Located six kilometre north of Siem Reap. Angkor Wat is one of the largest of Khmer monuments. Built around the first half of 12th century by King Suryavarman II, the temple’s balance, composition and beauty make it one of the finest monuments in the world.
Though ‘Wat’ is the Khmer (Cambodian) word for temple, the westward orientation of the structure is atypical of temples. Scholars believe that the architecture and sculptures are that of a temple where Lord Vishnu was worshipped but it was also built as a mausoleum for the king after his death.
How to explore
Do your homework first. To enjoy the ruins, read articles on the sites, not just the history but also the spatial relationships and the hierarchy of importance of the ruins. The JASA Office (Japan Apsara Safeguarding Authority) – a Japanese government agency has an information office, the Bayon Information Centre in Siem Reap along Sivatha Blvd. (at the back of Hotel Le Meridien Angkor) provides a bird’s eye view of the story of Angkor Wat via DVD screenings and display storyboards in English for USD2 and for another USD5, a handy, concise and very enlightening graphic booklet (in color and perfect professional-level English) is available.
The size of the monuments makes it look overwhelming when one encounters it for the first time. The following is one of the suggested plan to explore Angkor Wat. Enter through the west entrance. When you reach the entry tower, walk to the right to get a glimpse of all the five towering gopuras.
Passing the tower and the libraries on both sides of the walkway, climb down the steps towards the left side and get to the water basin. You can catch a glimpse of the temple and its reflection in the water. Go past the basin and reach the left end of the temple.
You would by now have reached the starting point of the famous bas reliefs depicting scenes from various mythological stories and historic events. Walking from left to right you will come across scenes from battle of Ramayana, battle of Mahabharata, army of Suryavarman II, scenes from judgement by Yama (the supreme judge), churning of ocean by demons and gods to get Amrita — the nectar of immortality, Vishnu’s victory over demons, victory of Krishna over Bana and other scenes of battle between gods and demons.
Climb the steps to reach the second tier. One can reach the third tier and the central courtyard within by climbing the steps oriented towards any of the four cardinal points. However, it is suggested that the steps on the south (right) be taken, as these have now been fitted with a handrail — particularly useful when descending.
Note to photographers: The temple at Angkor Wat is a bit unusual in that it was built to face due West (most have been built to face the rising sun.) As a result, the iconic image of the Temple has the sun rising behind it from the East. There are just two times a year when this is possible; during the vernal and autumnal equinoxes (around March 20th and September 22 each year.) This does not mean that amazing images aren’t possible at other times of the year, just that if you want to have the sun rising over the spires of the complex, a date near an equinox is best.
You can also expect a lot of people to join you in your photographic adventure. It is not unusual to see tour buses lined up at the check in points well before sunrise. Make sure you have a flashlight as you have to cross a long bridge with little in the way of railing an no artificial lighting. Just in front of the Temple is a large pond that is often seen in photos reflecting the structure and the rising sun. However, this pond is frequently filled with water lilies that may obstruct its mirror qualities. Once the sun is up you will find many amazing things to shoot. Buddhist monks wearing saffron robes are frequently seen among the ruins, as are monkeys and, of course, loads of tourists. Locals will sometimes pose for you, but they often ask for money in exchange (usually a dollar or two.)