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Angkor


A visit to the temples of Angkor is a profound experience, as few sights on earth can match the majesty of Angkor Wat or the mysterious faces of the Bayon. The world-famous temples of Angkor are situated in the northwest province of Siem Reap. There are more than 1000 temples, built between the 9th and 13th centuries, and these remaining structures are the sacred skeleton of what was once the social, religious and administrative centre of the Khmer Empire.

The constant building projects undertaken by successive Khmer kings is on a similar scale to the construction of the pyramids by the ancient Pharaohs of Egypt. The Khmer rulers made use of a vast force of slave labour. Each new temple was made possible by the 750,000 people estimated to have lived at Angkor during the 12th and 13th centuries.

Despite the scores of temples that remain today, there is little evidence of the inhabitants of what was one of the biggest cities on earth in its time. This is because the people - from slaves to the King himself - lived in wooden structures, all of which have long-since vanished. Buildings of stone were reserved for the Gods.

Portuguese travellers are believed to have been the first Europeans to gaze in wonder at the temples of Angkor while exploring the region during the 16th Century. However, most of the credit for the "discovery" of Angkor has fallen to French botanist Henri Mouhot, whose visit to Angkor in 1860 was posthumously documented in Paris in 1868. During the remainder of the 19th Century and into the 20th Century, several French expeditions visited the temples and work was carried out to clear the jungle, which had enveloped most of the monuments.

In 1907, Thailand returned control of Angkor to Cambodia and in the same year the first tourists arrived. In the early days of tourism, visitors to Angkor followed one of two circuits to see the temples, the Little (Petit) Circuit or the Big (Grand) Circuit. Tours were often undertaken on the back of an elephant. Today things are different, and air-conditioned vehicles make the experience faster and more comfortable. Hanuman Tourism-Voyages can arrange anything from day trips around the principal monuments to one week itineraries that include lost temples in the jungle. See our Angkor Tours for more details.

 

Angkor Wat
There are few places on earth to match the splendors of Angkor Wat. The temple is the largest religious buildings ever constructed and is truly one of the wonders of the world. Believed to have been undertaken as a temple and mausoleum for King Suryavarman II at the peak of the Khmer empire in the first half of the 12th century, Angkor Wat is the best-preserved of the Angkorian temples. As with other Angkorian temples and walled cities such as Angkor Thom, the central theme of Khmer architecture revolved around the idea of the temple-mountain. By the time building on Angkor Wat was begun early in the 12th century, this had been elaborated to a central tower surrounded by four smaller towers. The central monument represents the mythical Mount Meru, the holy mountain at the centre of the universe, which was home to the Hindu god Vishnu.

The five towers symbolise Mount Meru's five peaks. It is difficult to express in words the enormous size of Angkor Wat, but it can be hinted at in part by a look at the scale of the complex. The temple is surrounded by a moat which makes the one around the Tower of London, built at roughly the same time, look like nothing more than a garden pond. At 190m wide and forming a rectangle 1.5km by 1.3km, it is hard to imaginzs around the walls of the outer gallery and the hundred figures of devadas and apsaras. This intricately carved gallery tells stories of the Hindu gods and of Suryavarman II's successes on the battlefield. A visit to Angkor Wat is the experience of a lifetime and will be cherished forever.

Phnom Bakheng
Dominating the flat landscape, this 10th Century mountain temple is the most popular spot in the area to watch a classic sunset over Angkor Wat and the surrounding forest.

Angkor Thom
This huge walled complex was the centre of the world’s largest city in 1200. The royal city was first built under the reign of Udayadityavarman II in the 11th Century. It was destroyed when the Chams from Cambodia invaded, sacking the city, and was subsequently rebuilt by King Jayavarman VII at the end of the 12th Century.Its vast walls, some 6m wide, 8m high and 13km in length contain many monuments.

