Siem Reap is the gateway to Angkor Archaeological Park (5.5km north), which includes the priceless architectural wonder of antiquity – Angkor Wat. The park covers a 40000-hectare area known as Angkor that was once the capital city of the ancient Khmer Empire. Angkor Wat is just one of the temples within the park and it’s name also mean Temple City. It’s the world’s largest temple complex and religious monument that was constructed for the Khmer Empire.
It’s architecture was heavily influenced by Hinduism at its inception but saw a gradual transformation to Buddhism toward the end of the 12th century. When this empire collapsed in the 15th century, most of the majestic Angkor Wat fell into ruins as well, until its eventual restoration after being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ever since, tourists have been pouring in from all corners of the world to explore this ancient city.
As such, it’s only fair to impose an entrance fee on all visitors. We purchased a one-day pass that costed us US$20 each as we were super confident we could finish exploring the entire complex in a day. You can also choose to have the three-day (US$40) or seven-day (US$60) pass, if you have more time on your side.
A tuk tuk ride from Siem Reap, throughout Angkor Wat and back to Siem Reap would cost us US$10 after some haggling. That’s a pretty good deal, I would say. But on the other hand, if you’re not constrained by money, you can also try the hot air balloon. This will save you a lot of time, but you’re definitely going to miss seeing details of the temples. Though you can cycle to and fro; and within Angkor Wat, I’d personally not recommend it as the heat itself might dehydrate your body and cause severe lethargy (Tip: don’t forget to bring along a hat, sunglasses, umbrella and drinking water – you can also buy these items from the stalls within the park).
It’s the world’s largest temple complex and religious monument…
You have a choice to follow the small circuit or the grand circuit for your tour of the archaeological park depending on how interested you are in archaeology. Some people tend to get bored after seeing just a few monuments but others just can’t get enough of what Angkor has to offer. As for us, we decided to go on the grand circuit as we wanted to maximise our time exploring this park.
Needless to say, the first structure which we stopped by was Angkor Wat. Its main complex is surrounded by a moat that is traversed by a causeway, also known as Rainbow Bridge. The entire layout of this complex somewhat recreates the image of Mount Meru, the abode of Hindu gods. I was completely blown away with the many bas-reliefs as I wasn’t really prepared for this great sight. Each section of the bas-relief depicts scenes of battles between gods and demons, taken particularly from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
When we were there, some restoration and conservation works by UNESCO were in progress. I suppose this will be an ongoing process as restoring and conserving such a colossal archaeological site is by no means an easy feat.
Our next destination was Angkor Thom, the last capital of the Khmer Empire that’s built in a square and surrounded by a moat. It was a fortified city with residences of priest, officials of the palace and military, as well as buildings for administering the kingdom. At its centre is Bayon which is flanked by more than twenty lesser towers and several hundred stone chambers. It’s well-known for its large number of gigantic faces sculpted on its towers, a tad bit like the Giant moai statues of Easter Island.
We then proceeded to the adjacent Terrace Of The Elephants, a part of the walled city of Angkor Thom. It was used as the king’s platform, from which he viewed his victorious returning army Today, a huge part of it is in ruins today.
Up next would be Baphuon, Terrace Of The Leper King, Royal Enclosure, Prasat Suor Prat, Preah Palilay, Preah Pitu, Preah Khan, Ta Prohm, East Mebon and many other monuments. I was extremely impressed with the water and irrigation system in Angkor, which speaks volumes of its advanced technology in that era. Oh, and not forgetting the temple ruins that are overgrown with huge roots! Anyway, I’d prefer to let the pictures tell the story of the remaining monuments that we explored. Hope you enjoy them…
We spent almost 6 hours at the park, raiding the lost temples and searching for treasures that were lost in the mists of time. It was a fulfilling adventure that we will remember for a long time to come. That evening we indulged in the much-needed body massage after an exhausting day of exploration.
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