Sunset at Angkor. While the site is so vast you can enjoy solitude during the day, in the evening the best spots for viewing the sun going down become congested with visitors. It remains a remarkable sight, despite the crowds, although a short walk will often find you a quieter spot.
Cambodia – Been There

A place of all-consuming brilliance

Photo by Jochem Wijnands

Cambodia – Been There A place of all-consuming brilliance

I wake up early to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, which, with three of its five towers emblazoned on the national flag, has become an iconic symbol of Cambodia.

Willem Dercksen
Willem Dercksen Journalist

It was built at the start of the 12th century as a state temple for King Suryavarman II (or possibly as a burial tomb), and unlike the other temples, the entrance to this one faces west instead of east. Many Cambodians still believe this architectural wonder was built by the gods.

The frogs are giving a concert while the eastern skies start to glow like a blacksmith’s oven. Only a handful of people have come to watch this spectacle, which implies that thousands of other visitors rate their sleep higher than watching sunrise over Angkor Wat. I think that is mind-blowing.

The sun shoots up in the sky like a balloon, the coolness of the night is quickly replaced by the heat of the day, and the gates to the temples are opened.

As soon as I step through the entrance, I am confronted by the sheer vastness of Angkor. I have to sit for a minute and decide what to do. I watch some of the other visitors and I am thankful I didn’t join a tour, or hired an audio guide. I wouldn’t want somebody talking in my ears right now. I need to simply wander around first, take it all in, and hopefully get lost at some point. Which seems easy enough, because the complex has three levels and soars to a height of 65 meters. Out of deference to this temple, no building in Siem Reap may be higher.

The first level contains the familiar bas reliefs depicting the war between the Khmer and the Cham, a group that inhabited Central and Southern Vietnam at this time. The Khmer can be easily identified by their long ears and thick lips and the Cham by the curly hair covering their ears. This level also contains a stone tableau with scenes from the Hindu epic Ramayana.

But I didn’t notice any of that on my first visit: all I experienced was the utter brilliance of the place and the presence of millions of people that once lived and worshipped here.

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The iconic rooftop towers of Angkor Wat temple dominate the view from Phnom Bakheng. The towers have become so synonymous with Cambodia that they have been a central part of the national flag since 1850. Photo by Jochem Wijnands

Jochem Wijnands

Jochem Wijnands

Nikon F5

Aperture
ƒ/4.5
Exposure
1/500
ISO
50
Focal
200 mm

The iconic rooftop towers of Angkor Wat temple dominate the view from Phnom Bakheng. The towers have become so synonymous with Cambodia that they have been a central part of the national flag since 1850.

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