Temples of Angkor
The kings of Cambodia’s ancient Khmer empire from 800 to 1200 AD built hundred of temples with amazing archaeological designs trying to surpass their predecessors. Today, the Temples of Angkor are one of the world’s most renowned ancient sites. Unesco named Angkor a World Heritage Site in 1992. We didn’t think an ancient city could outshine Bagan (Burma), but Angkor has done just that. The temples are so unique creating an experience of their own. Many of the temples were abandoned for centuries and the surrounding jungle has swallowed them up and become part of their structures. The jungle temples were our favorites as once you step inside you experience such a mystical feel with man vs. nature.
We decided to explore the Angkorian site in three days and leave Angkor Wat, the largest and most popular in the world, for the last day. Bayon was our first stop. It’s one of the most unique structures with magnificent design elements throughout. As we rode our bikes around all sides we encountered huge Gothic towers decorated with enormous smiling faces staring down at you while exuding this immense power. Upon entering the three levels inside Bayon, we were mesmerized by the detailed carvings on the walls depicting important events that occurred during the Khmer empire.
Baphuon, which resembles a large pyramid structure was our next stop. The temple was completely taken apart for restoration, but the structural records were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge between 1975-1979. Therefore, they were left with 300,000 stones to put back together. Albeit, restoration efforts have been quite impressive and still resume today.
Preah Khan Temple
Our second day, we decided to hire a tuk-tuk driver to take us around to some of the furthest temples. Another favorite, Preah Khan, is one of the largest temple sites that has been greatly restored. The site is enclosed with a 700m by 800m wall with four long walkways to the gated archways of the central temple. The temple has numerous long corridors and fine carvings and stonework throughout. Another notable feature is two enormous trees on the outer retaining wall, whose roots have grown into the wall creating this powerful energy throughout.
Ta Prohm Temple
The most magical and mysterious temple is Ta Prohm. Nature and the surrounding jungle have taken on a life of its own and taken back their land with trunks and roots embracing themselves into the structures of the temple. It’s such a mysterious site to see the temple and jungle as one. One of the integrated trees in Ta Prohm temples is famous for being part of the set in Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie. There were a bunch of tourists lined up to get their picture in front of the tree.
Pre Rup Temple
We headed to Pre Rup to watch the sunset over the surrounding fields. Pre Rup is a large pyramid temple mountain with five large towers on the upper level. After climbing up the steep staircase to the top, the views were indeed amazing with the sun setting on the horizon.
Other notable temples are Ta Som, East Mebon, Ta Nei, Ta Keo, Banteay Kdei, Preah Neak Poan. They are all within kilometers of Angkor Wat.
Angkor Wat Temple
The last day we hopped back on our bikes and headed to Angkor Wat for a full day of exploration. We got there around noon and practically had the temple to ourself as all the tourists head out for lunch between 12-2pm. Angkor Wat and it’s surrounding grounds are breathtaking, right down to strolling up the long walkway, crossing through the lakes and entering the elaborate entryway to the main temple. We walked through the long outer hallways of the temple which consist of amazing detailed carvings depicting epic events that happened during the 12th century. We followed our guide book to decipher each series of carvings that told us a story of ancient times past.
The central temple is three stories high with a extremely steep stair climb to the top of one of four towers. In the the front towers, the views of the entire Angkor Wat complex are mind blowing. One can imagine being back in time worshipping from above while looking out at the mesmerizing grounds in the distance. We are so happy we left Angkor Wat for last after seeing all the other temples in the area. It is worth dedicating just one day to exploring Angkor Wat to fully appreciate all it has to offer.