A great way to learn about what you’re seeing while visiting the temples of Angkor is to tour the Angkor National Museum.
The museum gives you a basic grounding in the history of the Khmer Empire as well as some fundamental explanation of Hinduism and Buddhism — all of which enriches your experience while exploring the temples of Angkor.
For example, I learned that Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious monument, is a physical conceptualization of the Hindu universe. It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of divine, celestial beings in Hindu mythology. Housed within a moat and outer wall 2.2 miles long are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the last. At the center stands three towers.
The massive 402-acre complex was originally dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu, but transitioned to a Buddhist temple by the late 12th century.
It’s been an active Buddhist temple ever since. During our visit, I received two, blessed bracelets from a Buddhist monk who sprinkled me with water while chanting. Tied to my left wrist, the red, string bracelet wards off misfortune and negative energy while the yellow and red bracelet embodies love and happiness in friendship.
Much of the stonework at Angkor Wat is related to the Hindu creation story. The gods and demons joined in a cosmic tug-of-war, using Naga (a multi-headed cobra god) as the rope. The tugging churned the “ocean of milk,” creating and destroying many things. One creation was the Aspara, beautiful dancing nymphs who are depicted throughout Angkor Wat.
Naga is well represented throughout Angkor Wat as well. His head is at the main entrance (s)
while his body forms the balustrade for a long causeway leading to the temple.
Once inside, you catch glimpses of a colorful past.
But mainly, you just wander around, open-mouthed in complete awe of your surroundings.
Leaving Angkor Wat today was bittersweet. By visiting this magnificient monument, John has kept a promise made as a small boy to his grandfather. A promise kept closes yet another chapter in life.
Our book is not finished, however. The road calls us to journey on to the next chapter, holding memories of the last one close to our hearts.