8 Of The Best Sites To Visit In Angkor Wat, Cambodia

At its height in the 13th century, Angkor was the largest pre-industrial urban city in the world. Angkor was formerly known as Yasodharapura (Glory-bearing city) and the entire city covered an area of 1,000 square kilometres. It covered much of modern-day Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Southern Vietnam. For several centuries, Angkor was the centre of the powerful Khmer Kingdom with over 1 million people inhibiting the city.

The Khmer empire was a sophisticated population of people that built immense temples, complex hydraulic structures (reservoirs, canals and basins) and an extensive road network. The city consisted of more stone than the Egyptian Pyramids.

During its power, the Khmer Empire had strong ties with India and through these ties the empire was heavily influenced by India’s political, cultural and religious beliefs. The Khmer’s main religions included Hinduism and Buddhism. The temples that remain today are not only architecturally impressive but they are proof of the Khmer Empire’s vast power and exemplify their cultural and religious beliefs.

Contrary to what I believed before I visited Siem Riep, Angkor Wat is not the only temple that makes up the Angkor complex. There are numerous temples within Angkor that are just as extraordinary as each other as they each have their own distinct feel and architecture. I have compiled a list of some of the must see temples to visit.

Angkor Wat

This is the world’s largest religious monument, dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. It was constructed to represent Mount Meru, home of the ancient gods in Hindu mythology. The centre temple is decorated with bas-reliefs that stretch over 800 metres. A large moat surrounds the entire temple. The temple is a source of national pride for Cambodians and for this reason has become the national symbol. Over two million tourists are said to visit the temple every year.

Gates of Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom served as the last capital of the Khmer empire. The area is about 9 square kilometres and is completely enclosed by both a stone wall and moat that surrounds the former royal city. There are five entrances to the city, one for each cardinal point, and the victory gate leading to the Royal Palace area. Each gate is crowned with 4 giant faces. The South Gate is often the first stop on a tour. On each side of the bridge are 54 stone figures engaged in the performance of a famous Hindu story called the myth of the Churning of the Ocean.

Bayon

The Bayon Temple was constructed in the exact centre of Angkor Thom which represents the crossing of heaven and earth. Bayon is known for its many stone faces that loom over every corner, keeping watch at each compass point. The faces are said bear a resemblance to King Jayavarman VII himself. There are 54 towers that each have four faces carved to each cardinal point. The architecture is strikingly unique compared to that of the other temples. This is said to be a definitive political statement about the change from Hinduism to Mahayana Buddhism. It also has a completely different feel to Angkor Wat as huge stone heads stare down from every angle.

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm looks as if it has been swallowed by the jungle as enormous trees jut out of walls and roots grow within the buildings foundations. Ta Prohm was a Buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of Jayavarman VII. It is one of the few temples in the Angkor region where an inscription provides information about the temple’s dependents and inhabitants.

Baphuon

The first thing that is notable about the Baphuon is the 200m long sandstone walkway that leads you up to the central structure that is 43m high. The stairway to the top may seem daunting but the effort is definitely worth it as you admire all of the hundreds of pillars supporting the temple and all the craftsmanship that went into building this magnificent structure. Prior to the erection of Angkor Thom, the Baphuon was the centre of the capital.  

Phimeanakas

The Phimeanakas means ‘Celestial Palace and is also a representation of Mount Meru. Two sandstone pools were built close to the northern wall and would’ve been used as swimming pools.  Although the temple’s carvings and decorative features have not been restored and the temple is a skeleton of its former grandeur, it is still worth a visit to climb up and get decent views of the Baphuon. 

Terrace of Elephants

The Terrace of Elephants is 350m long and would have been used as a viewpoint for public ceremonies as well as the centre for the king’s grand audience hall. The centre of the wall is carved with large lions whilst either end is decorated with the procession of elephants.

Banteay Kdei

Banteay Kdei translated to English means ‘a citadel of chambers’ which is aptly named as it once functioned as a Buddhist ministry under Jayavarman VII and is surrounded by four concentric walls. It is very similar to the style of Ta Prohm. However the temple has not been restored to the extent that Ta Prohm has and is considerably less busy. The fact that that there are less tourists means that one can easily sit and admire the serenity and harmony of this temple. You can sit comfortably in silence and imagine the temple in at the height of the Khmer Kingdom in all its glory.

 Find out more:

http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Khmer_Empire

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/07/angkor/angkor-animation

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/cambodia/temples-of-angkor/sights