Cambodia boasts some of the stunning relics from the past.
Angkor Wat is arguably the crown jewel in what is left of the Khmer empire that disappeared in the XV century, the amazing temples were abandoned and swallowed by the jungle. Today, the buddhist monks take care of them.
Our exploration started with the smaller temples. On advice of our tour guide Saron, we left Angkor Wat for the last day. Prior to that every temple and place we visited was also such a unique experience that I would never forget as long as I live!
Caution, these temples are spread across Siem reap so a good tour guide and good preparation is a must.
You would need fresh cold towels dipped in ice during every stop on the various sites you visit, the heat wave here is that intense even though we arrived during the supposedly raining season. Details provide in our itinerary below.
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To say we were very curious and excited about Cambodia is an understatement. To be honest we weren’t sure whether Angkor Wat city was going to be as spectacular as we thought: It was even better.
We were picked up at the airport, and taken to the hotel. The airport is very closed to the touristic hotel area. The Palace Residence Villa Siem Reap was our choice of accommodation. The service was excellent and the hotel staff are so welcoming. Excellent pool to enjoy after visit to the temples in the hot sum with cocktails serverd by the pool side. Rooms spacious enough with varied breakfast and dinner buffet. Definitely a place we would stay again if we ever visit Siem Reap again.
By the way, remember to check out the pond and the beautiful dragon fish!
If you are coming to a place like this it’s worth employing the service of someone with local knowledge preferable a decent tour guide. We chose Saron Tours on our two day visit to the temples. When you travel that far, you are never sure whether the tour is going to be good so we scoured the net for trusted reviews on different platforms before settling for Saron who was excellent! We remarked our interest for both photography and history. He was very knowledgeable and kind enough to also show us the best spots for photos!
Part of the tour arrangement was schedualed pick ups from our hotel. Our first pick up at the hotel was at 7:00 am. Saron was sensible and kind enough to provide us with water and fresh cold towels deeped in ice for the two days during every stop on the various sites we visited. Only way to survive the hot intense heat. If you are doing it on a bike on your own, don’t forget water and suncream, you will surely need them. But I don’t know why you would attempt to do so if you want to see most of this sites.
You may or may not know, Cambodia boasts some of the stunning relics from the past. Angkor Wat is what is left of the Khmer empire that disappeared in the XV century and the amazing temples were abandoned and “eaten out” by the jungle. Today, the buddhist monks take care of them. You will see them in different temples, easy recognisable on their orange ropes.
Our visit started with the Jungle Temples.
Imagine the amazement at our first temple visit which was Ta Prohm. The name may not sound familiar, that because you may have seen it on Tomb Raider. The most spectacular thing about this temple is the trees and how they are merged with the jungle. It is the only temple that has been preserved nearly as it was found to keep the jungly atmosphere.
Our second visit was Ta Keo. Dedicated to Shiva, it is believed that this 40 metres pyramid was the first temple of the Kmer empire built entirely out of sandstone. The pyramid is quite impressive in terms of size. It looks even bigger because of it lacks of decorations in a way. Apparently, the works stopped when the carving had just begun. Be warned, great care is needed when climbing up, the stairs leading to the top are very steep.
Our next stop was certainly an interesting one. An artificial island with a temple in the middle: Neak Poan. It was thought to be a hospital surrounded by small square pools. These pools represent the four elements: Fire, Earth, Water and Wind symbolised by the head of a man, a lion, a horse and an elephant.
Just before lunch, we stopped at Preah Khan temple meaning the “The Sacred Sword”. It also remains highly unrestored. Part of the structure is now gone, but you can still appreciate the small inner temples including the Hall of dancers. The inner sanctuaries are the most sacred part of the temple. If you are coming from the west, you will be able to see the Dvarapala guardian protection the entrance to the inner sanctuary. You will see not one but two guardians at the Western entrance of the satellite temples which are in a much better condition.
