We spent two full, exhausting days visiting the temples of Angkor in Cambodia. We’re breaking it down into a few posts because if you’re anything like us, you might find it all a little overwhelming. Still, we were in constant awe at the intricacy and beauty of these ancient sites.
We arrived at Angkor Wat, the largest and most famous of the Khmer temples, at dawn. We stumbled over rocks and uneven stairs and crossed the moat in the darkness to reach the stone causeway leading to the western side of the city.
It took the sun a while to appear, but listening to the jungle awaken around the temple — birds and monkeys calling out — was no less stunning.
Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, but what’s most impressive is what it symbolizes. The entire enclosure represents the Hindu universe and was dedicated to Vishnu.
Here’s a snippet from our guidebook, Ancient Angkor, by Micheal Freeman and Claude Jacques:
“The moat represents the mythical oceans surrounding the earth and the succession of concentric galleries represent the mountain ranges that surround Mount Meru, the home of the gods. The towers represent the mountain’s peaks, and the experience of the ascent to the central shrine is, maybe intentionally, a fairly convincing imitation of climbing a real mountain.”
The temple dates back to the early 12th century — 1113 to 1150 — though some parts date back even earlier, to the 8th and 9th centuries.
People still use Angkor temples to pray, only now it’s to Buddha. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the temple was converted for Theravada Buddhist worship, and these vestibules were turned into Buddhist shrines.
Looking at the temple over a lotus pond, we tried to imagine this area as the city it once was.