Visiting the temples of Angkor was always a dream which was meant to be fulfilled. Angkor Wat was the center point of my families travel to South East Asia in the latter half of December 2012. Early Khmer history or the history of Angkor is known from the inscription on the temples. It was the trading from India that introduced Khmers to the Hinduism & Buddhism and had a major influence on the development of Angkor. The 6th-century inscription shows the records of Bhavapura the city, Bhavavarman I the king, Jayadevi is mentioned as the ancient Khmer queen. Many kings ruled this area & it is a history of lots of wars, blood shedding & destruction. In 889 Yasovarman I shifted his capital to Angkor & Harshavaran I became a strong king. The throne was captured & lost in many bloody battles until around 1002 when Suryavarman I became the king. Suryavarman II was the builder of major Angkor temples. In 1191 Jayavarman VII was the last great king of Angkor & was a strong Buddhist, unlike his predecessors who were Hindu. Kings & their subjects were devoted to Vishnu, Shiva & Buddha. For a long time, Shiva remained the dominant figure being considered as the supreme protector. Hinduism dominated till the end of the 12th century & gave way to Mahayana Buddhism, both brought by Indian traders.
Siem Reap Cambodia
Angkor temples are about 6 kilometers from the “Siem Reap” town, which has reasonable facilities for the tourists. Transportation, guides & hotels they all cater to International tourists. “Siem Reap“(Khmer: ក្រុងសៀមរាប; Thai: เสียมราฐ, RTGS: Siemmarat) is the testimony to century-old conflict between Khmers & Siamese and that is why it was christened “Flat Defeat of Siam” by King Ang Chan. From the sixteenth through the nineteenth century, the feuds among the Cambodian lords resulted in its control by Siamese & Vietnamese until the French rule.
Angkor earlier known as Yasodharapura has a group of temples spread in a large area. It is the largest religious monument & biggest Hindu temple complex, stretching over about 400 square kilometers including a large forest area. The modern Name: Angkor” found its roots in Sanskrit word “nokor” which originated from word “Nagar”. It was also known as Preah Pishnulok (Vara Vishnuloka). It was declared as “World Heritage Site” in 1992 & has become the symbol of Cambodia, appearing on Khmer Rouge flag. These temples are built on the Hindu concept of Temple Mountain as the representation of mythical Mount Meru, surrounded by moats, built on a mountain like the pyramidal shape & topped by five towers representing the five peaks of Meru. There is a lot of influence of Orissa & South India (Dravidian) temple architecture. Angkor temples, Bayon, Baphuon, Elephant terrace & To Prohm are the main temples to be visited. Monuments are overwhelming, amazing & breathtaking. Most of the temples are surrounded by moat & guarded by Lion statues & SheshNaag (seven-headed big serpent).
Angkor Wat sunrise & sunset are great times to photograph these temples. Ankor Wat is an architectural master piece & is rich in details. Stories from Ramayana, Mahabharata & Puranas are beautifully depicted in the long galleries. Battles fought by many kings & depiction of the churning of the milk with Mount Meru as the axis, snake Vasuki the churning rope supported in the sea by Vishnu himself in the form of turtle Kurma. Angkor Wat Temple has statues of Vishnu, a beheaded Lakshmi & Buddha. It takes about 4-5 hrs to completely see & absorb the magnificence of this remarkable structure. The temples are admired for the grandeur & harmony of the architecture.
Angkor Thom is considered to be one of the larger Khmer monument founded by King Jayavarman VII in the 12th century. At the center of Angkor Thom is Bayon Jayavarman’s state temple. Entry is through a tower gate with a four-faced Buddha on the top, lined by statues of Gods & asuras (demons). Bayon is characterized by the face towers. This is a very powerful & enigmatic religious construction. Massive stone faces are its most distinctive feature. These faces are serene, soothing & at places smiling. It is believed these 216 faces are either of Jayavarman VII or Bodhisattva. These monuments have Hindu as well as Buddhist structures. The galleries depict the battles of succession, the daily life of the Khmers Empire. An unfinished pavilion shows the presence of “Lingam”, apsaras, gods & asuras & temple scenes.
The structures of Baphuon were built around the temple mountain in the middle of the 11th century mainly by Udayadityavarman II. The Angkor Thom temple-mountains are in a stage of restoration these days. It was initially dedicated to Lord Shiva but later turned to Buddhism. The massive structure of reclining Buddha on the west side is most impressive. Scenes from Ramayana & Mahabharata are depicted in the galleries here.
Elephant Terrace & Leper King Terrace
This long terrace at the heart of Angkor Thom reaching over to Royal Square was the foundation for royal reception pavilion. There are carvings of the elephants giving it its name. It was built in the ate 12th century by Jayavarman VII & added by Jayavarman VIII. Leper King Terrace is at the Royal Square of Angkor Thom, named thus because of the strangeness of the statue and corrosion on its surface. There is also folklore that one of the kings was a leper. There are many other smaller temples in this area in Angkor Thom.
Ta Prohm means ancestor Brahma. This temple was originally called Rajavihara, built in Bayon style by Jayavarman VII & Indravarman II in the late 12th century. It was initially built as Mahayana Buddhist University. These temples have literally merged with the jungle as strangler figs & silk cotton trees entwined among ruins. This mixing of trees & the temples gives it a strange romantic & mysterious atmosphere. These temples are now being restored by Archeological Survey of India. These temples prominently feature in Lara Croft Tomb Raiders movie starring Angelina Jolie.
Bantaey Srei Temple
Built from pink sandstone, Bantaey Srei is small in comparison to the opulence of Angkor Wat, but the intricate and delicate carvings on stone are its highlights. To capture the beauty of Bantaey Srei Temple, the target during golden hour of 2-5pm when the golden rays of sun hit the pink sandstone and illuminate, bringing the temple to life. A trip coupled with Angkor Wat and Bantaey Srei is an overall overwhelming experience.
If you guys can battle the crowd approximately 2 million people visiting annually, then Angkor Wat, the biggest temple of the world, must be there on your travel bucket list! You will find the ticket prices a bit steep, $37 for a 1-day pass but it should not deter you from visiting because the pass covers many temples in Siem Reap throughout the Angkor Archaeological Park.