I woke with a startle as the sun pestered it’s way through the dingy curtains of our budget hotel room in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Something wasn’t quite right, but my groggy mind had yet to place it.
We had plans to meet another group of travelers at 5:00am to share transportation to Angkor Wat and await the sunrise, attempting to capture the famed beauty of the striking temple and it’s reflection in the man-made pond before it. But my alarm had yet to chime. So how was the sun already up?
We headed downstairs to create our own tour, hire a guide and a tuk-tuk driver and head to the forest on the edge of town to the ancient city of Angkor Wat.
Angkor was built between 802 and 1220 AD as the capital city for the Khmer empire. According to this National Geographic video, this city of more than 100 stone temples covers more ground than modern Paris, and uses more stone than the Egyptian pyramids. In short, it’s jaw dropping.
Several generations of Khmer kings ruled from the immaculate thrones of the temples, and the effects of both Buddhist and Hindu beliefs are obvious in the designs. Each king used his power and resources to redesign the carvings (and other telling signs) to represent his ruling dynasty.
The city was abandoned in 1432 and essentially forgotten by all but the monks who often stumbled upon it and, not knowing what to think, created a fable about the City of the Gods. It was found again in 1860 by a French explorer, and the French government has supported and managed elaborate restoration projects since 1908. Vietnam also has invested a large amount into preserving the sight.
Imagine rocks larger than cars, moved before tractors; detailed stone carvings, before modern tools; trees growing out of walls; doors built for elephants and libraries that held large scrolls, before the days of bound books.
It’s probably a good thing we were well rested for a long, mind boggling day ahead.
Temple of Angkor
The most famous temple.
Temple of Ta Prohm
While the walls, chambers and courtyards have been restored, it’s the only temple left as an example of what would happen to the entire city without the help of mankind. Trees grow up, down, over, through and around the walls, their roots clinging to anything in their path and crumbling the stone.
Temple of Bayon
There are 108 stone face carvings, one on each of the 108 stone towers surrounding Bayon. They are all of the same king. Our tour guide tried to explain the significance of that number, but www.sacredsites.com says it better: “The number 108, considered sacred in both Hindu and Buddhist cosmologies, is the sum of 72 plus 36 (36 being ½ of 72). The number 72 is a primary number in the sequence of numbers linked to the earth’s axial precession, which causes the apparent alteration in the position of the constellations over the period of 25,920 years, or one degree every 72 years.”
Planning to go? Here are some excellent tips for visiting Angkor Wat at sunrise.
A Forgotten City: Angkor Wat