Angkor Wat Tour Review
3 Days in Angkor Temples
After complimentary breakfast at our hotel just outside Siem Reap we head out in a minivan to Angkor Thom, 'The Great City', built by King Jayavarman VII in the 12th century ('Angkor' is Khmer for 'city'). It's not too far away from town and is quite an impressive place at 10sqk with five monumental gates and a 100-metre wide moat plus surrounding walls.
Here, we visit the Terrace of Elephants, the Terrace of the Leper King and Phimeanakas (the Celestial Palace) with the Royal Enclosure. Fascinating stuff and, like the pyramids of Egypt or Machu Picchu in Peru, Angkor really asks more questions that it answers.
This tour is so rich in cultural gems that it's really worthwhile taking a video camera along with you. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1992, the whole city of Angkor is something you will never, never forget. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The Bayon - Jayavarman's Temple
We are then taken to Bayon, Jayavarman's temple in the centre of the 'city'. It features many complicated and exquisite bas-reliefs with scenes depicting land and naval warfare, market scenes and others depicting the construction of the temple itself. Scholars agree that the uniform shape of the faces throughout the temple depict a likeness of the king himself.
This is one of Angkor's most popular locations and is rich in historical pickings. It's also quite strenuous as the tour involves lots of narrow corridors, steep flights of stairs and towers and we can't help thinking of Lara Croft in 'Tomb Raider' but luckily there is no huge six-armed Brahman guardian statue to fight off...
Our next stop is at Baphuon, just to the northwest of the Bayon. Its pyramid shape represents the mythical Hindu Mount Meru and marks the center of the city that was here before Angkor Thom. It's seriously big and only Angkor Wat itself is larger than Baphuon. A lot of it has collapsed in on itself because of hasty and over-ambitious planning and building a millennium ago but it still is a hugely impressive sight and not a little scary to see the crocodiles in the moat.
The 'anastylosis' method used in restoring the Roman theatre of Cartagena, the temples of Petra in Jordon and Vietnam's My Son is being considered here but it will be a big job, considering there are some 300,000 pieces of carved stone to put back together. This has taken all day and, except for lunch, we have not stopped so it's a relief to finally settle in on the upper layers of the temple to watch the sun set over the beautiful Cambodian countryside then drive back to the hotel. What a day it's been; both exhausting and exhilarating.
Angkor Wat is a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu by King Suryavarman II, who reigned between 1131 and 1150. In those days Indian cultural and religious influence was strong in Southeast Asia and like almost all the temples in Angkor it was originally Hindu and was 'converted' to Buddhism later on. It took over 30 years and thousands of pairs of hands to build and is world famous for its beauty and for having the longest continuous bas-relief in the world, which runs along the outer gallery walls, narrating stories from Hindu mythology.
This temple is the most photographed of all Angkor's holy places and is instantly recognisable because of its centrally located quincunx of towers. It's also unique as it is the only western-facing temple in Angkor. All the others face the east.
This temple comes as a complete surprise because it's pretty much the only building in Angkor that has not been reclaimed from the jungle. As a result, it's like stepping back in time to when the first Western explorers 'discovered' Angkor. Huge silk cotton trees and strangler figs grow over and through the buildings, their roots like solidified lava and the effect is almost scary when we consider the power of Nature.
You can see just why this temple is one of the most popular of Angkor's many fabulous sights as it is eminently photogenic. Indeed, this was the only temple in 'Tomb Raider' that was faithfully replicated. I guess this means that you can't improve on this place for atmosphere.
Banteay Srei Temple
After lunch and a 25km drive, we visit this distinctive-looking temple made out of red sandstone. Sandstone is ideal carving material and this makes Banteay Srei Temple a popular place as its intricate carvings are a wonder to behold.
Built in the late 10th century, it was originally a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva and its diminutive size as well as the many carved female figures has led many scholars to speculate whether it was built by women labourers. After all, 'Banteay Srei' translates as 'citadel of women'.