I have been anticipating going to Ankor Wat since I started planning this trip. It’s probably the most iconic religious site in SE Asia and from all it’s pictures looked epic. I got into Siem Reap on Thursday night, after a 12 hour bus ride (very long but, pretty comfy) and immediately made plans with my tuk tuk driver to see Ankor Wat the next morning.
Traditionally, the best time to explore Ankor Wat is sunrise. After haggling over the price for my driver to drive me around the temples (I definitely lost the haggle game), he told me he would be back at my hostel to pick me up at 4:30am Friday morning. Gulp. I barely slept that night as I was so excited and jumped out of bed at 4:00am to prepare for the day. Out of respect for the temples, the dress code is conservative and knees and shoulders must be covered. I wore a tank top (because I knew it would get hot) with linen pants, simply bringing a scarf to wear as a shawl over my shoulders. It worked like a charm but, still ended up being SO HOT. Once my tuk tuk picked me up (right on time!) we went to buy my ticket to get for Ankor— $37 for one day and $62 for three days. I couldn’t imagine wanting to visit the temples for three days so, I opted for the day pass. My tuk tuk driver showed me the route we would take; Ankor wat first, Baynon second, smaller temples and then lastly, Ta Phrom— better known as the Tomb Raider Temple (they shot one of the scenes in the movie at the temple).
The line for getting tickets was LONG. I was shocked by how many people, young and old, got up to watch the sunrise— tourist city. It was like city Disney Land in Cambodia. From the ticket place, where street vendors were trying to sell me long pants and scarves for my shoulders, we headed back into the night towards the temples. It was exhilarating to be up so early and on an adventure. I decided to not get a guide, as it can take away from the experience for me. I like to be free to roam sites as quickly or slowly as I like, skipping over parts if I want to or going back to things I loved. No guide meant, I was on my own to find the best place to watch the sunrise over the temple. I started outside the walls and in front of the large moat that protects Ankor Wat. I sat with Russian tourists and listened to their tour guide for awhile and watched the sky begin to lighten. I felt like I wanted to get inside the grounds to really take in the view so I headed in.
Upon first entering the initial gallery, I “met” a huge Buddha statue (I learned this is actually a Vishnu statue) with 8 arms. He had on a gold sash and was so powerful, I immediately wanted to drop to my knees. There were people behind me so, I couldn’t but I did take a moment to close my eyes and offer up my wonder. Once, I made it to the main courtyard and caught a glimpse of Ankor Wat, in the newly lit sky, I felt my breath catch and I started to get teary eyed. Ankor Wat was built in the first half of the 12th century by King Suryavarman and was built as a temple to the Hindu God Vishnu. Knowing when it was built and then to take in how MASSIVE this structure is, is truly mind blowing! Unlike most Khmer temples it’s oriented to the West versus the East and historians think this is due to the King wanted to use it as his funeral Temple. Some historians theorize that the dimentsions, content and arrangement of the bars-reliefs (carvings in the walls of the temple) are all in alligngment with the solar and lunar cycles. Meaning— the temple is a POWERFUL place.
I watched the sun rise in all it’s splendor before heading into the temple and again was teary eyed the entire time. The temple is so big, vast and full of detail in the bars-reliefs it’s remarkable to see. The temple was orginally built to honor the Hindu God Vishnu but, towards the end of the 12th century got converted to a Buddhist temple. Buddhist monks have been caring and maintaining the space nearly ever since. As, I walked around in awe, I saw a Buddhist monk performing blessings for those who wanted one. You best believe I did. I removed my shoes, sat in front of him on a wooden mat and clasped my hands in prayer (he gestured to me to do this). I closed my eyes and he chanted and splashed water on me as he did (blessed water?). Once he was finished, he tied a bright red/orange string on my wrist and chanted as he tied. Once, he finished I asked if I could take his picture and he gave me a smile to go ahead. I moved on after and hoped that whatever the chant meant, it would bring me good luck. I continued to moved through the temple and stopped to meditate on a perch with a view to the outside woods. I felt so serene and protected during my meditation which, is telling because the temples God, Vishnu, is the God of protection.
When I left my driver at 5:00am he said he would meet me at 8:00am at a particular spot. I scoffed and said there was no way I would be there for 3 hours. And then I was. I was overtaken by the temple and truly didn’t want to leave. I finally made myself at 8:15am, laughing at how right my driver was as I made my way through the grounds. As I got to the entrance, I saw a cluster of tourists staring into the trees and went over to take a look. MONKEYS! So many monkeys guys. It felt so cool and official to have monkeys freely walking the temple grounds. For some reason, seeing them play and run and sit and look back at us made the whole experience more holy for me.
From Ankor Wat, we headed to Banyon temple. It was also impressive with hundreds of statues with different faces. Truth be told, Banyon was a lot smaller so the crowds felt VERY confining and took away from my experience. There were some tourists who also talked loudly the ENTIRE time and it took a lot of self control to not yell “SHHHHHH” at all of them. Sacred sights should be viewed silently, amirite? I also saw two different monkeys steal food from two different sets of people. It was hilarious and the monkeys did not give a fuck. Monkeys are cute but are assholes. Kind of like Humans. Anyway, I saw smaller temples in between and Banyon and Ta Phrom. I was sweating profusely at this point because of the oppressive heat and having to wear my scarf draped over my shoulders. Even my linen pants felt too hot. By the time, I got to Ta Phrom, it’s shade provided by it’s millions of trees was a welcomed site. Again, truth be told, I was the most impressed with Ankor Wat and the other temples were cool but, didn’t have the same effect on me. The most impressive thing about Ta Phrom, or tomb raider temple as it’s affectionately called, was all of the massive trees that have taken to grow out of the temple. Like, literally through the stone slabs, boom, there’s a huge, knotty tree root. It was impressive and also gave me a lot of hope for our planet. The trees reminded me of the power of Mother Nature. We might fuck ourselves with all our polluting but, Mother Nature will grow through our shit and stand tall and sturdy like the trees I saw yesterday.
After Ta Phrom, I was templed out and in need of a nap. I saw many people bike to Ankor Wat and I thought it was so genius for budgeting. However, once I was ready to go back to my hostel and close my eyes, I was so happy to have someone else in charge of getting me there.