The back entrance to Ankor Wat right after we met the monkeys. Not many tourists make it to this side of the temple.
I have been in Asia for a year and a half now and Angkor Wat has always been at the top of my list of things to see. The temple of Angkor is located in Western Cambodia near the city of Siem Reap. It was built in the early 12th century and at the time was the capital of the Cambodian empire. Angkor Wat was, and still is, the largest religious monument in the world.
Masonry crews and archeologists have installed metal stairs to access the higher parts of the temple. They plan on addressing some of the structural weaknesses to keep the temple safe for tourists. (KRISTA MILLS)
People passing through the temple add to the miniature temples on the ground. They use rocks and pieces that have broken off the buildings as an homage. (KRISTA MILLS)
The first thing you should know about Angkor Wat is that it is only the central and most famous temple in the area. Angkor is also the most intact. There are hundreds of other temples only minutes away in various stages of decay and ruin. All of them are fascinating in their architecture and bas-reliefs. A person can spend months or years exploring Angkor and only scratch at the surface of what it was.
There was not a moment to lose.
Our small group of friends woke up early to see the temple only 15 minutes from our hostel. We took a tuk-tuk driver named Batman (I called him Foster) to the outer moat of the temple as the sun was coming over the walls. There were dozens of tourists milling about taking pictures and Cambodian children in colourful clothes selling postcards. Already we knew it was going to be a hot day.
The opening that pierced the walls loomed above us, framing a massive empty area separating the fortification and the moat from the temples. We were enraptured with the statues of Naga, the Mythical Serpent People who fathered the Cambodian people. The soaring Wats were impressive too, but even those were dwarfed by some of the trees growing out of the broken ruins. At the foot of the temples tourists had taken up chunks of fallen masonry to replicate the temple in miniature on the grounds. The tiny buildings resembled the inukshuks of northern Canada. So of course we added to them before moving on to the main temple.
In the center were battle frescoes that covered entire halls. Carved pits that looked like his and hers pools showed off the wealth of the antiquated kings of Cambodia. We climbed as far up the sides of the temples as we could before being turned back by signs stating that repairs were being done to the structure. The path was too dangerous for us to continue.
After the main temple, we arrived on the other side sweaty and hot in a jungle complete with monkeys. The same friend who was frightened by them on Koh Phangan was reluctant to approach but the rest of us did get close enough to touch the tiny humanoids. Less than 20 feet away was one of the older, wilier monkeys taking a piece of corn from a dog. The canine went running after him but lost the race to the tree and the monkey scurried away.
The five of us walked back through the grounds, returning to our tuk-tuk and driver. It was time for the next stage of our exploration. We would be visiting a place even older than Angkor Wat and in some cases much more interesting, Angkor Thom.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 9, 2013