Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. Let that sink in for a second. It covers over 400 acres, and the scale is hard to describe. ST and I decided it would be great to visit the site for sunrise, but the funny thing about sunrise is you have to arrive in the dark, well before the sun makes its appearance. So our tuk-tuk driver picked us up at 4:45 in the morning, as we were munching on the fresh take-away omelets prepared for us by the hotel staff. We stopped to get our tickets – they take your photo and include it on the ticket, which is good for all of the temples in the Angkor Wat area. Then we were off in a tuk-tuk race through the dark forest around the temple complex amidst all the other tourists eager for a sunrise shot. As we neared Angkor Wat, the blood-orange moon reflected in the moat around the temple, and it was simply breathtaking. Our tuk-tuk dropped us off at the entrance, and we wandered into this dark, ancient stone site among many others to wait for the sun.
The whole complex is a series of concentric squares. The entrance today is inside the moat, and then you make your way through the outer perimeter, past a couple lakes and into the temple itself. When we arrived, we scoped out a spot next to one of the lakes and watched as the outline of the famous three-spire “mountain” at the center of the complex appeared against the lightening sky. As the crowds gathered, we made our way into the temple and had the place nearly to ourselves. Wandering around a dark temple was a fascinating experience. The design allowed lots of light into the various sections, so only the staircases were truly dark. We would discover later that there were monkeys hiding in the temple – a fact I was glad not to know at the time.
Since we were at the forefront of the crowd, we just kept moving east, up and down huge staircases, passing through courtyard after courtyard, each lighter than the next. I wondered who the people were who built this place and what it meant to them. Hindu and Buddhist symbols were scattered throughout the complex, offering a varied history of the people who revered this temple. Check back tomorrow for more details about the symbology carved into the stones.
Title quote: Khmer meaning of “Angkor Wat”