My trusty guidebook tells me that Angkor, just outside of Siem Reap, was the home of the Khmer Empire between 9th and 15th Century. When the population moved South, they abandoned the beautiful temples that they had built, and what remains has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site and must-see for any visitor to Cambodia.
If I’m honest, my history is a little rusty – and knowledge of South East Asian history very rusty indeed. But you don’t need to be a history buff to enjoy visiting the temples of Angkor, the architecture in itself is stunning, and the scope of the complex seriously impressive.
Apparently there are around 1000 temples there, ranging from small piles of bricks to the formidable Angkor Wat, but it’s best just to choose a few to visit. We spent half a day at the temples, and visited 4: Angkor Wat, Bayon, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm. To some people it may be shocking that we did them this quickly, but really it depends on whether you want to know all of the background or just to wander around and explore for yourself. We chose the latter.
Angkor Wat is the biggest of all the temples, and fairly iconic. It has lots of great vantage points and beautiful carvings, and is many people’s first stop. Make sure you check out the little market nearby on your way out.
Ta Prohm is best known for being the location of films including Lara Croft and Indiana Jones. It’s a much smaller temple which has been domineered by nature. Tree roots have become part of the walls and foundations, growing stealthily along the stone and even out of the top of several sections. It’s mesmerising and oh-so-mysterious.
Bayon is instantly recognisable for the large heads at the top. You have to climb quite a few stairs to get up there, and it’s hard going, but seriously worth it. It’s one of the most beautiful and you do feel like you’ve been transported to another world.
And then finally Angkor Thom. You can tell that I was shattered by this point as I hardly took any photos… 🙂 It was a beautiful temple with a huge ‘terrace’ along what was the elephant’s park. Yes, you heard me right. The elephants were free to roam in the park when they weren’t needed for the game of elephant golf… I kid you not.
As you can see, a truly beautiful place. It’s easy to get complacent once you’ve been wandering around for a while, but actually it’s amazing when you stop and think just how old these structures are. I can just imagine when the first person discovered them, buried deep in the jungle. It’s wonderful to see them restored and to have the chance to visit. If you’re ever in this part of the world, you must try and get there, it’s a once in a lifetime!
Have you been to Angkor before? What did you think? Or are you now tempted to put Cambodia on your bucket list?