When you visit one of the iconic sights of the world, there’s a nagging doubt; will it live up to my expectations? We had spend a lot of time, energy and money travelling to Cambodia and now the day had arrived for our trip to the temples of Angkor. We were excited but slightly apprehensive, hoping not to be disappointed. Our fears were to prove unfounded.
After securing our entry tickets helped by our attentive guide we drove to the massive temple complex of Angkor Thom, stopping first at a small, lesser known but well preserved temple, Baksei Chamkrong.
We then entered the city through the south gate. The entrance walkway was lined with statues of gods on one side and demons on the other.
As with all gates and towers in the complex, the pillars show the four faces of Buddha, sometimes smiling, sometimes serene, occasionally frowning.
This theme reoccurred throughout our visit and whetted the appetite for the Bayon, the main temple complex of Angkor Thom. As we entered the covered walkway we saw a spectacular carved wall, representing everything from battle scenes to childbirth.
The scale of the carving varied from monumental….
to delicate tracery barely proud of the sandstones surface.
From the Bayon we moved to the Terrace of Elephants, a long elevated terrace from where the King watched entertainments and gave speeches.
At this point our guide offered to take us an extra trip to a temple called Ta Prohm. This is where ‘Tomb Raider’ was filmed and he told us is was still largely held in the control of the jungle. We approached along a path through rainforest, strangely alone. Noise grew as we neared the temple complex and then it appeared from the trees, looking for all the world like a film set. Giant banyan trees grow from the stonework, soaring into the sky. It’s a spectacular place which I absolutely loved.
Although much of the complex is in ruin there are still some fine examples of Khmer building and sculpture to be seen.
After lunch and a rest we moved on to Angkor Wat itself. We approached the complex from the South, affording us an unspoiled quiet initial view of the soaring towers.
Once again as we entered the first gallery we encountered a magnificent carved frieze, the centrepiece of which depicts gods and demons in a tug of war for the elixir of life, watched over by Shiva. The temple has known both Hindu and Buddhist manifestations and signs of each persist inside.
As at Angkor Thom, devotional imagery was present on large…
and smaller scales…
The climb to the central tower was up a vertiginous stairway but we were rewarded with amazing views west to the main entrance.
As we left the temple complex, our final views were the iconic shots of Angkor Wat reflected in the water.
And our final reflections were on how fortunate we are to have been able to experience this truly magnificent place.