“Welcome to Vishnuloka!“ That is how we were welcomed into Cambodia! Married to a Vishnu, visiting Vishnuloka, I felt nothing short of a princess or was it Apsara in this case 🙂
We both really looked forward to this spiritual break on our South Asian backpacking trip. We were in Siem Reap to see the world famous Angkor.
The earth is believed to have chakras just like human beings. The lines that connect these chakras are called Ley lines. Angkor is built at a point where these energy lines intersect making it one of the most sacred sights.
A Brief History For All Those History Buffs!
The Cholas controlled peninsular India which extended until present day Malaysia and the chola emperor Suryavarman built Angkor in the 12th century.
Angkor is a collection of about 72 temples, more are being excavated as you read this and the main sights that can be visited by tourists are Angkor Wat (the main temple), Bayon, Ta Prohm. Kh Ker, Prea Khan, Churning of the ocean of milk.
Angkor Wat faces the west, which is considered the direction of death in hindu mythology and the temple is designed to be viewed in an anti clock wise direction, making many scholars conclude it to have served as a temple and a mausoleum. The main temple of Angkor depicts the four yugas and a visitor entering the temple through the hallway to the main diety of Vishnu is metamorphically walking through the yugas to the creation of the universe. The level of detailing that has gone into the making of these temples are beyond human understanding and makes one wonder of the happenings here, the great people this monument has witnessed, the civilisations that has gone by, the wars it has seen. By now, you know how much we love history!
The irony of ironies here is that King Suryavarman died in battle fighting against the Vietnamese and today, the entire temple has been leased out and controlled by a Vietnamese company.
When to travel
Angkor was a peaceful abode visited by a few tourists until Tomb Raider happened. Some of Lara Croft:Tomb Raider’s scenes were shot here which skyrocketed the tourism with a majority of travellers visiting Cambodia solely for Angkor. Tourism to Angkor happens throughout the year but the peak is during the dry months from November until March.
We happened to be here during peak season and boy oh boy! the crowds were just crazy. The temple was abuzz with “Yiersan’ chants. Have no idea what I am talking about? Google it 🙂
How to get here
Visa on arrival is available for most nationalities and costs $60 per person to be paid in cash at the airport. This is by far the most chilled out airports we have visited. Our immigration officer was casually stamping passports whilst enjoying a movie on his phone (True Story!). The immigration queue which consisted of about 5 people moved at snail pace and I had to wait 5 minutes for a hardcore action sequence to finish so that he could stamp my passport. What fun:)
What to wear
As for all Asian temples, it is mandatory to cover shoulders and knees. As the tour involves a lot of walking and the paths can be quite dusty, a loose fitting outfit with a hat, shades and a comfortable pair of walking shoes is ideal.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Hillocks Hotel & Spa in Siem Reap, 30 minutes away from Angkor. If you prefer to stay close to the temples, you will be away from the town and all the other fun activities. The temple is at a secluded part of Siem Reap, 4km away from the city centre.
Read all about our stay here
Sun rise at Angkor is very famous among tourists and the queue’s starts forming at the counter as early as 4:30 AM. The counter opens at 5:00 AM and depending on the tour you choose, a photo ID called the Angkor pass is issued.
You can opt for a cycle, tuk-tuk or car tour. The transportation can be arranged with your hotel or travel company but you can only book the tickets over the counter.
The main attraction and the pride and joy of Cambodia. the entrance to the temples does not come cheap. A one day pass is $37 per person, three day ticket is $62 and a seven day ticket is $72.
Having decided to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, we started off our tour at 4:30 AM. Stumbling around as we pulled a late nighter the previous day, the chilly Tuk-Tuk ride revived us back to our senses. We reached at 5 AM and the queue had already started. We chose the one day package covering the main temples which lasts about 6 hours.
In pitch darkness, we made our way into the temple grounds clueless on the best spot to view the sunrise. We moved away from the crowd and found a quiet spot near to the outer wall. The moments that followed were truly powerful, from pitch darkness to a slight silhouette of the temple dome to a dark shadow against bright orange skies to the sandstone wonder against the blue skies. We saw it all and easily would be the best moment of the tour.
We would have easily spent 2-3 hours at the main monument. The next stop was Angkor Thom.
Angkor Thom which translates to “the great city” was the last known capital of the Khmer empire. It is enclosed on all four sides by formidable walls and moats to protect the city from the deadliest of invaders. Bayon, the terrace of elephants, Baphuon are all situated here.
Bayon is at the heart of Angkor Thom and has 54 smiling faces of Avalotikeshwara (enlightened beings), which is said to depict the 54 provinces of Khmer Empire. As the tourism legend goes, taking a nose to nose photo with one of the Avalotikeshwara faces will bring you good luck. Who can say no to some luck coming your way right?
Ta Prohm / Tomb Raider Temple
Our last stop was Ta Prohm, which catapulted Angkor to its present day fame. It was at this very temple where Tomb Raider was shot. It was built by Jayavarman VII for his mother with the inscriptions still intact on its inhabitants and dependants. Compared to the other temples, this temple is mostly in rumbles. In a poetic sense, the jungle was cleared by humanity to build this structure but now the jungle has reclaimed humanity. The Indian Archeology Department is working jointly with Cambodian government to resurrect this temple stone by stone.
Did we Enjoy it?
Angkor was on both our check lists and we were glad to tick it off. We wish we had not come during peak season. By mid day the crowds got really crazy that there was shoving and pushing literally. When you are in a site known for its spirituality, the least one could do is respect its sanctity and atmosphere. It is a shame that some tourists do not get it and in the process tarnish the experience for others.
Irrespective, the temples stand tall after centuries of misuse and destruction, shining for the generations to come. We remain to this day at awe.