Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat. What a dreamy, ancient, awe-inducing place. Cambodia today is a very poor country that has endured a lot of hardships with unstable leadership and little outside support. It's hard to imagine that 1,000 years ago, these people ruled the largest city in the world. Angkor Wat is proof of the divine nature and abilities of the Cambodian people.

This massive network of temples and structures, built of solid stone is huge and incredible. It is so fun to walk through the complexes and imagine people 1,000 years ago performing religious rituals and worshipping their Gods--to imagine how these people felt, walking reverently, deeper and deeper into each massive structure, and feeling closer to God. 

Most of the temples are built with a similar layout, having several layers of walls leading to an inner, holy center with some of the centers built tall to signify a closeness to heaven. 

Angkor Wat is the largest and most well-preserved single temple and it's amazing, but there are so many more temples and complexes, including the Angkor Thom complex, which includes several temples and takes at least 30 minutes to ride from one end to the other by bike. One of the most unique temples at Angkor Thom is the Bayon, which has more than 200 large faces carved into the stone and staring at you every which direction you look. Some of my other favorites include Ta Prohm, which still has tons of trees and jungle overgrowth overtaking the temple walls, Pre Rup which has a more reddish tone, and Banteay Samrei--this one's a little farther to get to but it is unique and beautiful.

We decided to buy a 3-day pass for the temples which allowed us to take our time and venture out to some of the lesser-visited temples. The 3-day pass allows you a week to complete your three days, so we took a day between each visit to the temples to relax and recover. Exploring ancient temples is exciting and amazing, but it can also be tiring. I was so glad we had those days in between to rest. 

Most people hire a tuk tuk driver for about $15/day to drive them around to the different temples. Being the able-bodied young adults that we are, we decided to rent bicycles to see the sights and I'm so glad we did! The routes are totally doable by bike and I loved being able to slowly take in all the scenery around us and gaze at the temples from afar while we were riding. And, we definitely saved some dough since our bikes only cost $1 per day (per bike).

In summary, Angkor Wat is amazing and if you have the chance to go, do! Here are some of my favorite pictures from all our exploring. 

{This was my first sight of Angkor Wat, when we walked up at sunrise. The realization of a dream come true made me giddy with excitement.}

{Exploring the hallways and grounds of Angkor Wat.}

{Taking in the wonder of Angkor on our bikes}

{The Bayon--one of our favorites, is covered with over 200 huge faces carved directly in the stone.}

{Can you say photobomb?}

{A lot of the temples had very steep staircases leading to the top. While most had wooden steps with handrails installed, some still let you use the original steps and those were even steeper! We definitely took our time climbing up and down.}

{This particular temple, the Baphuon, was actually disassembled and put back together by the French for preservation purposes.}

{East gate of Angkor Thom, also known as the "gate of death" -- and it actually felt like death cycling on the rocky, muddy road to get there!}

{Seriously steep steps!}

{Ta Prohm - a temple that showcases the mighty and destructive power of the jungle. Over time, these huge trees have extended their roots into the temples and destroyed much of the original framework.}

{Everywhere you go at Angkor Wat (outside of the actual temple complexes), there are kids running trying to sell you souvenirs. "One dollar, one dollar!", they say. They're pretty cute, but we never gave them our business out of principle, not wanting to support child labor. Brad was always so kind to them though, and would engage them in conversation, sometimes teaching them English and sometimes just logically telling them why he didn't want to buy some of their trinkets. Some of the interactions were pretty hilarious!}

{Pre Rup}

{Exploring Banteay Samrei on our last day}

{One of my favorite memories in Cambodia--cycling down this village road}

{Here's a typical gas station in Cambodia. Where are the pumps, you ask? The fuel is sold out of those wine bottles you see in the front of the photo, under the green umbrella!}

We ended the afternoon of our last day back at Angkor Wat and just took in magnificence and beauty of the whole place. 

We went inside and climbed to the top of the structure which was really neat. In ancient times, only high priests and those close to the king were allowed up here. 

{Standing in front of the tallest structure, in the middle of the temple. Only the king was allowed here and he would go here to communicate directly with the Gods. Angkor Wat was originally built as a Hindu temple.}

{Cambodians in traditional dress standing in the inner courtyard of Angkor Wat}

{One of the most impressive things were the bas relief carvings that lined the entire inner wall of the temple. The carvings were so detailed and complex.}

{Angkor Wat, in all it's glory.}

Bye bye, Angkor!


Jen @ Love, the Arthurs said...

What a GORGEOUS place. I was seriously in awe looking at all your pictures. I am totally jealous! I love traveling -- especially places like Cambodia with so much history.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe that you biked this! We were there in December and the heat was just so overwhelming...we relished our cool tuk tuk rides! I love looking through your photos and remembering each of these places. It was totally magical and beautiful there.