Our trip to Cambodia was one of the first we planned when we arrived in Singapore, so many of you had probably forgot we were going there but we had this on very high on our list of must see places before we even moved to Singapore and have been very excited about this trip for the past few months. I still find it exhilarating that I can go to Cambodia for a weekend, soak in the culture a little, see some wonderful sights, and back home in Singapore ready for work after only three days.
The trip overlapped with the public holiday here in Singapore called Vesak Day which celebrates the birth and also the enlightenment of Buddha. Which was perfect as we were headed to a see some Buddhist temples in Cambodia and even got a holiday off from work to facilitate this trip.
We left Singapore very early, 6am, Thursday morning and arrived in Siem Reap at 7am. Luckily it was a small airport and things moved relatively quickly as we had to get a visa on arrival for $25 US dollars (everything in Cambodia we would find out later, including the ATMs dealt in US dollars) and had to get a few stamps in our passports prior to leaving the airport. The visa process is of note because of the payment in US dollars but also because everything was processed by 10 people with no machines at all, the entire process was manual. A little technologically behind the times, but I would say faster than some other customs places with modern computers.
After a relatively quick exit from the airport it was just in time for us to drop our bags at our guesthouse/hotel (Tanei Guesthouse) and head off on our private tours of the temples. For those not used to Southeast Asia it was a two hour flight, but the time change was one hour. Also, Siem Reap is the gateway city to touring the temple complexes including Angkor Wat and the surrounding countryside in Cambodia. It is located in Northern part of Cambodia and contains about 150,000 people on a permanent basis. I will go more into depth about Siem Reap after our first day of touring the temples…when we actually got out and about the city.
So our tour guide picked us up at the hotel and ferried us away to our first stop of the day the very famous Angkor Wat. Of course in route to the temple we had to make a stop to get our three day temple tickets with our digital photos on them. Then we drove around and past the very large tour buses which our guide told us consisted mainly of Korean and Japanese tours…as Americans did not travel to Cambodia this time of year due to the heat and the rain. (It was a 97 F during the day and 85% humidity but our training in Singapore made this seem not so bad).
We avoided the maddening crowds and started our tour at the back entrance to Angkor Wat and were greeted with a wonderful sight. See the photos below of Angkor Wat and sorry for the number of photos but even with all these photos, it still does not do justice to the true scale and grandeur of the temples.
Above are some photos of the east entrance to Angkor Wat (the back entrance of the temple complex). The last photo is of the moss covered carvings that show the age and weathering of the temples. Photos below do the carvings more justice but this gives you a sense of what it felt like walking into Angkor Wat.
After we walked up to the temples we were able to see the carvings and statues below. These photos are from a variety of places in the temple from all levels but I have lumped them together for easier viewing by you.
The first photo is a ceiling carved to resemble lotus buds, the second photo is zoomed in shot of a massive bas relief that tells a religious story for worshipers to read. The third photo is a Buddha sitting on a snake (known as Naga) and this shows the Buddhist influence while the last photo is the god Vishnu who is actually a Hindu god but the Cambodians still worship this statue as a god like reflection of the king who built the Angkor Wat complex.
In touring Angkor Wat there are many halls, many staircases, and numerous places to lose yourself in the immense complex. The photos below give you a small sense of some of the places we walked around. Notice just how steep the steps are leading to the top level of the temple, we walked up those to enjoy the views and see some of the more sacred parts of the temple. Also, note the reddish columns that still have some of red paint on them that was originally used all over the inside of the temples. Just imagine the walls and statues gilded with gold and painted red, it would have been an even more marvelous sight than the one we see today.
After climbing the top of the temple we took a photo (see below) looking west towards the main entrance. We then slowly made our way out of the temple towards the west gate and took one last photo before our second temple tour of the day.
I was blown away by Angkor Wat. It was simple gargantuan yet had ornate details, well planned features, carvings on every surface, and gave you a very distinct vibe of Hinduism and Buddhism. It was built during the 12th Century and was originally a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu but later became Buddhist as the Cambodia people slowly changed religions during the time Angkor Wat was a functioning temple.