A real MASTERPIECE ! This is the word that best describes Angkor, the ancient city in Cambodia that was the center of the Khmer empire that once ruled most of Southeast Asia. Just being in the place is a once-at-a-lifetime experience and I feel extremely lucky I had the change to have it. Not even the best photos can reflect its beauty and the feelings it stimulates. Without any hesitation, a 100% recommended destination.

What is Angkor

Angkor means “City” and it used to be the capital city of the ancient Khmer Empire that dominated much of Southeast Asia from the 9th to the 15th century. Its population may have been over 1 million people and it is believed that it was the largest city in the world until the Industrial Revolution. This civilization went extinct, but fortunately leaving as heritage amazing temples and buildings that were reclaimed by the jungle for hundreds of years.

Today, Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia, stretching over an area of 400 km2. The Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the temples, many of which have been restored. In 1992, Angkor Archaeological Park was awarded the title of World Heritage site with the argument:

Angkor is a major site exemplifying cultural, religious and symbolic values, as well as containing high architectural, archaeological and artistic significance.

When we first reached the park and faced its entrance, we could easily sense that we would enter in something enormous and beautiful. And apparently, we weren’t wrong.

Best Sights to Visit

Angkor includes a lot of temples but other interesting structures as well. The most famous temples are the Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm. It might sound oxymoron, but the only common feature among them is that they are very unique in their architecture and beauty. During our 2 days trip in November 2010, we visited the major sights listed in the following. It all depends on how much time you want to spend at each structure. We wanted to explore every single angle of it but we wouldn’t dedicate a lot of time in analysing the wall crafts.

1. Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is considered to be the largest religious monument in the world and the most famous one in Angkor. It is the symbol of Cambodia as the national flag features a depiction of Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat means “City of Temple” or “City of Temples” but it is more than that. It’s a breathtaking structure that is stunning for both its grand scale and perfection in composition, balance, proportions, relief’s and sculptures.

Its symbolism is also of great interest. It was meant to be an imitation of the universe build in stone. The highest tower in the center of the monument symbolises the mythical mountain, Meru, situated at the center of the universe. Its five towers correspond to the peaks of Meru. The outer wall represents the mountains at the edge of the world, and the surrounding moat the oceans beyond. Its orientation is to the west, i.e. the direction of the setting sun symbolising the death. For this reason, it is believed that it served as a tomb or as a mausoleum for King Suryavarman II.

The first from far view of Angkor Wat was just amazing, even though some restoratio works were distracting the landscape.

 

As you were approaching and entering the temple, you were getting even more impressed.

2. Bayon Temple

The Bayon Temple is located at heart of  the city of Angkor and it is one of the more famous, and beautiful temples. Looking from far it looks like a messy construction of rocks. However, as we were approaching we realized that it was a collection of more than 50 towers decorated with a more than 200 gigantic, gently smiling faces. Incredible !

 

Each tower has four faces almost 4 meters high, and each face is facing one of the cardinal directions of the compass. They all have a serene smile with eyes closed, representing the inner peace, a state of Nirvana. However, if you look in detail, you will notice that the each face have different smiling; it is believed that they symbolise charming smile, sad smile, glad smile and beautiful smile. However, tt hasn’t been concluded who those faces represent. What is certain is that I took photo with each one of them !

 

Bayon Temple is surrounded by two long walls with amazing bas-relief scenes. On the outer gallery, there are 11.000 carved figures depicting historical events and scenes from the everyday life of the Angkorian Khmer while in the inner gallery there are depictions of mythological events. 

3. Ta Prohm Temple

Ta Prohm is my favorite temple and undoubtedly the most atmospheric one ! The scenery is breathtaking, you are in front of a landscape that you could never imagine. Before getting there I had seen tones of photos of it, but believe me, when you face it with your own eyes is much more amazing. Towers, walls and doorways have been overwhelmed by huge trees and their roots, but so nicely and in such an harmony that gives you the impression this was the intention of the architect. At the same time, it makes you realise the huge power of nature. It used to be a monastery and its serenity and peacefullness are still preserved. Also, because it is left as it was when it was discovered, it gives you the feeling of being an eyewitness of a huge and important discovery. We were very lucky that we were alone there, so we felt all these at their zenith.

Ta Prohm Temple is also called the ‘Tomb Raider Temple’ because it is where the movie Tomb Raider was filmed. What is also remarkable is that this was the only temple kept in the movie as is in reality, whereas the rest of the temples were altered for the purposed of the movie.

4. Preah Khan

Preah Khan is another beautiful complex of temples sourrounded by a moat. Similarly to Ta Prohm, it has been left unrestored with trees and other vegatation merging with the ruins. Even if we have already visited by Ta Prohm,  we were still very impressed with the impact of nature in the scenery.

5. Banteay Srei Temple

Banteay Srei means “Citadel of the Women”or “Citadel of beauty”. The temple is also known as “precious gem” and a “jewel in Khmer art”. It is speculated that this is due to its miniature size, the elegance of its decorative carvings, and the pink color of the sandstone it is build of. The special charm of this temple makes it very unique and special.

6. East Mebon

The East Mebon is another very nice temple. It is a pyramid of receding terraces built on an artificial island in the middle of the now-dry Eastern Baray. Its main attraction is the stone elephants. Even though it is not so popular as the other temples, it is definetely worth visiting it.

Practical Info

  • Accommodation: The nearest city is Siem Reap where you can find a wide range of hotels. More info about Siem Reap can be found here.
  • Transportation: We rented a tuk-tuk with a driver, which is the most typical means of transportation. Totally recommended !
  • Food and drinks: There are many options. Just be careful to ask for the menu for locals because they might give you the one for tourists … with different prices.
  • Access to the park: Buy a 1-day or multiple-days pass, depending on your plans.
  • Don’t forget your camera, fully charged and with empty card !