So why is Angkor Wat so much more famous than all the other splendid temples all around it? The main reason is that it was never abandoned, like all the other sites, when the capital of nearby Angkor Thom was moved to Phnom Penh in the 16th century. Until 1941 monks lived here and most important, took care of it. The other reason is that it is an architectural masterpiece of fine proportion and rich in details.
Angkor Wat is most impressive when looked at from across the wide moat that surrounds it. From there its five towers are the most prominent feature. These represent the five peaks of Mount Meru and thus are the centerpiece of this temple, which completely realizes the microcosms of the Hindu universe.
A causeway leads across the moat to one of the five gates in the high wall. This encloses the area of what was once a city. Once within, the view is equally impressive as from across the moat, but only three towers are visible now. On that first of three levels is the famous bas-relief, a breathtaking relief that runs 600 meters around the four long walls of the gallery. Our favorite carvings were the many Apsaras, gracious, celestial dancers that decorate the walls.
The second level has a similar gallery that once was adorned with beautiful sculptures, which were all stolen. The only statue left, a finely sculptured women colored with a reddish coat, gives you a glimpse of how mind-bogglingly beautiful this place must have been when it was finished in the 12th century. Needless to say, even her head was chopped off, because the piece itself was too heavy to carry away.
The third and uppermost level of the temple carries the five towers, the surrounding galleries and the central shrine. It truly looks like the final ascent of a great mountain. Until recently, visitors could climb these steep, narrow, sloping stairs. We think it was about time to close this frail and most precious part off from the masses, especially after we watched how little respect some visitors showed for this ancient monument. Sometimes, we were truly shocked when people climbed on buildings, touched the reliefs, rubbed against the carvings or sat on fragile stone railings. The few guards hardly ever interfere, disinterested since they are paid next to nothing. Beside that, they feel embarrassed telling visitors off.
We straight forward admit that Angkor Wat was not our favorite monument. We came with these really high expectations of seeing a temple in the jungle, which it is not. Of all the sites it has the least vegetation surrounding it.