Siem Reap & Angkor Wat

Siem Reap is a a MUST visit for every traveller to SE Asia and it’s been on my hit list for a while. We decided to give it a full four days by spending half term there with our friend Carol.

Siem Reap is the north eastern province of Cambodia near the border with Thailand so only a short flight away for us. This is also the name of its major town where the ancient temple complex of Angkor is located. The name Siem Reap itself is interesting as it literally means ‘Siamese (Thailand) defeated’ and was named in the 1500s after a major war with its neighbour. There’s nothing like bragging on a geographical scale!!! I wonder how the Thais feel about this!?!

Siem Reap was originally a little village until the discovery of the well preserved temple complex by French explorers in the 19th century. Now it is dubbed Asia’s Costa-de-Culture. The city itself has some interesting pagodas, a royal palace and an old crowded, noisy market.

We dedicated a whole day to Angkor Wat though and opted for the sunrise tour in the somewhat vain hope that some of the tour might be cool.

Built in the 11th century, Angkor is the old Khmer name for their capital and it means ‘city of temples’, the most famous and best preserved of which is Angkor Wat. it is also the largest ancient religious site in the world and it is so important that it features on the Cambodian flag

Unusually for a Hindu temple it was built facing the west. There are a couple of theories about this, one is that the temple was originally dedicated to Vishnu, the supreme god of the Hindu pantheon who sits facing the other gods. So this temple faces him. Alternatively it could have been designed as a mausoleum for king Suryavarman II and indeed many of the bas reliefs run counter clockwise which also indicates ancient funeral rites. Whatever the reason it was splendid to see it at sunrise

And if you visit on an equinox then the sight is even more stunning

(Photo courtesy of our guide)

The site has now been converted to Buddhism and some of the buildings are still in use

I was delighted to discover that the whole vast complex was filled with carvings and statues of women. It is one of the largest collection anywhere in the world of female religious iconography.

Originally these women were thought to be dancers for the entertainment of the gods or some speculated that they were the imaginary wives of the gods and just there for decoration. I have to admit that many of the accessible breasts were shiny indicating centuries of fondling!

Recent research suggests that these Devatas or deities were actually temple guardians. Sort of ancient Lara Crofts. If that is the case then Go Girl Power! I’m impressed.

The site itself is amazing and very atmospheric

I particularly liked these serene smiling faces, 47 in total, who represent the governors of the ancient provinces. The size of the face denotes the relative prosperity and importance of that province. What a way to be immortalized.

Kevin climbed to see the Buddha’s at the top. Carol & I we’re put off by the steepness of the steps. Apparently they were cut so narrowly to encourage worshippers to continue onwards and upwards facing the god. If you were able to stop and sit on a step then your bum would be towards the god which was disrespectful.

Kevin climbed the tourist stairs in case any of you were worried

Still pretty steep though

Carol and I made donations and received a friendship bracelet, a blessing and a generous sprinkling of holy water

But the piece de resistance of the day was the visit to the ‘ Tomb Raider’ temple, made famous by the Lara Croft film. Here we saw enormous tree roots intertwined with ancient crumbling temple stones.

This temple was originally home to more than 12,500 people including 18 high priests and 615 dancers. The temple was abandoned in the 15th century and nature has taken her course. I loved this little face peeping out between the roots.

And this is the tree which the action heroine climbed in the film.

For all my friends in HE this photo below is the one of the oldest university buildings in the world. it was constructed in 1186 and served as a Buddhist university.

By this time the of the day we were exceedingly hot and sweat soaked. Our skin was slick and all items of clothing stuck to us. Standing in the shade made no difference whatsoever. It was a fascinating tour but I am very glad that we only did the short one.

And if you ever venture this way you too might have the

(Gotta love the translations)

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