Having spent a few days relaxing on Cambodia’s southern beaches, it was time to get back to some serious sightseeing. What better place than the northwestern town of Siem Reap which is the gateway to the world famous ruins Angkor, formally a vast city of the ancient Khmer empire between the 9th – 15th centuries. Angkor’s vast complex of intricate stone buildings is dominated by Cambodia’s prime attraction; Angkor Wat which is the main temple which is pictured on Cambodia’s flag. Originally built as a Hindu temple during the Khmer Empire, the temple was gradually transformed into a Buddhist place of worship.
Lonely Planet tells me that the temple of Angkor Wat is the largest religious structure in the world, despite its size and the hundreds of other temples that exist in the surrounding jungle, it’s the delicate and detailed nature of the thousands of engravings that cover the temple walls that really amazed me. The effort to create such images with primitive hand held tools is hard to comprehend.
As you explore the Angkor Wat complex you’ll notice large lakes and lagoons, many of which are enormous man-made moats; such as the one that surrounds the temple of Angkor Thom. The bridge that crosses the moat to the gate of Angkor Thom cannot be missed if you are visiting as it’s an iconic landmark. Angkor Thom is known as the temple with 216 mysterious faces carved into the Bayon temple. There is even the option to ride an elephant around the temples near Angkor Thom which looks like a great way to experience these ancient wonders with these majestic animals. This was the first time I had seen an elephant up close; their eyes seemed so alive compared to their lumbering bodies.
The temple of Ta Keo is one of the first to be built by the Khmers and measuring 122m by 106m is bigger than it appears in pictures. When I visited you were able to climb the steps of Ta Keo which is a unique experience considering the temples age and significance.
The Ta Prohm temple which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List is largely in the same condition as it was found with trees growing out of the ruins making it one of the most popular temples in within the Angkor complex. Ta Prohm rose to popular fame as it was the temple featured in the Tomb Raider movie with Lara Croft. It’s a crazier sight in real life, you’re expecting to see Indian Jones running through the temples corridors at any minute. Many of the temples such as Ta Prohm are slowly undergoing stabilization and restoration work.
From Siem Reap, it’s a 13 hour bus ride (including my second border crossing by foot) along Cambodia’s dirt roads and Thailand’s expressways to Bangkok’s Th Khao San Rd, the heart of international backpacking and the infamous Tuk Tuk.