Cambodia is a country of extremes. On one side there is an abundance of expensive up-market hotels and resorts around Siem Reap catering for al needs of demanding western visitors. On the other hand the rest of the country is still trying to raise from the dark period of the Khmer Rouge regime, corruption is a way of life, land mine victims are on every corner of the street, healthcare is extremely sub-standard, life expectancy is 57 years and poverty is visible everywhere.
Siem Reap is actually quite a pleasant touristy town with many inexpensive good restaurants serving traditional Khmer food – Amok fish was our favorite, internet access and many good bars. Above all it is the base to explore the ancient temples of Angkor, the capital of the Khmer empire. That’s what the tourists come for.
The largest temple, Angkor Wat is the biggest religious building in the world and there are hundreds of temples that have survived to the present day. It’s easy to spend as long as a week visiting the temples, but we only had 3 days, so we decided to concentrate on the key ones and due to the distance between the temples we rented a tuk-tuk with a driver to show us around. The driver, Pilo, was very helpful and friendly, but unfortunately his English was limited.
On the first day we did the small circuit, covering the most important temples. On the second day we followed the big circuit, getting to some of the more remote places, including Banteai Srei. On our final day we took a side trip to see the Rolous group of temples and stopped at a local handicraft center and the land mines museum.
Below you can see some of our favorite temples:
Angkor Wat – the mother of all temples and the largest religious building in the world, measuring 1.3km by 1.5km. It was built in the 11th century to honor the Hindu god Vishnu. Located at the center of the temple and rising to 55 meters tower represents Mount Meru, the Hindu house of gods.
Bayon – the strangest of the Angkor temples, located in the center of the Angkor Thom city. Built at the beginning of the 12th century by the Angkor greatest king, Jayavarman VII. The most striking features are the unique 54 gothic towers decorated with 216 coldly smiling faces of Avalokiteshvara.
Ta Prohm – the most atmospheric ruin of Angkor, the temple is swallowed by the jungle and has been largely left as it was originally discovered by the European explorers. This is the location of the original Tomb Raider movie.
Banteay Srei – a jewel in the crown of the Angkorian art. One of the smallest temples, but beautifully preserved with many detailed three-dimensional carvings. The temple was built in the 10th century and is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and includes some of the finest stone carvings in the world.
After seeing the ancient architecture in Athens and Rome there are few other archeological sites that can really impress us but Angkor definitely turned out to be absolutely stunning. One could easily spend a week exploring the temples and still not be able to see all of them in detail. No picture can truly represent the magnitude of any of the temples. Unfortunately our time was limited and we’ve been able to see the main temples, but little else of Cambodia. It seems like a fascinating country and we hope we will have a chance to return in future.