Siem Reap, Cambodia (day 2)
Day 2 (Saturday, 26th March 2011)
Today is our 1 day Angkor tour. Soknin (our tour guide) picked us up around 8AM. We headed straight to the Angkor registration counter. There were different counters for different ticket types.
- 1 day pass: USD20
- 3 day pass: USD40
- 7 day pass: USD60
Since we signed up for the 1 day tour, Soknin went to the counter to pay and collect our tickets. We also had to line up to take a photo ID for our 1 day pass. The photo ID is used to enter the various temples that we’ll be going on later.
Our first stop was Angkor Wat. OK, for those who are not familiar with the Angkor temples, refer to the map below.
Angkor Wat is only 1 of the many temple complexes in the whole area. The Angkor Wat complex is 1.5KM by 1.5KM. And other complexes are way bigger than that. It was after I visited Angkor Wat that I realized I should have taken either the 3 day or 5 day tour. I’m a big ancient history buff and there were other temples complexes that I wanted to see that are just too far and couldn’t be covered within the 1 day trip.
It was the moment that I saw Angkor Wat from afar that the reality dawned on me that I am looking at one of the greatest wonders of the ancient world with my own eyes. The sheer massive scale of the complex was impressive, and the attention to detail the ancient Khmers put into their engraving is purely mind-blowing! I couldn’t stop imagining how the Khmers carried the stones from the quarry nearly 75KM away, and their coordination that was done in order to built such a massive complex!
Angkor Wat was built for the king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. It was built as a Hindu temple but over the years it was converted into a Buddhist temple. This is clearly seen at the large Vishnu (Hindu god) statue with 8 hands at the entrance of Angkor Wat. Buddhist monks have wrapped an orange cloth around the statue to mark its conversion to Buddhism. Soknin agrees that this is not right as Buddha and Vishnu are 2 different gods, but since 95% of the population is now Buddhists, nobody cares to argue otherwise.
At the entrance of Angkor Wat, we were greeted with the naga. It is interesting to note that the naga in Khmer and Sanskrit means “sea serpent” and “lord of the underworld”, whereas the world “naga” in Malay means dragon. Since ancient Malays were all Hindus, just like the Khmer empire during the early Angkorian period (later they converted to Buddhism), I believe initially the Malay word “naga” meant the same thing before it was corrupted to mean “dragon”.
As we strode from the entrance to the main temple, Soknin explained that during the Khmer Rouge, there were skirmishes that took place around Angkor. He pointed out to bullet and grenade marks that resulted in minor damage to the façade of the entrance, but most of it was repaired by conservationists. He also told us about a “leaf-helicopter” game that he used to play when he was small. Due to the shape of the leaf (photo above), if you throw it upwards, the leaf would spin downwards like a helicopter.
We made our way into the 2nd tier and later the 3rd tier of the complex, which, after peeping down from the window, it’s quite high up for a building that was built in the 12th century. It has magnificent view of the entrance and the moat surrounding it. I couldn’t help but awe in wonder as I further explore the intricate details of the engravings in the inner temple.
After Angkor Wat, we moved on to another complex called Angkor Thom. The complex is situated about 10 minutes (1.7KM) from Angkor Wat. In terms of timeline, it was built after Angkor Wat. Angkor Thom, which means “The Great City”, was the biggest and the last capital of the Khmer empire. It was established in the late 12th century by king Jayavarman VII (1181CE-1218CE). It covers an area of 3KM x 3KM. King Jayavarman VII was a Buddhist hence the whole complex was a dedication to Buddha. You’ll notice the massive sculptures and engravings of Buddha faces in the complex.
One of the major features of this complex, which is something that I’m really fond of, is the massive bas-relief depicting the life of the King, his soldiers and most interestingly, his subjects. The ancient Khmer went into great detail to depict their citizens selling items in their shops, carrying goods, trading with the Chinese, fishing, getting a massage (yes, a massage!), Chinese traders trying to woo Khmer women, and bigger events such as battles with Cham and a display of might of the mighty Khmer army.
The center of Angkor Thom is King Jayavarman’s state temple, called Bayon. Bayon is easily recognized throughout the Angkor complex due to the many faces of a smiling Buddha on the buildings and towers. According to Soknin, at the height of Angkor Thom, there were 1 million people living inside and around the complex.
While we were leaving Angkor Thom, we passed by Ta Keo. We didn’t stop as it wasn’t part of the plan but it was interesting to see it from the outside. It was left uncompleted. Legend has it that the King Jayavarman V stopped the construction due to a lighting strike on the site, which is believe to signify bad omen. Other historians believe that it was the first temple to be made from sandstone and the type of sandstone used was too hard hence the Khmers couldn’t complete the engravings.
After Angkor Thom, we visited The Terrace of The Elephants. We just passed by as we asked Soknin for a detour. We were more interested to visit Ta Phrom. Ta Phrom was built by the same king that built Angkor Thom hence it has the same “Bayon” Buddhist features. The main reason why we insisted on going to Ta Phrom was due to “originality”. It was left pretty much the same condition in which it was found: massive trees growing out of temple ruins, and secondly, that’s where Tomb Raider was filmed (it was filmed at a few temples in the area but Ta Phrom was one of the main ones).
At that time it was already nearing 5PM hence that was the end of our Angkor tour. There were so much more other temples that I wanted to see (e.g. Banteay Srei, Bakong, Preah Khan etc). I guess I could always plan a longer trip (the 5 day Angkor tour) and bring my siblings along next time. The tour guide dropped us near the town center and we went for teatime at The Blue Pumpkin.
In the evening, we visited the Angkor Night Market (a different one from the one yesterday) and got ourselves another round of foot massage. It was just as cheap and just as good as the one yesterday. For dinner, we headed to another Khmer restaurant in the alleys near Pub Street. This is also a “$ sign” shop as the meals are around USD2 – USD3. As we were very tired from walking all night long, we headed back to the hotel around midnight. The next day we’ll be going to Tonle Sap, the largest floating village in the world.