Angkor

The most famous face of all face towers in Bayon temple; supposedly of King Jayavarman VII who built the temple at the end of the 12th century... ...I was mesmerized by that serene smile!

The most famous face of all face towers in Bayon temple; supposedly of King Jayavarman VII who built the temple at the end of the 12th century… …I was mesmerized by that serene smile!

Dates visited: December 23, 2014

Angkor (Khmer term for “city”) is a vast region (4 miles north of Siem Reap) that includes the famous Angkor Wat (Khmer for “Temple City”) and the capital city, Angkor Thom (Khmer for “Great City”). This entire region, actually an archaeological site, has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And rest assured, it gives you the chills to be in presence of such magnificent work of art, religion and history.

Here’s the timeline of Angkor and the Khmer empire in a nutshell:

800 AD: Beginning of Angkorian period.

800 AD – 1181 AD: Earlier Angkorian kings were Lord Shiva worshippers so all temples were built based on Hindu cosmology. However, King Suryavarman II built Angkor Wat in early 12th century dedicating it to Lord Vishnu instead of Lord Shiva. Hinduism is the primary religion.

1181 AD – 1242 AD: Enter King Jayavarman VII who changes the state religion from Hinduism to Buddhism and builds the walled-city Angkor Thom and Buddhist temples such as Ta Prohm and Preah Khan. He alters Hindu temples to display images of Buddha and Angkor Wat becomes a Buddhist shrine. Buddhism is the primary religion.

1243 AD: King Indravarman II starts restoring the religion back to Hinduism. His successor, King Jayavarman VIII, starts replacing Buddha statues with lingams. There’s a huge movement to desecrate Buddhist images and cover them with Hindu symbols. Bayon becomes a Shiva temple.

13xx AD: Buddhism starts taking a stronger hold and eventually becomes the dominant religion.

1431 AD: End of Angkorian period due to wars with Siamese and the Ayutthaya kingdom.

Back to my vacation: We hired a private guide for a one-day temple tour so our day started at 5 am to catch the sun rise over Angkor Wat. Of course, there were huge crowds to see the spectacular view of Angkor Wat with its five towers reflected in the pond in front of it. As the sky changed colors and became brighter, it truly was an unforgettable experience to see the world’s largest religious monument reveal itself in full glory.

For the rest of the day, we explored Angkor Thom and its temples—Baphuon, Bayon and Phimeanakas—along with other temples such as Ta Prohm, Preah Khan and Angkor Wat. Here are my favorites.

  • Bayon—I loved it for the massive stone-faced towers. The stone faces are of King Jayavarman VII who represented himself as a bodhisattva of compassion. Being surrounded by these huge and towering 100+ faces, all with the same mesmerizing smile, was one of my best experiences of the trip.
  • Ta Prohm—this temple has gotten immense attention because of Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider, but it was always one of the most unique temples in Angkor. The uniqueness is the presence of huge trees (spung and ficus) whose thick roots strangle the temple walls. It was a truly haunting sight to witness such an accidental collusion between Nature and humans.
  • Angkor Wat—built between 1113 and 1150 AD, this temple is the symbol of Cambodia. Originally, a Hindu temple, it portrays Hindu cosmology with the quincunx of towers representing Mount Meru (home of gods), the outer walls representing the mountains enclosing the world, and the moat representing the oceans beyond.

It is really hard to describe in words the awesomeness of seeing Angkor Wat and the rest of the temples. Just go, see them and you will know what I mean! We visited these temples in scorching 90 degrees Fahrenheit heat and for 11 straight hours (since 5 am)… …so as soon as we got back to the hotel, we just jumped into the pool and rounded off the day with a foot massage.

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