Angkor Wat

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Let me just preface this post by saying I took a lot of pictures and I am just learning how to edit my photos in Light Room, so you will have to forgive the number of photos and their varying degrees of editing.  

We spent our Easter holidays in Thailand with a 3 day stop over in Siem Reap, Cambodia for the specific purpose of visiting the ancient Khmer ruins of Angkor Wat Archaeological Park.  I was familiar with the ruins, but did not realize how big the complex is.  What we generically refer to as Angkor Wat is really just one temple complex amid many, many more.  Over the next week or so I will give our full trip report, but the cliff note version is, TWO THUMBS WAY UP!   
Hands down, my favorite part of the trip was visiting the ruins.  They are so unique to anything we see in Europe or Turkey and because they are in the jungle they hold a mystique about them.   It is the largest religious monument in the world with a gigantic mote, which more resembles a lake, surrounding it.
It became very clear to us that we should have brushed up on our Buddist/Hindu history before arriving. The temples are covered in their Gods and Goddess' and knowing the key figures would have been helpful. Angkor began as Hindu temple then subsequently became Buddhist, but the two belief systems are similar.
The Details
Angkor Wat Archaeological Park
Address: Krong Siem Reap
Cost: $20/1day pass, $40/3 day pass, under 11 free.
Hours: 5am-6pm
Transportation: There are many ways to get around the ruins; taxi, tuk tuk or bicycle.  We chose to tour by taxi.  That may sound strange, but it's quite common.  I'll explain more on this later.
Tip: There are stalls selling souvenirs and cold drinks everywhere, so you don't have to carry water, but I would recommend it because you will drink far more than you anticipate.  Plan to bargain and carry small bills.
Shoes:  The locals tend to wear flip flops, but I prefer hiking sandals especially if you plan to climb around the ruins.  The stairs tend to be steep and narrow, so you'll want to be sure footed!
We arrived in the afternoon on Thursday.  We hired the taxi driver who picked us up from the airport to drive us around the next two days.  The licensed taxi drivers are very reliable and the prices are pretty much set.  We did a little bit of negotiation, but we knew beforehand what to expect and he didn't stray far from that price.  The drivers know exactly where to take you if you have time constraints and will give you a  bit of history while they take you around.  Our driver would drop us at the entrance then wait for us to return.  Given that is was BLAZING hot and we had our two girls with us, the air-conditioned car was the best decision for our family.
By the end of the trip Eden's straw hat was trashed!  Poor pale girl had to wear it always.
These heavenly dancers called Apsara's decorate the walls of all the temples; they are everywhere.

Angkor Wat is a miniature model of the universe.  The center tower represents the God's mountain of Meru, the 5 surrounding it are peaks and the mote around the whole complex represents the oceans.  The entire complex was well thought out to draw the visitor into a cosmic experience. For more information on the meaning of the temple complex click here.
Eden bought that fan our first day in Bangkok and it was the best souvenir purchase she's ever made. Buy one, you will need it!

This picture gives you an idea of the size and scale of these monuments.

These warriors are churning the ocean of milk. It's a theme that will be repeated in balustrades and approaches to temples.
I kept waiting for these kids to stand up and dance, but they never did.  They were there for photo ops...for a fee of course.  
I read the bas-relief gallery is the longest in the world. Covering the 4 inner walls of the temple it is about 7 feet high and almost 2000 feet long.  One could easily write a dissertation on all that is going on in these sometime historic and sometimes fanciful carvings.  To read more about their themes click here.
To give you a sense for how long the gallery of bas-reliefs is, this is just one side--The carvings are on the wall just under the covered walkway. It is truly spectacular! 

We just so happened to be visiting at New Year so there were loads of Asian tourists with the locals picnicking mote-side.  I can't go on about how spectacular it was to finally see these ruins in person.  We didn't have the place to ourselves, but there are ways to get away from the tourists especially if you leave the main temple.  And if you leave the complex all together to explore the island you will really be treated to some solitude.