Cambodia – Siem Reap (Angkor Wat area)

Where is Siem Reap?  Well, you may know it better as the home of the UNESCO World Heritage site: Angkor Wat.  But it’s so much more than that.  There are several other groups of smaller and older temples – the Rolous group – and my favorites: Bayon at Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm.

While it’s possible to tour the entire set of major Khmer ruins in the area in just two days (I am proof of that), I think that in order to not feel as rushed, it’s best to allow at least three days for the region.

The Rolous Group

Bakong

The temples that comprise the Rolous Group, approximately 13km outside of Siem Reap, are primarily contained on three major sites — Lolei, Bakong, and Preah Ko — and represent some of the earliest Khmer temple structures in the region (circa late 9th century)

Preah Ko


Ta Prohm and Ta Keo

Ta Prohm

As soon as you start your exploration of the Ta Prohm ruin, you’ll likely start thinking you’re on a set of a movie.  The giant tree roots growing through the ruin walls just seem surreal.  Not surprisingly, Ta Prohm was used in a popular movie – “Tomb Raider” with Angelina Jolie!  Wander around all of the ruins and marvel at the way the trees have pervaded themselves into the stone structures and just taken over.  It reminds me of the illustration of the giant squid with its tentacles consuming the Nemo in Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”  

Ta Keo is another temple in the area.  Prepare for some stair climbing though!

Ta Keo

Bayon at Angkor Thom

Naga and the Causeway to the South Gate

Aside from the grandeur of Angkor Wat, there is nothing better than the faces of Bayon, within the old city of Angkor Thom.  Built in the late 12th, early 13th century, Bayon steps away from the Khmer architecture of the other ruins.  The reason for this is because this is a Buddhist temple, in fact it was the official state temple of the King Jayavarman VII, a Mahayana Buddhist.  The most distinguishing feature of this temple ruin are the 216 remaining faces of the bodhisattva all around the temple.  Second to the bodhisattva is the impressive 350 meter long Elephant Terrace, with giant elephant head carvings holding up the platform to look like a series of columns.  Also note the statues on the bridge leading to the main entry gate (South Gate), including the seven headed snake, Naga.

Bayon

Bodhisattva

  Angkor Wat

The key motivator for selecting the Siem Reap area as a travel destination, of course, is to visit the jewel of the region, Angkor Wat – an early 12th century king’s state temple and one-time 820,000 square meter capital city of the Angkor regime, contained within a 3.6 kilometer and 190 meter wide, rectangular moat.  With its many bas-relief panels depicting significant wars and important stories of the hindu religion, such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, you can spend hours walking the restored ruins and grounds. 
Causeway to Angkor Wat
Bas-Relief Decorations
Other Temples
There are several other smaller temples in the Angkor Archeological Park to visit, time permitting. On my short 2-day tour, I was able to stop at Banteay Kdai Buddhist temple and Chau Say Tevoda.
Banteay Kdai
Banteay Kdai

Chau Say Tevoda
Regional Travel Tips:

In order to visit the temples, you must obtain an “Angkor Pass” from the Angkor Archeological Park.  Passes are sold for 1-, 3-, and 7-day increments.  The main temples (Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm) are best reached by vehicle and not bike, considering the entire park covers over 400 sqkm.  Motorized tuk-tuks and taxis are good options.  Or check with the concierge at your hotel to see if a tour guide can be arranged.  My experience in Siem Reap was organized by my preferred tour SE Asia travel company, Exotissimo.


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