Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) Destination Guide
Cambodia is described by travelers as "The Land of
Temples". However, Cambodians prefer to call it, “A
World of Treasures". Whatever it is, it enjoys a distinctively
colorful and rich culture with the magnificent ANGKOR WAT,
a world heritage treasure attracting visitors from all over
the globe. Cambodia possesses a remarkable range of scenic
beauty with varying climatic conditions. Whatever your interests
may be, you will surely find this country to be "A
World of Treasures" indeed.
Visitors can travel to Siem Reap either on regular domestic
flights, overland or by speedboat along the magnificent
Tonle Sap to explore new cultures, meeting local fisherman
in their floating villages and tasting ethnic food fares.
Angkor Temples are spread throughout the forest. Heading
north from Siem Reap, you first came to Angkor Wat, then
the walled city of Angkor Thom. Further east are temples
including Ta Prohm North of Angkor Thom is Preah Kahn and
way beyond in the north-east, Banteay Srey and Phnom Kulen.
The Angkor Wat Temple, the mysterious Hindu Temple built
by King Suryavarman II at the height of the Khmer Empire
in the 12th century is the world's largest temple complex.
Consists of many sandstone temples, chapels, causeways,
terraces and reservoirs, it is believed that the gods assisted
the architectwhose identity remains a mystery until today.
The walls of the temple are covered with thousands of carving
depicting scenes of confrontations between the gods and
the demons of classical Hindu mythology. Yet on some are
genial-dancing ladies known as "Apsara" and on
others depicting royal processions with the king and other
royalties riding on elephants. Whatever it is, the carvings
are clearly masterpieces in the true sense. There is much
about Angkor Wat that is unique among the temples of Angkor.
The most significant point is its westward orientation.
West is symbolically the direction of death, which once
led many scholars to conclude that Angkor Wat was primary
a tomb. This was supported by the fact that the magnificent
bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat were designed to be viewed in
an anticlockwise direction, a practice which has antecedents
in Hindu funerary rites. Vishnu, however, is often associated
with the west , and it is commonly accepted nowadays that
Angkor Wat was probably both a temple and a mausoleum for
The fortified city of Angkor Thom, some 10sq km in extent,
was built by Angkor's greatest King, Jayavarman VII (ruled
1181-1201). Centered on Baphuon, Angkor Thom is enclosed
by a square wall 8m high and 12km in length and encircled
by moat 100m wide, said to have been inhabited by fierce
crocodiles. The city has five monumental gates, one each
in the north, west and south walls and two in the east wall.
In front of each gate stand giant statues of 54 gods (to
the left of the causeway) and 54 demons (to the right of
the causeway), a motif taken from the story of the Churning
of the Ocean of Milk illustrated in the famous bas-relief
at Angkor Wat. In the center of the walled enclosure are
the city's most important monuments, including the Bayon,
the Baphuon, the Royal Enclosure, Phimeanakas and the Terrace
The Bayon takes an easy second place after Angkor Wat. The
smile of the four-faced Bayon has become a world-recognized
symbol of Cambodia. The towering faces, reaching up to four
meters in height, adorn the Bayon Temple at the exact center
of Angkor Thom in Siem Reap. As many as 216 faces on the
54 remaining towers, each represented one province of Khmer
empire in the ancient time. The Bayon is now known to have
been built by Jayavarman VII . There is still much mystery
associated with the Bayon - its exact function and symbolism
- and this seems only appropriate for a monument whose signature
is an enigmatically smiling face.
The temple of Ta Prohm rates with Angkor Wat and the Bayon
as one of the most popular attractions of Angkor. Ta Prohm
is a unique other-world experience. The temple is cloaked
in dappled shadow, its crumbling towers and walls locked
in the slow muscular embrace of vast root systems. If Angkor
Wat, the Bayon and other temples are testimony to the genius
of the Angkor-period Khmers, Ta Prohm reminds us equally
of the awesome fecundity and power of the jungle. Built
in approximately 1186, Ta Prohm was a Buddhist temple dedicated
to the mother of jayavarman VII. Ta Prohm is a temple of
towers, close courtyards and narrow corridors. Many of the
corridors are impassable, clogged with jumbled piles of
delicately carved stone blocks dislodged by the roots of
long-decayed trees. Bas-reliefs on bulging walls are carpeted
by lichen, moss and creeping plants, and shrubs sprout from
the roofs of monumental porches. Trees, hundreds of years
old - some supported by flying buttresses - tower overhead,
their leaves filtering the sunlight and casting a greenish
pall over the whole scene.
The Baphuon, a pyramidal representation of mythical Mt Meru,
is 200m north - west of the Bayon. It was constructed by
Udayadityavarman II (reigned 1049-65) and marked the center
of the city that existed before the construction of Angkor
Thom. The Baphuon is in pretty poor shape and at the time
of writing, it was being restored by a French team, with
much of the temple marked off-limits. It is approached by
a 200m elevated walkway made of sandstone. The central structure
is 43m high, but unfortunately its submit has collapsed
(it may be restored). On the west side of the temple, the
remaining wall of the second level was fashioned-apparently
in the 15th century into a reclining Buddha 40m in length.
Terrace of Elephants
The 350m-long Terrace of Elephants was used as a giant reviewing
stand for public ceremonies as well as a base for the king's
grand audience hall. The Terrace of Elephants has five extending
towards the Center Square, three in the center and one at
each end. The middle section of the retaining wall is decorated
with life-size garudas and lions; towards either end are
the two parts of the famous parade of elephants.
The temple of Preah Khan (Sacred Sword) is a good counterpoint
to Ta Prohm, though it gets far fewer visitors. Preah Khan
was built by Jayavarman VII (it may have served as his temporary
residence while Angkor Thom was being built), and like Ta
Prohm it is a place of towered enclosures and shoulder-hugging
corridors. The central sanctuary of the temple was dedicated
in 1191, Preah Khan's role as a center for worship and learning.
Preah Khan cover a very large area, but the temple itself
is within a rectangular enclosing wall of around 700m by
800m. Four processional walkways approach the gates of the
temple, and these are bordered by gods carrying a serpent,
as in the approach to Angkor Thom. From the central sanctuary,
four long vaulted galleries extend in the cardinal directions.
Many of the interior walls of Preah Khan were once coated
with plaster held in place by holes in the stone.
Sras Srang (Pool of Ablution) is a basin of earlier construction,
measuring 800m by 400m. A tiny island in the middle once
bore a wooden temple, of which only the stone base remains.
There is a mass grave of hundreds of victims of the Khmer
Rouge further north of Sras Srang on the other side of the
road . It is marked by a wooden memorial.