Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Encore Wat

Three years ago, my previous and first visit to Angkor temples left me … speechless. But I was certain of one thing that I would be back and visit this unique place on the planet again. This time, with only one full day in my hands, the visit was organized in a very different way.

Sunrise @ Angkor Wat

It all started very early in the morning at around 5AM to see the sun rising above the Angkor Wat temple. I bought the entrance ticket the day before to avoid having to line up at the main gate entrance. I was onsite at around 6AM with 1,000 others people ready to photo shoot the main event. Unfortunately the sun rose faster than I expected and the sky did not that sparkling colors that one might have seen in picture poster around the tour operator offices.

Young Girl Smiling

Nevertheless the spectacle (in the crowd and in the sky) was surprising enough to kick start the day of adventure. Around 7AM when the sun was high enough, I started to linger in the Wat temple, walking up and down the stairs, visiting places quiet and empty with particular lighting above the horizon line.

Stone Carving @ Angkor Wat

Sometime in the cool shade of the ending night, sometime in the uplifting heat of the early morning, most of the stone carvings started to propose new 3D pictorial effect in which suddenly forms in the long epic painting started to dance, move and change along the sun lights. Angkor Wat is the most imposing temple of all by its nature, in the middle of the water with large symmetrical and concentric organization. When I arrived at night the overwhelming feeling that one has when seeing and walking toward the site could not occur (similar effect happen at Taj Mahal as well).

Angkor Wat

Instead after discovering slowly the site in-situ, the eyes are used to the almost human size and undercut the woah effect. But what happened was a different experience, more settle this time where everything was reachable by sight and therefore more details like were revealed. Wat became more familiar to me, although more unpredictable because of the early morning lighting.

Monk @ Angkor Wat

At its peak around 1,000 AD, Angkor had been the largest pre-industrial city in the world, with an elaborate system of infrastructure connecting an urban population of over 1 million people, sprawl of at least 1,000 square kilometers, equivalent to modern Los Angeles (closest rival is the Mayan city of Tikal in Guatemala with between 100 to 150 square kilometers). It only last so long before the first tourist buses arrived in the most popular temple of all in Khmer kingdom. Perfect time to move to the next visit.

Banteay Srei

On the other spectrum of the temple experience is the less preserved yet easy access temple of Banteay Kdei. The 12th century Buddhist temple is less complex and smaller in size than sister Ta Prohm, but give a unique sense of what early discovers were facing when encounter a new temple eaten alive by the jungle. Roof on the floor, stone carving destroyed by the centuries of collectors and ideologists, and trees growing inside walls. Still some colors have been preserved and one can imagine how amazing would have been a solid and colorful temple at the time.


Out of the majors temples restricted and preserved mostly by foreign institutions, Angkor temples are the refuge for local people. It’s quite common to see a line up of sellers and other gifts merchant at the entrance of different site, but most surprisingly is to find a shave head widow or a young boy guarding, cleaning and taking care of the main statue of the temple.


Part of no official organizations the guardian of the temples just stay there days in and days out, and in exchange for a couple of dimes explain you the good luck praying ritual. My last visit, I followed a young girl across the corridors and she shown me a Vishnu statue defended by a widow, this time the young girl moved to another destiny, leaving behind Vishnu and his widow.

Ta Prohm (Tom Raider)

The second most emblematic temple is Ta Prohm, more well know for its movie-picture artifacts in Tom Raider than for its architecture. The trees growing out of the ruins are perhaps the most distinctive feature of Ta Prohm, and the newly restored part of the temple by the India government is a delight for the eyes and the cameras.

Ta Prohm (Tom Raider)

Small corridors, wooden path, and other centennial trees make this place a must see temple with a camera in hands. The large trees that shoot from the ruins and the tropical forest near by make the site shadow, and give lines of lights and darkness to perfect picture taking. Ta Prohm is design to become the new star of the Angkor temples visit, and frankly I could not argue more (no sign of Brangelina).

Bayon @ Angkor Thom

A last stop at the capital Angkor Thom was the perfect ending of temple visit. The Bayon's most unique attribute is the large multitude stone faces. The temple is also known for two sets of stone carving bas-reliefs, which present an unusual combination of mythological, historical, and mundane scenes, and it was a great place to watch the sun setting among the different 4-faces head.

Sunrise @ Angkor Wat

After four showers and four shirts (personal record), walked from sunrise to sunset, and filled a 4Gb memory card of pictures, I was templed-out and needed a well deserved meal at Meric. Never to say, Angkor temples are impressive to visit and like few others place in the world is the perfect witness across time that no matter how strong and imposing a civilization is at its peak (Inca, Mayan,…) nature can take over and eat it alive. So could be ours.