Angkor Wat: The Temple Complex

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As I noted in a previous blog post titled Bucket List: Angkor Wat, Angkor Wat was one of those locations that I have always wanted to visit – it was a part of my bucket list of places to visit before I shuffle off this mortal coil (as Macbeth would say in Shakespeare’s play of the same name).

And it is a place I’d like to return to if I ever get the opportunity to do so.  I consider this visit to be a scouting trip of sorts, I have a lot of photographs I’d like to take now that I know the lay of the land and how things operate there with all the tour guides and tickets and so forth.

We did go to the Angkor Wat precinct at pre-dawn, but the location we went to was so crowded and the light not really great that I didn’t leave there with an image I’d like to share.  Still getting acclimatized to Cambodia (I’d been in the country for only 8 hours), and being with family and tour guide, I didn’t have the opportunity to wander around and find a better location.  So I stayed put and didn’t get the photograph that I wanted.  So maybe next visit I can get something more to my liking!

We went back to the hotel for breakfast and then headed back.  If we had come in earlier than 10:30pm, I would have opted for a box breakfast, but coming in so late the kitchen staff were already gone for the night. So we returned to the hotel for breakfast and lost about an hour and a half of our day.


Entrance into Angkor Wat

Upon our return to Angkor Wat, I was excited. This is a fabulous place, full of temples and buildings and courtyards – there are photographs everywhere!  It is a photographer’s delight!

My first shot of the day turned out to be a reconstructed seven-headed cobra, one on each side,  that are located on the causeway crossing the moat into Angkor Wat.  The seven-headed cobra is a Buddhist symbol of wholeness and completeness, i.e. enlightenment, not unlike the Christian use of the number 7 which has a similar meaning.

Seven-headed cobra signifies enlightenment, the entrance to Angkor Wat, Angkor Wat Archeological Park, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Besides the enormity of the place (and it is huge), the thing that struck me the most was the number of bas-reliefs with Apsara’s on the walls – nearly every wall!  The apsara is a feminine spirit that often found in both Hindu and Buddhist religious art.  The amount of detail and the level of detail in the carvings reminded me of the intricate carvings I have seen in the mosques in Toledo Spain.  

Bas-relief of an Apsara at Angkor Wat.

Bas-relief of an Apsara at Angkor Wat.

As well as Apsara’s (both dancing and not dancing), there were bas-reliefs of the wars and scenes from religious texts that also adorned the walls of Angkor Wat. 

Bas-relief of the Hindu god Vishnu victorious in battle, Angkor Wat, Angkor Wat Archeological Park, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Library Area

In the north library area, some of the paint from the initial building of the site is still evident on the pillars and beams that support the roof of the library.  The remaining paint emphasizes the intricate carvings of the pillars and beams.

Remnants of the paint and ochre at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

In this general area, there was also a lot of bas-reliefs of Apsara’s and at one location, there is an inscription of a Buddhist prayer that surrounds the dancing Hindu spirit.  I was reminded of the appropriation of ancient pagan temples in Italy by the Christians and their attempts to remake them as Christian places of worship. Re-purposing religious sites seems to be a human trait evidenced not only in Europe but also here in Asia.

Buddhist prayers over the dancing Hindu Apsara, Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

I was also struck by the window columns which were everywhere, and I figured that they would lend themselves to black and white photography, and I was not disappointed by the results.

Details of the styles in the windows at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Once we left the library area we went outside and wandered around the central pagoda.  The sun was positioned in such a way that I was able to capture it among the various carvings of the pagoda, and I like the effect I got.

Sun bursts through the edge of the tower, Angkor Wat, Angkor Wat Archeological Park, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Lessons Learned

Would there be things I’d do differently?  Absolutely!  

First I would arrive earlier than we did.  We came in so late that it was difficult to setup for the next day.  We slept about 6 hours and were up and running.  I would have arrived earlier at Angkor Wat for sunrise, and I would have wandered around to find the right spot.  Secondly, I would have rented a Tuk-Tuk for the day and not necessarily the tour guide.  Although our tour guide was great, he was running on his own schedule and at times I felt like I was being pushed to hurry up.  Going by myself, I would have had more time to wander among the ruins and would have gotten some other great shots that I now wish I could go back to get.

Don’t get me wrong, my time at Angkor Wat was great.   But I would do it differently on a return trip.  Like I said, I consider this trip a scouting trip, and if I do get the chance to return, I would do the arrangements and my time at locations differently.  

Having said that, like I said earlier, there are photographs everywhere.  And I took a lot of photographs.  There isn’t any one location or place to get great shots.  They are literally everywhere and depending on what you want, you will get a good variety of photographs.

As I was using a new camera (I rented a Sony A7rII for the trip), I was working to get great shots as well as learning a new camera system.  And I used my Canon lens with a Metabones adapter.  And I found out that the Tamron lens doesn’t always work well with the Metabones adapter, as I had a lot of slightly out of focused shots.  I’d say that for every ten shots I took, I only had about 2 in focus!  But I finally figured out the lens – adapter – camera communications and settings and once we left Angkor Wat and headed over to Angkor Thom, I had everything working.  So out of every ten shots, I had around 7 to 8 in focus with only a couple out of focus shots.  

I would have faired better had I kept to my Canon 5D Mark II camera, but I wanted to test the Sony in real life (will discuss in another blog post). However, I did get some great shots, so even with all the missed shots, I still got what I mostly came to get at Angkor Wat. 






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