One of the most important archeological sites in the world and top on the bucket list for many travelers is the temples of Ankor. Once a megacity and capital of the Khmer civilisation which spanned from approximately the 9th-15th centuries, It now attracts over 2 million tourists each year. While it comprises of hundreds of temples in various states of ruin ranging over at least 1000km2, the majority of these temples are located within an area approximately 8km by 24km.
The closest town to the temples is Siem Reap which is where you will most likely stay and/or fly into. Day trips to the temples are easy to find from here which was exactly what we did. We got a one day pass and had plenty of time to see everything however, I don’t recommend doing that to anyone! I have never been that hot in my life and one of the guys I was with ended up with heat stroke and couldn’t leave the air conditioned bus. If you have the time to extend your temple exploration out over a few days I strongly suggest you take it and only venture out to the temples during early mornings or late afternoons. You were warned.
While there is a ton to see I will only really be focusing on my top four temples in this post. If you want to learn more about the rest of Cambodia than you might appreciate My First Solo Trip – Cambodia! Part 1 and My First Solo Trip – Cambodia! Part 2 (super creative names I know).
I’m going to start off strong here and jump straight to number 1, Ankor Wat! This is the main temple of them all and to be honest was my main reason for even coming to Cambodia in the first place. Built by king Suryavarman II in the first half of the 12th century as a dedication to the Hindu deity Vishnu, Ankor Wat served as the capital city and kings state temple. Under constant attack from the Chams (vietnamese) the temple was eventually raided and sacked after the kings death. The area was once again claimed back by the Khmer empire towards the end of the 12th century by a new, buddhist king, Jayavarman VII. Hence, Ankor Wat eventually transformed from a hindu temple into a centre for buddhism.
When walking through the temple take in all of the well preserved images etched in the stone walls. They tell the story of souls that are either enlightened in heaven or stuck beneath them, tortured in hell and paint a clear picture of how important religion was in the lives of those that built these temples.
If your fear of heights allows it you can also climb to the top of the temple and enjoy the view over the surrounding temples and jungle. Well worth it!
Ankor Thom (Bayon)
Ankor Thom or the “Great City” was built at the end of the 12th century by the new king Jayavarman VII. At the heart of Ankor Thom is the Bayon which became the kings new state temple. Known as the temple of faces, the Bayon literally has multiple giant stone faces on it’s towers giving it its own unique feel.
Also built by Jayavarman VII in the late 12th or early 13th centuries, this temple is one of the most visited temples in the Ankor complex and is now famously known for it’s appearance in the ‘Tomb Raider’ movie. The temple was abandoned for centuries after the Khmer empire fell in the 15th century and as a consequence Ta Prohm has been almost completely overtaken by the jungle with trees growing on top of temples and throughout the ruins.
When walking throughout the temples you can see sections were the buddha has clearly been chiselled from the walls (unfortunately I didn’t get a photo!). This stands as a reminder of how old these temples really are and shows the constant transition between hinduism and buddhism throughout the centuries.
This Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva was built by Rajendravarman II in the early 960’s. It is believed that this temple was used as a royal crematorium due to the fact that Pre Rup translates to “turning the body”. This is believed to refer to a method of cremation where ashes were turned as the ceremony progressed. You can climb to the top of this temple for an amazing view and while we only had a one day pass I’ve heard that it is particularly speculator at sunrise or sunset.
I hope you enjoyed reading about these ancient and amazing temples. If you’ve been here before, have something to add or simply want to see this incredible part of the world please reach out! Id love to hear from you.
Amberlee Jane xx