January 17, 2015 I thought it would be better if I separated the temples we visited at Angkor into their own posts. Otherwise, it would have been an overload of information and photos. Now that we’ve been back in Korea for two weeks, I am finally able to sit down and write. Angkor is much more than just Angkor Wat. It’s an entire complex of ruins from an ancient Khmer empire that existed between the 9th and 12th centuries and ruled over vast portions of modern Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. The temple ruins are what’s left of their capital cities. Each king aimed to out-build their predecessor, and what remains leaves astonishing evidence of a sophisticated and ambitious culture. Angkor Wat is spectacular in its scale. It is the largest of the ruins at Angkor and since it wasn’t abandoned to the elements it retains much of its original grandeur. Its name means “temple that is a city” and only once you are standing in front of it can you understand the astounding power that it emanates. It is very popular for tourists to get up before dawn and watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat. We decided on a whim to do so and committed to a tuk tuk driver the afternoon before so we couldn’t back out! He picked us up at 5am and drove us out to Angkor Wat where we got a surprisingly great spot on the north side of one of the pools. When we arrived it was pitch black. We couldn’t even see where we were walking. Some people had flashlights out but I preferred the mystery of walking into an ancient temple flooded in darkness with only the light of the stars to guide us.
It was definitely worth getting up for. We were lucky to get an unobstructed view of the temple and several decent photos. Personally, a few photos is enough because you can easily get lost in trying to take the perfect photo. (We were next to a family that had watched the sun rise the previous morning and was back to try and get better photos… They were very preoccupied.) For me, it was enough to sit on a rock next to a pool littered with lilies and watch as the sun illuminated a dark shadow into a glorious symbol of human achievement and spirituality. We didn’t stick around too long after the sun came up. We wanted to explore Angkor Wat before everyone one else decided to do the same. We started on the north side and made our way around the entire structure going up the first, second, and third levels. Unfortunately, the upper level on the 3rd story wasn’t going to open for another hour, so we did not ascend to the central tower. I did light an incense stick for a small donation as we walked into one of the corridors because I was caught off guard by an elderly Cambodian putting incense sticks into my hand! He was very kind and showed me how to properly light the incense, wave it, and then bow before placing it in a sand-filled basin. Angkor Wat is one of those places that you just have to see for yourself. There is absolutely no way I could have even begun to capture its energy in the few hours we were there.