We came to Siem Reap because we wanted the opportunity of seeing Angkor Wat. It was only after a little research that we realised that the entire Angkor complex is actually 250 square miles, with over 500 temples. We had a lot to do!
A very brief overview
Angkor (Holy City) was built by King Jayavarman II who considered himself a ‘god king’. It was built between 1113 and 1150 and was the seat of the huge Khmer Empire. It is thought to be the largest pre-industrial city in the world, housing 1 million people at it’s peak. Interestingly it originated as a Hindu temple, but then became Buddhist in the late 13th century.
Angkor was eventually overthrown by Ayutthaya in 1431 (I didn’t realise the two temples were connected, but it was funny that we ended up visiting both in the same week!)
We decided to visit the temples in one day, using the services of a friendly tuk-tuk driver called Adam. We told him the main things we wanted to see but he added to our itinerary and proved to be an amazing guide as well. He even brought us a cool box of water so we could rehydrate between each temple visit. We would definitely recommend this as a way of visiting the temples!
We decided that we had to start early – because of the heat and also to catch the sunrise (so glad we did!) We started at Angkor Wat…
Angkor Wat, the most famous of the temples at Angkor, is the worlds largest religious monument. We arrived just as the light was starting to creep over the temples (by now about 5.30am).
We sat outside the complex on the banks of the moat, which even despite the crowds was a remarkably serene and peaceful experience! We stayed for about half an hour to watch the sunrise, becoming more and more amazed with each passing minute!
As the sun rose we walked over the bridge and into the complex, past beautiful water lilies as we went.
Inside the complex we got our first closer view of the temples.
As we left, the crowds started to pour in! If we thought this was busy at the time, we had seen nothing yet.
Angkor Wat was a temple dedicated to Vishnu, who was married to Lakshmi, there were shrines dedicated to both inside the temple.
Inside the temple there are around 600m of narrative bas reliefs and around 2000 Apsaras (dancing figures). This keeps you very busy as you are walking around!
The second temple we visited was dedicated to Shiva. This was Adam’s favourite temple and it is known as a ‘temple mountain’, it is the highest point and first temple built in the area. Fortunately there were very few people there with us….
Nandi, the bull, guards the entrance to the temple.
Famous for it’s views back down to Angkor Wat.
Angkor Thom (including The Bayon and Phimeanakas)
We then moved onto Angkor Thom, the main city of the Angkor complex. This is the South Gate to the city, which gave us the first glimpse of the amazing faces that adorn the structures.
Ryan and Adam discussing one of the temple ruins outside Angkor Thom.
The Bayon temples were possibly the busiest part of our day. We could see why with its 37 towers all showing the trademark faces, facing each point of the compass. There is still some contention about who these are supposed to depict.
Pretty imposing lions guard all of the temples.
As you walk around the Angkor sit there are many working shrines and monasteries tucked away in the forests.
We then moved onto Phimeanakas temple, also within the Angkor Thom city walls.
Then onto the Elephant Terraces, where the King would stand to welcome back triumphant armies into the city.
We left via the Victory gate and went onwards out of the walled city towards Ta Prohm.
This temple was originally the royal monastery. It has been left in its ‘natural state’, as overgrown as when it was re-discovered in the late 19th century. This gives it a particularly atmospheric feel! It is famous for several scenes from Tomb Raider being shot here for that reason.
Silk cotton trees and strangler figs are slowly destroying the temple.
Spot the apsara’s face peeking out between the tree roots on the left hand side (close up on the right hand side!)
We headed back to Siem Reap afterwards, through a huge rain storm, to enjoy the rest of the festivities of the Water Festival that evening. Angkor had more than surpassed our expectations!