The Bayon
Surrounded by faces on all sides, visitors never forget the Bayon. This symbolic temple mountain, built by Jayavarman VII, is situated in the centre of the city of Angkor Thom. It is a three-tiered pyramid with its entrance facing east. The central shrine is surrounded by 54 towers, all crowned by gigantic, enigmatic faces, representing Lokiteshvara, but withthe features of Jayavarman VII. They gaze out to the north, south, east and west. Unlike his predecessors who had worshipped the Hindu deities of Shiva and Vishnu, Jayavarman VII adopted Mahayana Buddhism as the fount of royal divinity. This sets the Bayon apart from many other Angkorian monuments.

The Baphuon
This perfect pyramidal temple, built by Udayadityarvarman II, was the most poorly constructed of all the temples in Angkor. From the remaining ruins, it is possible to see how imposing it was. This temple mount was dedicated to Shiva, but in its reliefs many motives from Vishnu’s life can be seen. Complexed work continues at the Baphuon to preserve it as a partial ruin complete with a huge reclining Buddha, added in the 16th Century.

Terrace of Elephant
Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of the Leper KingAt the North of the Baphuon lies the original royal city, of which very little remains. The first terrace owes its name to the outstanding depiction of elephants, and was used as a viewing gallery at royal events, while the second terrace takes its name from the magnificent sculpture of King Yasovarman, popularly known as the Leper King. The original of this statue is now in the National Museum

Ta Prohm
This temple is perhaps the most atmospheric of all Angkor’s treasures. The temple was a monastery built by Jayavarman VII as a residence for his mother. Ta Prohm has been left to the destructive power of nature by archaeologists to demonstrate the awesome power of nature. It has been largely consumed by the jungle and as you climb through the dilapidated stone structures you see many giant trees growing out of the top of the temple itself. At every turn you expect to see Indiana Jones or Lara Croft step out from behind a fallen pillar. It is one of the most regularly visited temples, with visitors often arriving during the middle of the day to take advantage of the protective forest canopy above the ruined temple. Ta Prohm looks as many of the monuments did when European explorers first laid eyes on them.

Preah Khan
Built in the same style as Ta Prohm, Preah Khan is a much better state of preservation. Meaning The Sacred Sword, this temple was also built by Jayavarman VII and is famous for its immensely long cruciform corridors and delicate carvings.

Ta Keo
King Suryavarman I commissioned this temple in the 10th Century, but it was never completed so has no elaborate decoration like its contemporaries. It is a pyramid on 5 levels and is dedicated to Shiva.

Banteay Kdei
This temple was constructed by Jayavarman VII during the 12th and 13th Centuries. Its system of galleries and vestibules that were added after the construction of the main towers makes it look like a cloister. It was built in sandstone, which has deteriorated quite badly. However, there remain some very beautiful lintels and pediments.

Sras Srang
This royal pool was the King's bathing pond, where he washed with his many concubines each day.

Pre Rup
This temple was built in the 10th Century by Rajendravarman.Pre Rup means turning the body and the Khmers believe this temple was used for cremations.

East Mebon
Also built in the 10th Century by Rajendravarman, this temple was situated on a small island in the middle of the Oriental, or Eastern, Baray.

Neak Poan
This temple is a delicate highlight of Khmer art. Built by Jayavarman VII, this temple is the perfect representation of the heavens on earth. It has been said that this monument was consecrated to Buddha who attained Nirvana, and the ornamental lakes surrounding it were meant as places where pilgrims could wash and purify themselves before reaching perfection. In the centre of these ornamental lakes there is a small temple surrounded by two nagas.

Banteay Samre
Thoroughly restored before the war, this delicate temple demonstrates how Angkor may have looked in its prime. It was built by Suryavarman II.

Phnom Krom
Built by Yasovarman I in the 10th Century, this temple sits atop a hill overlooking the Tonle Sap Lake. The temple is in very poor condition, but its ruins are worth visiting for views. This is the place for a quiet sunset.