After a stop for lunch, we continued our visit to Banteay Srei. The thing that is so striking about this temple is the mixure of colours, the reason, it was built out of red sandstone. Also, dedicated to Shiva, very well preserved.
You can also appreciate the wall carvings of red colour stone. Undoubtedly, a hidden gem of the Angkor compound!
The magic of Siem Reap is that you can spend several days here and still be amazed with every single temple you visit. And of course, this is what happened with our next temple we explored: East Mebon, easily recognisable by its five towers representing the five peaks of the Mount Meru (home of the gods), used to be an artificial island, dry today. The elegant carving and the big stone elephants is very impressive.The temple is approximately 1km away from Pre Rup, where we enjoyed the sunset just before returning back to our hotel to get some rest and relax by the swimming pool for the rest of the evening..
As usual, Saron picked us up from the hotel at 8:00 am this time an hour later as we wanted to sneak in an extra hour sleep.
We saved the best for last. The well anticipated main event had arrived! Today was the day! The main attraction of all the temple structures we’ve seen so far that is Angkor Wat.
We begin our journey towards Angkor Wat. One gets too excited when approaching this incredible sights as you can recognize this famous landmark from pictures you may have seen in a various publication across the globe.
Angkor was A•B•S•O•L•U•T•E•L•Y I•N•C•R•E•D•I•B•L•E! This is the largest religious monument in the world. It was originally built as an Hindu temple by the Khmer empire but transformed to the Buddhist temple overtime.
This is the main attraction in Cambodia, it is a symbol and pride of the country and appears in all areas of the country including the national flag.
It is oriented to the west which has created discussion amongst scholars. The symbolism between the sun and the death, seems to be one of the accepted theories. There are also several stories about its construction. Some legends claim that it was built in one night by a divinity, others say that the architect was god Indra. Experts would say it took about 30 years to construct, which is a more realistic figure yet very impressive.
The Middle Tower of Angkor Wat is also a representation of Mount Meru and the whole compound, an example of classic Khmer style.
There is so much to tell and one of the best way to do that is through the lens!
After this incredible experience, we stopped for lunch. Not to be a snub but I wasn’t too sure about the local meal, but I was hungry, as long as you stick to what you know you are fine, I had seafood related dish and Ana did the wise thing and had the same. After the meal we headed to the Southgate of Angkor Thom city & Bayon. That is the giant faces in both sides of the road to the Southgate, you couldn’t miss them it surely get your attention. This is an excellent spot for pictures by the way. On approach to the Southgate, Devas (Gods) on the left hand site and Asuras (Demons) on the right one will lead you to the gate. The gods pull the head of a snake, the demons push the tail of it.
Bayon, the temple of faces, it is dedicated to the god of compassion and represents the intersection between heaven and earth. Out of the original 54 towers, there are only 37 left. The temple of faces has been often called as “the smile of Angkor”. You may be mesmerised by the faces, but don’t miss the following spots for pictures.
You only see what is left of Baphuon temple (the jigsasw puzzle) as it was partly demolished and its stones were used to build a Buddha statue – never completed – on the West side of the temple. It is believed that it was the most impressive temple at the time. Also, this temple was closed until 2011, the reason, the base was unstable and had to be reinforced. At the Angkor Thom north of Baphuon, you can find the ex-Royal Palace – divided in many sections, with the Phimeanakas at the centre. This “Celestial Palace” was the king’s private temple and a three tier pyramid with a tower on top. It was under restoration at the time and sadly off-limits to visitors.
And our last stop at this wonderful compound was at the terrace of elephant and terrace of King Leper. You will see many references to elephant, sometimes they will be obvious, sometime they won’t. You can identify them by the long trunks though. The temple was used for public ceremonies. The terrace of King Leper was named after a statue of King Leper was found there. The name was given as he had leprosy but it is also assumed that it might have been the god of death… judge for yourself.
Thanks for reading – Andrew