Siem Reap, meaning ‘the defeat of Siam’, is the centre of all tourism in Cambodia. Nearby is the Angkor Archaeological Park where there are of over 50 temple ruins – the once capitals of the Empire of Angkor.
From 835 AD to 1307 AD the Empire of Angkor, also known as the Khmer Empire, ruled much of South East Asia including what is now Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and much of Vietnam. Angkor was the capital city at the centre of the empire and at its centre was a grand temple. When a new king took control of the empire he would often establish a new capital nearby and build a grand temple at its centre. Over time there were many such cities and central temples built.
While most of the earlier temples were constructed using sandstone, later temples were built from less long-lasting materials. Most of these temples have long since disappeared. Like the ruins of the Mayans in Central America, Angkor is thought to have been abandoned because of drought and a lack of water in the region.
Built between 1113 AD and 1150 AD, Angkor Wat, at 1.5 km by 1.3 km, is the largest religious monument ever to have been built. Meaning ‘City Pagoda’, the temple grounds housed an entire city and while the other temples in the region were abandoned over the years, Angkor Wat remained in use.
Angkor Wat is made up of concentric galleries found in most Khmer temples that lead to a main central temple. Each concentric gallery is built taller than the previous one to form a pyramid, another typical Khmer structural design. The Angkor Wat temple is surrounded by a wide moat with only two causeways leading into it.
Angkor Wat is a major Hindu temple designed to resemble Mount Meru in Northern India, the home of the Hindu gods. It has five main towers to represent the five main peeks of the sacred mountain.
Built around 1200 AD, Angkor Thom, meaning ‘Great City’, was the largest and the last of the Angkor capital cities.
At the four entry points to the city there is a face-tower gate representing the Hindu God Brahma. At the centre of Angkor Thom is the Bayon Temple.
Built around 1200 AD as the temple at the centre of Angkor Thom, it is thought to be one of the most powerful religious structures ever built.
The temple is very complex and is thought to have been reworked several times since its creation. There were 49 distinct towers, most with the four faces of Brahma built into them. They were arranged in ever higher tiers to create a stone mountain.
Built around 1186 AD as a monastery temple, it was dedicated to King Jayavarman VII’s mother.
While many of the temples in the region were reassembled, La Prohm was left in its natural state with only a minimal amount of work done to prevent further collapse. The ruins are said to have a romantic atmosphere because of the intertwining trees growing through the structure.
Built around 1200 AD its name means ‘Citadel of Many Chambers’.
It was constructed over another temple built 200 years earlier and has been left in its ruined stated.
Dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu, the small structure was built in 921 AD.
The name means ‘Cardamom Sanctuary’ after a tree that once stood in the compound.
Built in 961 AD by the then King Rajendravarman as the centre of his capital city.
Pre Rup means ‘turning the body’ and is a cremation rite where the ashes of the dead are rotated at certain times during the ceremony. After the king’s death, the capital was moved back to Angkor.
Constructed around 1130 AD its main tower is the same as those at Angkor Wat although it has many similarities to temples of northern Thailand.
East Mebon temple is known as the Elephant Temple because of the several elephant statues around the structure.
It was built as an island on the now dry East Baray, a water reservoir measuring 7.5 kilometres by 1.8 kilometres.
This small temple is said to be a miniature version of Ta Prohm or Banteay Kdei temples. It is known as Gaurasrigajaratna – the Jewel of the Propitious White Elephant.
Near Poan is a small monument at the centre of a large pond, which is at the centre of a further four smaller ponds.
Build in the late 12th century it was built on an island in a water reservoir. It is speculated to represent a sacred Himalayan lake said to hold healing waters with four rivers running from it.
This large temple was also a Buddhist university with more than a thousand teachers.
It was said to have been built on a lake of blood, the site of a major battle to recapture Angkor from the Cham empire, where the Cham King was slain.
Pub Street and Night Markets
One day is just not enough to see all the temple ruins, and even in two days I only saw 13 of the 53. But after two days out on a tuk-tuk in the heat and intense humidity I was templed out.
At night Siem Reap lights up around two main areas, Pub Street and the Night Markets. You can tell when you’re in the area because of the large neon signs announcing them. Overall, it’s very touristic with many restaurants, bars and markets.
Next, it’s time to leave Cambodia and head back to Thailand.
The Lone Trail Wanderer