SIEM REAP, Cambodia // Most people who visit Cambodia come to Siem Reap to see the temples. Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Ta Prohm are the three most famous. For $20 you can visit all three and wander through them on your own if you want. We hired an English speaking guide and car through the hotel which I highly recommend. The guide provided invaluable information on each temple and pointed out small details I would have never known to look for or appreciate, like a carving that looks like a stegosaurus, or a small smiling buddha hiding in a tree root hole like a gnome. Also it was 102 degrees during our tour and our AC car ride between temples was a savior as were the ice cold bottles of water he handed us each time we returned to the car.
Angkor Wat was built a thousand years ago by a king for his own personal worship. No common people were allowed to visit except once a year he opened the gates. Originally built as a Hindu temple for the Khmer Empire it transformed into a Buddhist temple over time which it continues to be today. It took 37 years to build and the carvings were all done by paid artists, not slaves, which is why they say they are so beautiful. Each person took great pride in their work. One carving that depicts the creation the world, “churning”, is the longest in the world. It is the largest religious monument in the world and has become the symbol of Cambodia. It even appears on their national flag. Angkor Wat translated means “Capital City” and no building in Siem Reap may be built taller than its highest peak which are shaped as lotus buds. After the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 17th century the temples were abandoned when the King and all his people left and the capital moved to Phnom Penh leaving the temples to a few monks and the jungle. Since Angkor Wat was surrounded by a large moat, it remains the most intact as the jungle was unable to consume it as quickly as the others. You can find bullet holes in the walls from times of war, and almost all the statues and precious gems were looted and sold on the black market. In the 1900s a french explorer popularized the site to the West and tourists have been visiting ever since, as have UN archaeologist who have been trying to piece the ruins back together to preserve them for the future.
Bayon is known as the building with over 216 smiling faces. The shrine was dedicated to the Buddha, but people are unsure if the faces were meant to depict Buddha or the King himself. The temple has no walls or moats and is much smaller than Angkor Wat. Many of the outer walls depict historical events such as war as well as everyday life of the Angkorian Khmer people.
The last temple we visited was Ta Prohm which was my personal favorite. Angkor Wat is a little too shiny and main stream and Bayon feels a little claustrophobic walking through its small corridors, but Ta Prohm felt untouched as if I was an explorer who just stumbled upon a lost city. This is because it is much in the same condition as when it was rediscovered. This temple just happened to be the least packed temple we visited as well, though looking at other peoples Instagram photos I think that was just luck as this is the most popular temples due to the fact Tomb Raider was filmed here. Massive “sprung” trees took over the temple and many times started growing from temple roofs thanks to birds carrying seeds. Now the temples would be unable to stand without the trees support and there is no way for the tree to survive without the temple below it. The “sprung” roots also look like giant anaconda snakes stretching out in all directions and across roofs and snaking their way along the grounds. We also spotted one of our most unique birds here // the racket tailed treepie. We had our binoculars out and started pointing and making a bit of a scene and everyone came up and asked us where the monkeys were. We said we had spotted a bird and they looked at us like we had 10 heads. Haha!
Though the temples were spectacular and a must see, the War Museum really impacted my life and how I view the world. Also our tour guide was inspirational as he too learned how to speak English by listening to VOA // Voice of America.
Dedicated to the odd couple // Dad and Dan // thanks for literally flying around the world to adventure with us in Siem Reap and for bringing so much joy to our travels.