Angkor Wat – ever it takes to reach Meru


Angkor Wat is found south of Angkor Thom. It was built in the 12th century during the reign of King Suryavarman II. It took more than 30 years and 300,000 men to erect the mausoleum. The hard work and effort put into its construction made it the largest among all the ruins in Angkor. Like Bayon temple, it has three levels, but Angkor Wat faces west to signify the setting of the sun and the end of one’s journey on earth.

It is the epitome of astonishing beauty on a massive scale. It covers a mind-blowing area of more than 200 hectares, yet its enormity does not diminish its architectural perfection, rather its size adds to its grandeur. Its rare combination of beauty and magnitude has attracted millions of visitors annually, and its cultural, historical and economic importance earned itself a well-deserved place on the Cambodian flag.

At 1:58 pm, we stop in front of Angkor Wat. My first look at the causeway and outer walls of Angkor Wat makes me speechless. The sandstone causewayseems endless and unassailable especially under the searing heat of the sun; however, the presence of kids jumping off the side of the causeways into the moat prods me to move forward.

A seven-headed naga greets visitors before they cross the causeway
Kids being kids and having fun under the sun.

With haste not unlike the one possessed by Shadowfax, we proceed to the right side of the front gallery where a standing Vishnu statue with eight arms and orange garb is located. A low table before the towering figure has offerings on it. There is a jar where one can place his cash donation, but Mr. O, our tour guide, tells us that the accumulated amount just lines the pockets of private individuals so we decide to skip the donation.

Vishnu with eight arms

We walk for two minutes and arrive outside the entry building and finally see the towers of Angkor Wat! From where we stand, we see only three of the five towers and the ruins of libraries that flank the monument. Mr. O relates to us that the libraries used to hold important books from across Cambodia and other countries. I think Angkor Wat is like a proper lady who keeps secrets, and reveals different sides of her only after some prodding.

Three of the five towers of Angkor Wat
One of the towers as seen from the left library

We turn left and walk towards the basin filled with water (the right basin is dry) to marvel at the four corner towers and the central tower of Angkor Wat.They refer to the towers as quincunx, where the central tower symbolizes Meru or the dwelling of the gods, and the corner towers as its peaks.

I find it amazing that moving a certain number of degrees to either side of Angkor Wat will reveal its five towers, and the basin will catch this magical moment to give the viewer an illusion of looking at ten towers!

The five towers of Angkor Wat and their reflection
Closer look at the five towers

A little bit farther to the left of the basin are huge trees that provide shade to benches and tables where visitors can stay to stare at the towers a little longer. We decide to continue to the Gallery of Bas-reliefs. The bas-reliefs are impressively detailed and occupy the horizontal axis of the entire wall. They contain remnants of their original colors of which black and red are the most pronounced ones. Some of the scenes depicted by the bas-reliefs are from Indian epics that show magnificent horses (might be distant relatives of Shadowfax in an alternate universe), decorated chariots and very fit warriors.

Bas-reliefs that depict some scenes from Indian epics

We enter the covered galleries and the first thing that catches my attention is the empty basin that is huge and deep enough to be a modern swimming pool. The support columns look elegant despite their size, and when I look up, the ceiling is not something to be sneered at. When I look around, I see beautiful images of Apsara that adorn the walls. These images refer to the same symbol, but they have nuanced differences. Considering that there is an abundance of these images, the artist must have a fertile imagination. The balustrades have elaborate designs, too.

It must have been luxurious taking a bath here

Columns that seem to go forever
The beautiful dancer in extravagant coiffure and costume
Windows and doorsfit for a king
Design of the balustrades

We walk to the center and arrive at an open area where all five towers are visible. The view is jaw dropping, yet the stairs to the upper floor are beckoning.We climb with the help of wooden planks that are constructed on top of very steep sandstone steps. Having to walk up and down the stepswith 70° angle, I cannot imagine how the former inhabitants of Angkor Wat did this without falling. I am sure that I would not have made it to the top without the handrail. I count the steps but lose track after 30.

View of thefive towers from inside the monument
Mr. O, our tour guide, took these photos from the bottom and from the top of the stairs, in less than a minute!

The view on the third floor is worth the sweat and imminent sunburn. I can see the towers and touch the base from where I am. The intricacy of the design is amazing. It starts wide at the bottom and tapers off as it goes higher, but with the same pattern that is similar to lotuses.The central tower is imposing as it rises 40 meters from the third floor. If Saruman had seen this tower, he might have replaced Orthanc with this. The images of Apsara are still very much present on this floor, a place frequented only by the king and high priests. In one corner stands a figure of Buddha being protected by a seven-headed naga.

I look like an ant next to the central tower
The craftsmanship is endless: even the roof has detailed design
Detail of the central tower
the tower facing west
Images of Apsara on the third floor
Buddha and naga

From the highest point of Angkor Wat, the grounds are visible. Even from that height, the details of the roof of the galleries on the courtyard are noticeable. The lush greenery beyond the structures is also seen. It is a magnificent view fit for royalty like King Suryavarman II.

View from the top of Angkor Wat

With our curiosity fully sated, we climb down the stairs and proceed to the right side of the monument. We encounter more images of Apsara and the beautiful balustrades. We proceed to a very long covered gallerythat ends with headless figures.Then we walk out of the monument and are greeted by the punishing heat.

Images of Apsara on the second floor
The galleries on the right side of Angkor Wat
Courtyard of Angkor Wat

The right side of Angkor Wat is not a picturesque as the left due to its dry basin, but one can take photos of the five towers from this side as well.

The quincunx and I
Angkor Wat from the right side

They say that Angkor Wat is the representation of the universe, with the central tower or Meru as its epicenter. After the tour of Angkor Wat, I can say that I have been there and back again.

5 thoughts on “Angkor Wat – ever it takes to reach Meru

  1. Hola! In Cambodia, so you can pay in USD instead of converting it in their Cambodia riel? Parang need ng barya na USD hahaha.. It seems that 1 day is not enough to roam around Angkor Wat.. Sabi nga nila babalik-balikan…. 😉 Gusto ko mag-bike dun kung pede… =) lalayo nga lang kay su heir apparent kc alam mo na.. she will bump you naturally..

    1. They accept US dollars and Cambodian riel. For example, you can buy with US dollars and they can give you riel as change, the change might not be exact but it would be close to the correct amount. Most of the items I saw were in US dollars, some were in both currencies, but in Lucky Mall, I think they were in Cambodian Riel (US dollars were accepted).

      They say one week is not enough just to visit Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm and the other parts of the complex. You can buy a three-day pass if you want. With a one-day pass, you can visit the most prominent ones like the three I mentioned above. I am not sure about biking, I saw several people riding the bike, but I did not see where they parked them once they entered the temples. If you do ride a bike, ingat kay Juvy. Hehe.

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