Mystical, mysterious, majestic Angkor
The temples of Angkor are one of the most breathtaking sites you can experience. Dating from 802 to 1432, these Hindu-turned-Buddhist structures are regarded as the heart and soul of Cambodia.
Considered one of the Wonders of the World, Angkor has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1992 and is also on the List of World Heritage sites in danger. Since then, UNESCO has set up a wide-ranging program to safeguard this symbolic place and its surroundings.
The entire Angkor complex stretches over 400 square kilometers (approximately 250 miles, twice the size of Manhattan) in northwestern Cambodia. The country’s unique Indian-influenced Khmer culture thrived in this region between the 9th and 15th centuries, with more than one million people calling it home at its height.
The first capital of Angkor had a state temple at its center, built from brick or stone, and a wooden palace with a defensive bank or ditch surrounding them. Another significant element was the irrigation system based on several great reservoirs, which provided crucial infrastructure for the successive Khmer capitals and their rulers.
It was not until the accession of Suryavarman II in 1113 that the next great phase of building began. He was responsible for the greatest of all Khmer monuments, Angkor Wat – dedicated to Vishnu, the chief Hindu god. Perhaps Cambodia’s best-known icon – it appears on the national flag – Angkor Wat (“City Temple”) is an example of high-classical Khmer architecture, with its distinctive quintet of terraced towers, sweeping galleries and sinuous, sensuous reliefs.
Later in that century, Jayavarman VII built another capital at Angkor Thorn. The new state temple was the towering Bayon, dedicated to the Buddha. Other major monuments of his reign included Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Ta Som and Banteay Prei.
Angkor Thom, or “Great City,” was in some ways even more spectacular than the colossal Angkor Wat. Indeed, Jayavarman VII’s capital was so superb that none of his successors wanted to replace any temples. So from his death in 1200 to the mid-15th century, there were no more monumental additions.
The stunning temples of mystical Angkor lay hidden by the jungle for hundreds of years, only to be rediscovered in the mid-19th century. Ta Prohm is best-known as the temple where trees have been left to intertwine with the stonework – much as it was when it was uncovered. You might think this is horrible, but there is a strange beauty in the marvelous strangler fig trees that provide a stunning display of the embrace between nature and human handiwork. So oddly haunting and exotic is Ta Prohm – perhaps the most popular temple after Angkor Wat and the Bayon – that it served as a backdrop for Angelina Jolie’s “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.”
In 2010, restorations began on Ta Prohm. Large sections of the temple are unstable and have been cordoned off, as they are in danger of collapse. All the plants and shrubs have been cleared from the site and some of the trees are also getting removed. The aim is to rebuild this magnificent temple.
In Angkor, temples that have defied time – and the jungle growth – remain steeped in royal hospitality. The gentle, polite and friendly nature of the people, combined with this unusual architecture, make Cambodia, and Angkor in particular, a memorable destination.
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[stextbox id=”gold” caption=”Two nights in Angkor Wat” mode=”js”]
Day 1: You fly into Siem Reap Airport. Spend the late morning/afternoon on a guided tour of the Angkor complex, including its most renowned site, Angkor Wat. Strolling through the massive hallways, you will also find many small shrines still in use by the local people.
Late afternoon, climb through the Phnom Bakheng temple and see the stunning sunset over Angkor Wat.
Day 2: You can visit Angkor Thom, Bayon Temple, Ta Prohm, Elephant and Leper King Terraces. If you have time, you might explore two less-visited areas, Banteay Srei and Banteay Samre.
1- Khmer is the official national language. However, English is widely spoken, followed by French.
2-The peak season in Angkor is November to February when the weather is dry and temperatures are coolest (77-86 degrees).
3-Angkor Wat doesn’t have hotel accommodations, but the nearby town of Siem Reap is only four miles away and has become the tourist hub for hotels, restaurants and shopping.
4-Get to the temples early. You can enter the park beginning at sunrise (5 a.m.).