To have seen Angkor Wat is the only way to really experience it. Photographs do no justice to this, the largest religious building in the world. Its amazing and ironical that the largest Hindu temple in the world is not in India but in distant Cambodia.
Located about 7 km away from Siem Reap, the Angkor Wat Temple rises out of the ground like a big mountain. Admeasuring about 200 metres each side of a square at the base, the temple is surrounded by a huge moat which must be at least a mile long on each side.
These temples were built to glorify Vishnu, the Hindu God, by Khmer kings in the 10th and 11th centuries at the height of the ancient Angkor Empire. Stone over stone piece, they were laid out and then carved into. Angkor Wat is the only temple that survived the ravages of nature, time and the Khmer Rouge nearly intact.
In the later centuries, it was converted into a Buddhist temple by latter day Khmer kings, who changed the state religion from Hinduism to Buddhism. The Angkor Wat, besides being the biggest religious structure, also contains the biggest bas relief in the world, totally about 800 m in continuous length.
We caught the sunrise early on at 5:30 am and then proceeded to Angkor Tham which is situated a couple of km away. It was the walled city built by the same dynasty of rulers that built Angkor Wat and houses some of the other temples.
The first one we visited was Bayon. This is also called locally as the temple of a thousand faces. The temple has a series of towers each adorned by four faces pointing in different directions.
After Bayon we went to see the Palace of the King and the Terrace of Elephants. Both of these are in a fair condition and show the refinement of culture and life in those times.
Later in the morning we went to see another temple called Ta Prohm. This is the “in”-famous temple that was featured in the Tomb Raider movie starring Angelina Jolie.
The temple was found overrun by nature, by the French explorers in the 1860’s. They decided to leave it the way they found it, and thus you see trees growing out of the stone temple. A very interesting and jarring image. In the afternoon we returned to Angkor Wat and climbed up all the way. Just as we scaled a very very steep stairway and reached the third and top level of the temple, it started raining very heavily. Standing there and looking out over the vast countryside was one of the most calming moments I have experienced in a very long time.
All in all, the temples of Angkor Wat are truly one of the wonders of the world and a must see in every avid travellers life.
And here is a myriad of imagery of all these temples.