We were told the temples of Angkor are not to be missed- ever- on a trip to Siem Reap.
So we hired a tuktuk driver named Poly, recommended to us by our friends. At 4:45am, Poly arrived to collect us from our hotel, and whisked us off in the darkness to catch the sunrise over Angkor Wat.
*Note to all photographers: When staying in an air conditioned room during the hot season, the change in temperature and humidity from indoors to outdoors is significant enough to cause severe condensation to collect on the lens as soon as you remove your camera from its case. Should you want to use your camera to photograph a once-in-a-lifetime event, such as a sunrise over an ancient temple, it is best to “warm up” your camera by bringing it to room temperature at least an hour before you will be needing it. The best way to let your camera reach room temperature is to put your camera in a large ziploc bag, along with a paper towel or some sort of cloth to absorb the moisture.
Now I did not have all of this information beforehand, and learned the hard way that my DSLR would take over an hour to reach room temperature. Hence, the photos I snapped of the initial phase of the sunrise are a bit foggy… to my absolute dismay at the time.
The condensation had disappeared from my lens and all was right with the world again, just in time to photograph these monks leaving from a time of meditation on the side of Angkor Wat.
Angkor Wat is the largest temple within Angkor. Built in the 12th Century, this ancient city is both the largest and best preserved temple on site.
In recent years, Angkor Wat has become a symbol of Cambodia, and is the prime attraction for tourists.
We were blown away by both the immensity and the intricacy of this temple.
The sheer size as well as the fine detailing on these massive structures is insane.
We couldn’t fathom how many man hours it would have taken to create such builidngs, especially back in the day when technology likely entailed a hammer and chizzel, and perhaps the use of a pulley.
While a significant amount of work has been done to repair, preserve and maintain Angkor Wat (a point of controversy), this is not the case with all temples in the Angkor area.
One temple that has been left much in the same condition it was found is Ta Phrom. Built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries (and originally called Rajavihara,) Ta Phrom was abandoned and neglected for centuries, following the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 17th century.
Having gained popularity as the setting of the movie, Tombraider, Ta Phrom now stands as a striking image of archetecture vs. nature.
The trees growing out of Ta Prohm have apparently prompted more descriptive writing than any other temple within Angkor.
After just these few images, probably no more words are needed in order to grasp why Ta Prohm is just so astonishing.
The last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire is Angkor Thom. It was established in the late twelfth century by King Jayavarman VII.
Angkor Thom includes within its 9 km² area a number of temples. We took a solid 2-3 hours to explore them.
Our favorite of Angkor Thom’s temples was probably Bayon, whose most distinctive feature is the tranquil, massive stone faces carved into the 23m towers.
The faces gave a humanness to the architecture that made it easier to connect with.
Whose faces are they? Some say they may represent the king himself, guardians of the empire’s cardinal points, or some combination of these.
After 11 hours of “templing,” we decided to call it a day. One can only take in so much ancientness in 40 degree heat. It would have been neat to see more of Angkor’s temples, but at the same time, we felt that the ones visited definitely gave us an unforgettable experience of Khmer architecture and the rich history that lies within the outskirts of Siem Reap. Never had we touched places so ancient before… it was hard to know what to make of it all, except to say that it has confirmed for us yet again how little we know about the world. Such limited perspectives we have on all that has unfolded before our time, and even on the happenings of the present. One can only seek to understand.