Angkor Wat is a temple in Cambodia and the largest religious structure in the world with the site measuring 162.6 hectares. It is about 6 km from the town of Siem Reap. It was originally constructed as a Hindu temple and then gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century.
Angkor Wat is the reason most travellers visit Cambodia. Angkor means “city” and Wat means “temple”. It is an architectural masterpiece and one of the most spectacular monuments in the world. It is featured on the national flag of Cambodia.
Construction of Angkor Wat took nearly 40 years. It was built between 1113 and 1150 by King Suryavarman II in honour of the Hindu god Vishnu. It is designed to represent Mount Meru, within a 200 meter wide moat and an outer wall of 3.6 kilometres. There are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. At the centre of the temple stands 5 towers, shaped like lotus buds, symbolising the 5 peaks of Mount Meru, the walls and moat representing the surrounding mountains and ocean. One of the most prominent features of Angkor Wat is its bas reliefs of feminine figures.
The monument was made out of 5 to 10 million sandstone blocks. The entire city used up far greater amounts of stone than all the Egyptian pyramids combined. Moreover, unlike the Egyptian pyramids which use limestone quarried 0.5 km away, the entire city of Angkor was built with sandstone quarried 40 km away.
A Portuguese monk visited Angkor Wat in the 16th century. He said that it is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it by pen. Global awareness of the temple started in the mid 19th century. The site was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1992 .
I visited the Angkor Wat temple as part of the small circle tour of Angkor Wat Archaeological Park.
Ta Keo was the third temple I visited as part of the small circuit of Angkor. My Tuk-Tuk driver asked me to be careful, lots of steep steps, and indeed the steps were high and narrow. But you don’t have to climb all the way to the top. I didn’t, the steps were knee-high, and not large enough for a foot, and the steps are different sizes!
The pyramid shaped Ta Keo was build to represent Mount Meru, the mountain that is the center of the world in Hindu mythology. Around Ta Keo was a moat, that represents the oceans surrounding Mount Meru.
Ta Keo was never completed. Legend has it that the temple was struck by lightning during its construction, and work was halted at a stage where the main structure was complete but no decorations had been added.
There were only a few people when I visited and I enjoyed having the place almost to myself.
Opposite Ta Keo is a small market selling clothes, drinks and smoothies, a nice break in between temples.
When I fist saw pictures of the Ta Prohm temple I was in awe. I couldn’t believe that such a magical place exist….in real life!! And when I found out that I can visit this magical place, I started to make plans to visit Cambodia. The Ta Prohm temple was my inspiration for a month long journey through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Ta Prohm was built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. It was used as a Buddhist monastery and university. At the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 15th century, the temple of Ta Prohm was abandoned and taken in by the jungle. It was only centuries later that it was ‘discovered’ again.
And so I found myself in Cambodia at the Angkor Archaeological Park. Ta Prohm was the second temple I visited as part of the small circuit of Angkor. My driver dropped me off at the east gate. I walked through the forest for a few minutes, entered the ruins, and had to pinch myself. Here I am, standing amongst the ruins, in the Cambodian forest, my dream now a reality.
The beauty of the silk trees and strangler fig trees and their giant roots climbing over the temple ruins are out of this world…. I was overwhelmed by the sheer size and scale of the roots.
But, Ta Prohm was not my favourite temple that day! The reason being the many tour groups, herding along like sheep, blocking paths and queuing to take pictures. So it was difficult to savour the atmosphere with so many people there.
This was by far the busiest temple, but not to be missed. Truly spectacular!!