Barays
The East and West Barays are two enormous reservoirs, both dug by hand. They were central to the health and vigour of Khmer civilisation. The East Baray is empty, while the Western one is half full, measuring 8km in length!

Roluos
Roluos was one of the earliest Angkor capitals, built by King Indravarman and originally called Hariharalaya. Today there are three Hindu sanctuaries: Preah Ko, Bakong and Lolei.
All three temples were built of brick and though they are not as spectacular as the other temples of Angkor, they are well preserved and worth a visit to offer the visitor a chronological perspective on the development of Angkor. Roluos is 11km east of Siem Reap on National Highway 6 to Phnom Penh

Banteay Srei
This jewel of Angkor was built by a Brahman in the 10th Century and dedicated to Shiva. The famous pink sandstone structure bears a series of exquisite sculptures, lintels and friezes. These, it is said, must have been carved by women as the detail is too fine for the hands of a man. This gives the origin of the Khmer name, Fortress of the Women. While it may be a small temple complex, the beauty of Banteay Srei is found not in the scale, but the detail. Many believe the intricate carving is the best example of Khmer classical art in existence.

Kbal Spean
Better known as the River of a Thousand Lingas, this is an area of riverbed carvings and lush jungle. There are several carvings of Hindu deities in the sandstone here, as well as thousands of lingas in the riverbed itself. This site was only ‘rediscovered’ in 1969 and is a tranquil place with an attractive waterfall. It is 50km north of Siem Reap.

Phnom Kulen
Phnom Kulen is considered by Khmer people to be the most sacred mountain in Cambodia and is a popular place of pilgrimage. It played a significant role in the history of the Khmer empire as it was from here in 802 AD that Jayarvarman II proclaimed independence from Java, giving birth to modern Cambodia. On the plateau, there is a large reclining Buddha carved into a sandstone boulder and beautiful views across the jungle. Nearby is a major waterfall and some riverbed carvings of the sort seen at Kbal Spean. For more adventurous visitors, there are many old temples scattered across the mountain, but these are tough to reach. Phnom Kulen is about 55km north-east of Siem Reap.

Boeung Mealea
This vast 12th Century temple was constructed by Suryavarman II in a similar design to his more famous creation, Angkor Wat. The temple has been completely swallowed by the jungle and is incredibly atmospheric. Beng Mealea is 70km north-east of Siem Reap on reasonable dirt roads.

Preah Vihear
This imposing mountain-top temple guards the border between Cambodia and Thailand. It sits 600m, above the Cambodian plains below, and many consider its location the most dramatic of all the Angkorian temples. Until recently, it was only really accessible by helicopter from the Cambodian side or from Thailand by road. However, it was closed to visitors from the Thai side in December 2001 and new roads are being constructed to plug it into the rest of Cambodia. One road is will link it to Tbeng Meanchey to the south and a second road will link it to Anlong Veng to the west offering a new loop between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

Koh Ker
This served as a capital for a short period in the 10th Century under Jayavarman IV, who seized the throne and transferred power here. Also know as Chok Gargyar, it has several huge temples in a pinkish sandstone as seen at Banteay Srei, inlcuding Prasat Thom and Prasat Krahom. It is very tough to reach and involves an overnight adventure from Siem Reap or a helicopter flight.

Preah Khan
This was once the second city of the Angkorian empire, and home to Jayavarman VII during his younger years. It is a vast complex including a small temple in the style of the Bayon, as well as small but beautiful Prasat Damrei (Elephant Temple). It is difficult to get to and involves an overnight adventure from Siem Reap or Phnom Penh, or a helicopter flight.

Banteay Chhmar
This temple is being developed to receive visitors and is a big complex meaning Narrow Fortress. It was badly looted in 1998, but efforts are now underway to preserve what remains. It is 160km northwest of Siem Reap and can now be done as a long day trip or two-day excursion.

 

Phnom Penh

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Cambodia Office : Bayon Heritage Travel & Tours Co., LTD

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