Well, I would be remiss to dedicate so many posts to temples in Cambodia without talking about the jewel of them all. Of all the temples built during the reign of the Angkor Empire, none are as large (or as well maintained) as Angkor Wat.
We’d heard that, if you’re going to visit several temples in Cambodia, it’s best to see Angkor Wat last. So we saved it for the end of our trip.
I guess it’s like that water slide at the community pool that you’ve been going to your whole life. It’s fast, it’s scary, and it’s a bazillion feet tall. And then one day you go to an actual water park and that little slide just never seems quite the same.
Yeah, I guess this is something like that.
Whereas the first temples we visited were ruins in various states of decay, Angkor Wat feels like it could actually be alive. The smaller temples of Preah Khan, Banteay Srei, or Ta Prohm had a very solemn air to them, as if it were appropriate to mourn the temples that once stood there.
Angkor Wat shouts from the rooftops, “I AM MIGHTY AND I WILL NOT BE FORGOTTEN!”
Most of the temples we visited we hit up late in the morning, and the heat and humidity caused us to peter out around one in the afternoon, retreating back to the hotel for a nap and a dip in the pool. That schedule made for some pretty difficult photography. Getting here in the late afternoon got us a little closer to that “golden hour” where the sunlight is working with you, rather than against you.
I’d forgotten how much of a difference that makes.
I think we could easily have spent a whole day here (apart from the heat and humidity), as there are a lot of side buildings worth exploring. We ran out of time pretty quickly, as the site was only open for another couple hours.
Even so, we caught a few glimpses of the bas relief carvings that surround the walls of the inner temple. They tell the stories of Jayavarman VII’s many successful battles. The king himself is always depicted larger than life, a fearsome and wrathful god-king. His men fill the walls, on horseback, on foot, or onboard ship.
Reaching the top of the inner temple, we were blown away by the massive scale of the “temple-mountain” in the center.
It reminded me of seeing that cathedral in Prague; just the absolutely awesome scale of the thing took my breath away.
It was closed when we got there, but there are stairs to take you up to the very top. Had I known that I would have made a point to get here earlier.
We poked around a little bit until a guard yelled at us that we were to leave since the temple was closed. We still had half an hour, but whatever. We kept heading through, since we were meeting our driver on the other side.
And eventually we found a long flight of stairs that led us out the back, to our driver.
It was an unbelievably short visit, and I wish I’d had more time. Better an hour or two than not coming at all, I suppose.