Mick and I had the fortune of heading to Siem Reap recently for a training session and we were lucky enough to get to visit a couple of temples at Angkor Wat. Last time we came here, our friend Thea (from the awesome Why Because Science blog) distracted us with red wine and cheese just when we were due to leave Chiang Mai for our holiday and we managed to leave our cameras at home and nearly missed our bus as a result!
This time round we went prepared with our cameras and even though we only had a really short time at the temples (3 hours) it was just as impressive as the first time that we visited. The temples in the complex are breathtakingly beautiful, steeped in history and is just a damn pretty site. Oh, and it is overrun with tourists of course.
As many of you would have heard about it already, I thought I would use the power of google to help me summarise some of the key facts about Angkor Wat.
- The whole complex is the largest religious monument in the world which stretches over 400 square km.
- The Angkor Archaeological Park contains the largest pre-industrial city in the world, however the majority of the wooden buildings have long since disappeared (thank time for that!)
- The most famous temple, Angkor Wat was built in the early 12th Century, first as a Hindu temple with Vishnu the focus and later with added Buddhist artifacts.
- Angkor Wat is a massive temple that rises ~70m and has five towers; four on each corner and a central tower. The temple is 1km2 and surrounded by a moat and exterior wall that is approximately 5.5km2.
- The inside and outside of the temple is covered with stunning carvings in the Angkorian style, which include both Buddhist and hindu representations.
- It is believed that the temple took over 30 years to build and over 4000 elephants moved sandstone from a quarry 55km to the northeast of the complex.
- Bayon is the second most famous temple and was built in the latter part of the 12th Century. It is recognized by the face reliefs which are on the towers of the temple.
- Bayon comprises of 54 towers with 4 faces on each side which totals 216 faces in the temple and a number of beautiful reliefs surrounding the lower part of the temple which depict historical, mythological and regular life.
Besides the wonder of Angkor, there is a lot of sad facts about the temples. There is graffiti on the walls in English, Chinese and Japanese. There is chewing gum on the reliefs which have also been touched so much that the stone is damaged. There is rubbish in corners and not many people adhere to the dress regulations that request people wear appropriate clothing. And on top of all of this, Angkor Wat controversy is thick on the ground. The complex is managed by a private corporation (Sokimex) who collect and issue tickets and keep approximately 15% of the revenue. Sokimex is owned by a government senator. Aspara Authority are a government sponsored organisation responsible for the restoration and management of the park and this organisation takes the remainder of the revenue from ticket sales. However, the majority of the restoration and management of the complex is funded by donors including Japan. One does have to wonder where the rest of the money is going.
So should you go? Well yes, yes you should. Despite the issues listed above, these temples really are such a stunning place to explore. Mick and I hope that we get the opportunity to spend some more time there in the future and really get grubby clambering over the temples in a culturally appropriate way. We would also encourage anyone else to get there, especially in the low-season or rainy-season to check out the temples for more than just an hour or two.
Besides visiting the temples, we were involved in orientation sessions, got to go check out some cool bars and restaurants in Siem Reap. We can highly recommend going to Miss Wong’s – a cute little cocktail bar in an alleyway; Aspara House – more cocktails and a good cheese platter!; X Bar – rooftop bar which has live music and djs (dnb when we were there!). We had unmemorable meals at a couple of places but I won’t bother telling you those places.
After Siem Reap we went onwards to Sisaphon with another volunteer and then to Bangkok for a few days…but that can all be explained in another post!