We approached Angkor Wat thru the east gate. Our guide, September, knew that fewer visitors would enter there as opposed to the main west gate and we would have smaller crowds to contend with. Also we were extremely lucky to be able to have access to the third and highest level of the Wat which is normally closed to visitors and open only to the Buddhist Monks.
Inside the large moat and the outer gate are five large doorways into the first level. The two doors farthest from the center door are to be used by workers and common people while the two doors closer to the center door are reserved for the President and the Queen. The center door is quite unique because it is the only door with no steps to go up and enter. Instead there is a platform about 8 feet high for the King to enter his center door. Why no steps? The King alone steps off his elephant onto the platform to enter the center gate.
Ascending the steep stairways took us to the second level where the view of the surrounding jungle was amazing. The dark blotches on the sandstone facade that looks like smoke residue from a fire is just that. For hundreds of years the temple was abandoned to the jungle. When the decision was made to reclaim the temple from the jungle, the method used was to burn away the jungle growth. Since then, efforts to restore the original look of the stone have included acid washing with obvious poor results, and currently a slow painstaking hand cleaning process that continues today.
As I said earlier, we were lucky to choose a day that access to the third level was permitted. Only 100 visitors are allowed at a time, so we had to wait in queue for 45 minutes to climb another set of extremely steep stairs another 40 meters above the second level. The view is really fit for a King, as no other buildings are allowed to be constructed higher than Angkor Wat. The iconic view of the temple usually shows three towers with the center one higher. An aerial view would show four towers forming the square of the third level with the higher single tower in the center which contain four buddhas each facing one of the cardinal directions.