a little less crowded during the first morning light. We stayed outside of Angkor Wat a little longer until the sun was really up before moving on to the first gallery and the amazing relief surrounding the temple. Each side tells of a different mythological or historical event. Most of which are battles that I found hard to tell apart, but there are a few more: One shows the churning of the sea, part of the creation myth: Vishnu suggested the gods and the demons to work together to churn the sea of milk for a thousand years and if they did this, the elixir of immortal life would appear. So they used a Vasuki, the famous snake, wound it around Mount Mandara and started pulling. The gods on one side, the demons on the other. The side on which the elixir appeared would become immortal. As it happens, the elixir appears on the side of the demons, but the gods were clever and asked the asparas to dance and their dance so enthralled the demons, that the gods could steal the elixir and drink it themselves. I think it says a lot about the gods. 😉 Another relief showed the afterlife with a number of very realistic torture pictures of the 32 hells of hindu mythology. The 37 heavens are also depicted, but are at the top and much smaller than the hells. It seems clear that the wall should have a deterring effect on the subjects seeing it. We walked around the bas-relief for over an hour, always seeing something new and curious before finally, really, heading into the temple. Angkor Wat is both a pyramid-style temple and a long temple. With the bas-relief we had reached the inner core that consisted of a three level pyramid. The bas-relief is on the outer wall of the first level, which we were now entering. The interior is similar to a cloister: 4 small ponds (that are currently empty) surrounded by covered corridors and almost perfectly preserved. We really enjoyed this level and it is probably my favourite level of the pyramid. The second level is an open terrace on which two small libraries have been built and in the middle arises the final level of Angkor Wat, the most holy center of the temple. On each of the four corners of the third level there is a Prasat. Counting the one in the middle you have five Prasats, representing the five mountain tops of the Mount Meru, home of the gods. We started walking around the third level and, to our surprise, ran into a looong line. A little baffled, we walked on to enquire what the line was for. As it turns out, Angkor Wat is now so visited, that they have had to put restrictions on the number of people allowed into the top level at one time. This means, that you have to wait for your turn if you want to go up and, as we would find out, also to go down. Highly annoying. If we’d known beforehand we would probably have started the visit of Angkor Wat at the very top to beat the lines and moved down as time went on. After having stood in line we reached the very steep stairs up and finally entered the highest level of Angkor Wat. It was crowded, we were being pushed around by pesty groups and there was always someone walking into your picture… I’d have willingly waited another 20 minutes if they’d only allowed half the number of people up at a time. It would have been so much more enjoyable! In any case the highest layer of Angkor Wat closely resembles the first level, just in smaller. You have again the four pools and the covered corridors and in the middle is now a big Buddha statue. We left again after a short wait to be able to go down the steps and spent some more time on the first level and outside the central pyramid. The temple is decorated with dancing asparas in different stances and hair dresses, all with smiles and some with teeth. They are all dressed the same, but have different postures, hair dresses and jewellery, making everyone unique. There are over 1600 of them!
As mentioned Angkor is also a long temple. In its entirety it measures almost 2km in length and 1.3km in width. Walking back out the official entrance took some time, but was highly enjoyable as it is a well preserved ceremonial way flanked by nagas and with lots of small ponds and libraries on the sides. Once we’d reached the entrance again we set off to visit another gigantic project of the same time: The West Baray. A huge artificial water reservoir with 8km and 2km side lengths which is still full today. Quite insane. It was built in the 11th century with dams. I had always naively assumed that they had dug the barays into the ground, but they are all above ground, the water being held in by the dams. There is a viewing point near the airport, which allows you to see most of it and gives you an impression of just how huge it really is.