Early on Thursday morning we went with our tour guide, Vanny, to Angkor Wat. His advice was to see the largest temple first before the big crowds arrived. We entered through the back gate and strolled through the complex in the opposite direction to many, so it was only when we came to the steep steps to the third level with the famous towers that we had large numbers of tourists to deal with.
This was my third visit to beautiful Angkor Wat, the single largest religious monument on Earth. It was built during the 12th century as a temple to Vishnu, the Hindu God, the Protector. The five towers of the temple are arranged in the shape of a lotus flower, and the rising structure in the middle of the temple represents Mt Meru, the home of the gods. The temple faces west to the setting sun, so it is a symbol of death. Around the walls are magnificent bas-relief carvings that tell the Hindu stories of the Mahabharata, depicting great armies engaged in ferocious battles.
The climb to the central sanctuary is very steep, especially in sandals which are slippery from perspiring feet. The security people issue tags before you can climb, to keep the numbers manageable at the top of the steps. Up here there are images of Buddha, reflecting the changing religious preferences of the Khmer rulers at different stages of Angkor Wat’s history.
This place literally takes your breath away. It is majestic in scale, surrounded by a huge, man-made moat. Its structure and its carvings and bas-reliefs are memorable. After you leave, it lingers in your memory for a long, long time.