The Temples of Angkor

This is a post by David.

We are currently on the Andaman coast in southern Thailand. We’ll be hopping around to different islands around here before heading to Bangkok next week. Southern Thailand is amazing, but first let’s talk about Siem Reap, Cambodia.

We were in Cambodia last week and kept very busy by taking a cooking class (of course), a pottery class, riding horses through the countryside, and much more. Despite how delicious the food is (similar to Thai but less spicy – lots of curries) no one goes to Siem Reap solely for a cooking class. The thing to do is visit the stunning temples of Angkor.

The temples of Angkor were once capital of the Khmer empire from about 800 AD to 1431 AD when they were abandoned due to aggression from the Thais and lack of water and other resources. They laid hidden in the jungle for five hundred years, all the while being slowly consumed by nature. At the end of the 19th century the French came across the ruins and began mapping them out and restoring them. Restoration is still underway.

It is impossible to convey the scale and grandeur of these ruins, but this might help to put it in perspective:

  • We spent three whole days at the the temples and we didn’t even see a fraction of them
  • Angkor Wat (the name of one of the temples) means “temple that is a city.” The moat around it is 2.2 miles long
  • Angkor Wat is the largest religious building in the world
  • During the height of the Khmer empire, over one million people lived and worked in Angkor. London, on the other hand, had a population of 50,000

We started our visit by going to Angkor Wat at 5:00 AM to see the sunrise. We hired a guide for the first day which turned out to be a smart move. Our guide was knowledgable, friendly, and spoke English well.

Sunrise at Angkor
Angkor Wat, the crowning jewel of the Angkor temples, at sunrise

We really liked the murals at Angkor Wat, especially the one titled The Churning of the Sea of Milk. It is a Hindu creation story where all the gods and all the demons use a giant snake and a giant mountain to stir up the celestial sea and create the world.

Churning of the Sea of Milk
The Churning of the Sea of Milk. The carvings on this bas relief were amazing. The whole mural is over 200 feet.

Bantaey Srie is another famous temple. It’s name means “Temple of Women.” Local legend is that the temple was built by women because the carvings are so exquisite that no man could have made them.

Bantay Srei
Amazing details at Bantaey Srei
Bangaey Srie
Bantaey Srie is well preserved and has very fine decorations

Ta Phrom is the quintessential temple in the jungle. It was also the setting for the movie “Tomb Raider.”

Strangler Fig
A Strangler Fig takes over the doorway at Ta Phrom
Fire house at Ta Phrom
The fire house at Ta Phrom
Ta Phrom
The jungle is slowly reclaiming the temple of Ta Phrom

We really enjoyed Preah Khan which is a smaller temple that has been taken over by the jungle. It wasn’t too crowded so it we had the place to ourselves. It was really magical to wander around these ancient ruins in silence with the late afternoon light streaming through and the jungle enveloping you from all sides.

Preah Khan
Mythical lions and serpents still guard the ruins of Preah Khan
Jenny and a tree
It was very hot in Angkor. Jenny rests under a tree that has taken over this wall.

We hired a tuk-tuk for the other two days of our visit because the temples are so massive it just wasn’t possible to walk between them. Here are some other images from around the complex.

Bayon
The temple of Bayon has 37 faces carved on its towers. The all stare down at you with a smirk while you walk through. Click to see a bigger image.
Face at Bayon
Closer view of a face in Bayon
David at the library
David sitting on the steps of a library at Angkor Wat
Face at Angkor Thom
A face watching as you enter Angkor Thom

The temples of Angkor are a pretty unique and magical place. They can be very hot and over crowded at times, but absolutely worth a visit.

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