Angkor Temples

Siam Reap is a crazy touristy city colonized by the Americans. Beer, loud music, tuk tuks, street vendors are on the menu every day, the kind of place from I would like to run away. However, if you want to visit Angkor Temples most probably you will end up sleeping here. And maybe for more than one night . . .

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The Khmer civilization centred on Angkor was one of the most remarkable to flourish in Southeast Asia. Between the 8th and the 13th centuries, a succession of Hindu and Buddhist kings created magnificent temples in stone. After many years of political turmoil Angkor Temples are again accessible and a must for any traveler. We bought the 3 days pass and visited Angkor Temples for two days. That’s what we did:

First Day. We woke up very early to avoid the crowds and the heat. In Siam Reap we rented a bicycle and we did the small circuit (17Km) clockwise. It was a full day tour which took us about 9 hours (lunch break included).

Bayon Temple: the state temple of Jayavarman VII and his immediate successors. Built between XIIth and XIIIth century, it was the symbolic centre of the universe and emplire. Bayon used a mass of stone-towers to create a stone mountain of ascending peaks. Particularly interesting were its narrative bas-reliefs of dayly life and Khmer history. Bayon Temple was my favourite one but it was also the most crowded temple.

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Angkor Thom: the last great capital of the Khmer empire. Founded by Jayavarman VII during XIIth century, probably remained capital until the XVIIth century. Angkor Thom has also face-towers on the city gates. With the Bayon Temple at its centre, it was a microcosm of the universe.

Bapuon, Phimeanakas Temples & Royal Palace: State temples of Yasodharapura and Suryavarman I (Xth –XIth centuries). The royal palace was built by Suryavarman I. It was accessed from the Elephant Terrace and then a long footbridge over a pond. The sanctuary of Phimeanakas was located in the middle of this complex, surrounded by a gallery.

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Angkor Wat: the most famous, the hugest and most impressive temple in the complex. Angkor Wat means the “city pagoda” and it was built during the reign of Suryavarman II in the first half of the 12th century, both as the capital and the State Temple dedicated to Vishnu.

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 Some of its highlights are:

  • The world’s largest religious monument;
  • A completely realized microcosm of the Hindu universe, culminating in the five peaks of Mount Meru;
  • Architecture masterpiece with fine proportions and rich detail. This is the apogee of Khmer Architecture;
  • Some 600 m of narrative bas-relief and nearly 2000 apsaras (celestial dancers who entertain the gods) so take your time, lol

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Banteay Kdey. A small but confusing temple, its ruined state appears much as discovered (well maybe its seated Buddha has an extra decoration).

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Ta Prohm: this is where Angelina Jolie shot Tomb Rider so it is a very popular temple. It has a romantic atmosphere with many hidden corners to explore. Figs and silk-cotton trees are entwined among ruins giving to the temple a more adventurous character. In this temple I enjoyed more doing the explorer than the photographer 😉

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I knew that I needed a break when I looked at my pictures and start mixing up the names of the temples, lol. We decided to visit the city of Battambang between first day and second day to avoid the Angkor overdose.

2nd day: we rented a tuk tuk  to do the big circuit (26Km) with the most distant temples. My favourite temple was little Ta Som (XIIth-XIIIth centuries). It also has face-towers and a compact, atmospheric inner enclosure.

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My Tips:

  • If you decide to do a multi- day visit, it is a good idea to combine your Angkor visits with other activities to digest well what you have seen. There are so many temples and so many details that it is easy to get an overdose.
  • To complement the descriptions on my guide book, I bought a fantastic book called Ancient Angkor,  by Michael Freeman and Claude Jacques, which made me enjoy even more the temples. You can find this book at Siam Reap for 30$ or around the temples for 5$. If you decide to buy the fake, check  that all the pages are printed.

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