No visit to Cambodia is complete without a trip to Siem Reap to visit the temples of Angkor. As such, most of my trip to Cambodia has revolved around the temples here and fully immersing myself in one of the most well-known UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Quick History: The temples of Angkor were built between the 9th and 14th centuries by the Khmer Empire, who controlled a significant portion of the region at that time. Scholars have concluded that Angkor was the largest preindustrial city in the world, covering at least 1,000 square kilometers http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor and containing over 1 million inhabitants. For more on Angkor, check out the Wikipedia article. I learned so much here that is not taught in high school history class.
I decided to opt for a 3 day pass ($40) and see the temples slowly and deliberately. In the interest of preventing an unbearably long post on the temples, I’ll just go through my favorites.
1) Ta Prohm: This temple is famous largely because of it’s appearance in Tomb Raider. It was built in the 12th and 13th centuries and is really interesting primarily because of the jungle that has grown up and around the temple. This is the kind of place you think of when you think of long lost temples. It was my favorite at Angkor! Insanely photogenic!
2) Bayon: Bayon is awesome. From afar, it looks like a giant pile of rubble. However, when you get closer you realize that the rubble is actually a LOT of faces carved into stone-216 gigantic faces to be exact. This is one of the most famous temples of Angkor and definitely takes some time to really absorb it all.
3) Preah Khan: Preah Khan is less visited than some of the other major temples at Angkor, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good place to see. I really enjoyed this temple because it was quite large and there was a lot to explore. Also, there were many trees that have made their way into the temple, which makes it all the more photogenic.
4) Banteay Srei: Banteay Srei is outside the main Angkor complex-about 35 kilometers away to be exact. With the help of my bicycle and some excellent hitchhiking skills, I made it out to visit this remote temple. The temple isn’t nearly as large as some of the other ones, but the intricacy in the carvings is unrivaled. This was probably the most beautiful temple I saw.
5) Angkor Wat: The Mack Daddy of temples. This is the largest religious monument in the world. This is the reason people go to see the temples at Angkor. I arrived to see it at sunrise (5:00 am), and it didn’t disappoint. This is a definitely a must-see.
In addition to the temples above, I saw another 15-20 temples in the Angkor complex. At some point, they all start to blend together despite their vast differences. It’s quite a lot to process. I have no idea how some people manage to do the entire thing in one day. However, if you only have one day to see the temples of Angkor, this appears to be a pretty good plan (though a bit tiring!). I took the liberty of posting some pictures of other temples in the slideshow below. I also posted them on my Facebook page. Enjoy!