If you want to make the most out of your Angkor Archaeological Park visit you should spend at least three days exploring the area. There’s no question that Angkor temples complex is something of a spiritual hub.
One of the best things about visiting the Angkor Temples is having the time to read, to sit down, to reflect, and to allow yourself to picture each temple and each ruin in the ancient Khmer city that once stood on that site.
After visiting Angkor Wat our guide Tes Chhaya took us to the main park road into Angkor Thom, passing through the South Gate. We were greeted by fascinating giant faces having different expressions – smiling, serene, serious, angry, scary, etc. The left side is lined up with 54 figures of gods and opposite right side with the same numbers of demons.
Another much-loved temple on the tourist trail, Bayon is best known for the huge faces carved into the stone towers. Although small in comparison to Angkor Wat, this sacred building is much more condensed. It was built in the late 12th- and early-13th-century as the official state temple of King Jayavarman VII. Huge restoration work has since taken place, and is ongoing, so expect to clamber over stones and through dark, narrow passages to see it all.
The giant stone faces of Bayon have become one of the most recognisable images connected to classic Khmer art and architecture. These faces, dubbed the ‘Mona Lisa of South East Asia’ came in sets of four, each identical, and pointing to a cardinal direction.
Don’t miss a photo spot where you can take a picture that looks like your nose tip touches the nose tip of the face sculpture!
Travel Tips: Arrive at the park in the afternoon. Many people start their days around 9am and leave the park shortly after lunch, meaning the crowds always die down around mid-afternoon.
The Temple is surrounded by two long walls bearing an extraordinary collection of bas-relief scenes of legendary and historical events. In all, there are total of more than 11,000 carved figures over 1.2km of wall.
Exploring Angkor Thom can take a few hours, leaving you exhausted. And here good opportunity to grab top views of these amazing temple ruins by riding an elephant. An elephant ride is a great way to soak up the atmosphere under the shade of the huge trees and also offers a different view on the temple.
It was first experience for my wife, and immediately, the elephant became embedded in her heart. Well, I would like to mention the way the elephants are treated was incredible: they start operating in the morning until about 11.00 am and restart at 3.30 pm to give animals some time to chill out during those crazy hot hours.
Another favourite with visitors, Ta Prohm was flung into the limelight when Angelina Jolie was filmed amid the dramatic, root-ravaged walls for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. One of Angkor’s oldest temples, Ta Prohm is said to be the first built entirely of sandstone and features a five-tiered pyramid with steep staircases on each side. With many of the ruins consumed by the roots of towering trees, this temple is by far one of the most magnificent.
Travel Tips: Remember to bring a lot of water and keep yourself hydrated, take frequent breaks by sitting down to admire the views and take in the significance of the park. Wear comfortable foot wear and be careful not to slip while climbing up and down the stairs.
After the fall of the Kmer Empire in the 15th century, Ta Prohm fell into despair. For hundreds of years, the temple was swallowed up by the Cambodian jungle. Trees began grow from the tops of the walls, and as they got bigger, they began to topple the stone walls. These ancient trees, with their invasive, gigantic rots, is what adds to the beauty and the mystery of Ta Prohm.
Going through an authentic Cambodian floating village is a real treat for those who have never seen similar things before!
We took a boat up the river that slowed down around crocodile cages, lotus fields, and mangrove forests. You’ll see the local community preparing buckets of rice directly over a campfire, children paddling their way to school and even a solar powered bar. The river that passes the village ends at Tonle Sap lake which is the largest fresh water lake in South East Asia.
It is a one-of-a-kind experience to see what life is like over water – the local residents were busy doing laundry, cooking or fishing on top of their wooden boats. Pigs, cats, and chickens lived inside paddle boats floating around.
More than 5,800 residents of a village live surrounded by water, but don’t have enough access to clean water for drinking, cooking, and washing. Some villagers are using chemical treatment to purify the water but some villagers drink water that hasn’t even been boiled. I believe those who take the risk to drink Tonle Sap water should be paying a high price with diarrhea and other diseases, as brown, muddy and polluted water doesn’t look suitable for daily use.
Hopefully the local government and civil society will take an action to decrease the risks to residents in these otherwise idyllic floating villages.
A large percentage of Cambodia’s population lives below the poverty line. However, even being very poor, the people always smile and have fun with each other on their own way.
We loved our time in Cambodia and are already planning a return trip.
Photography © Gurcan Sarisoy