Temples of Angkor, Part I

The bus ride to Siem Reap was pretty uncomfortable and excessively long, but looking at the road, it’s probably for the best that we didn’t bike. The roads in Cambodia are similar to those in Laos, but less scenic and with a lot more traffic. Siem Reap is a town just a few km south of Angkor Wat, the biggest tourist attraction so far on our trip.

Wikipedia can surely better explain the history of the temples of Angkor, but as far as I understand, the temples were built between the 9th and 13th centuries by the kings of the Khmer Empire. The first temples were Hindu, and later temples are Buddhist, although a lot of the Hindu imagery in the earlier temples was later scratched out and replaced. As Cambodians are fond of pointing out, the Khmer Empire once covered not only present day Cambodia, but also large parts of what is now Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The Angkor area was once the centre of the Khmer Empire, although the wooden houses and public buildings have since decayed and only the stone temples remain. There are at least 50 of these ancient temples in the area around Siem Reap, with even more scattered further afield.

It is quite a daunting task sifting through all the information about the temples and deciding which ones to go to, and when, and how to get there. Not twelve hours after arriving in Siem Reap on the bus we found ourselves hiring bicycles to cycle around the huge park dotted with ruined temples that makes up the present Angkor Complex. Pretty ridiculous. We saw about 15 temples while we were in Siem Reap, some of them truly incredible. The most atmospheric were those that have been partially swallowed by the jungle, such as Beng Mealea and Ta Prohm, but all were impressive for their scale and craftsmanship.

Beng Mealea is about 70 km away from Siem Reap, so on our second day we hired tuktuk/remork for the day to take us there. It was a long journey, but well worth it, as this was our favorite temple, partly crumbled, but still retaining its shape, with some sections perfectly preserved. The jungle has become so entangled with the building than it some areas its unclear if the trees are pulling the stones down or holding them together. It was one of the quietest temples we visited, and the staff there actively encouraged scrambling amongst the fallen stones. Probably not great for preservation, but a lot of fun.

We saved Angkor Wat itself for the last day, along with a few other big temples, more on those later.

The first half of our pictures have also been uploaded in the pictures section.

~ by Elephants on February 11, 2011.

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