Once we’d experienced all the cool things Battambang had to offer, we hopped on a bus for the (relatively) short journey over to Siem Reap, where we were going to visit Cambodia’s most famous landmarks – the temples of Angkor Wat. This post is a bit picture-heavy, so apologies if it takes ages to load!
Angkor Wat is, ironically, much more than Angkor Wat. The complex of ruined temples is a relic of an ancient city. As well as the temples, there would have been houses, fishing villages and markets.
Foolishly, we made Angkor Wat our first stop of the tour. As the most famous, it is therefore the busiest and choc-full of tour groups being churned out of their buses and around the temples with their selfie sticks. To get to Angkor Wat, you cross over a huge man-made moat, lined by protective carvings. Given that the temples are around 1,000 years old, the logistics of a moat this size are fairly incredible.
Angkor Wat is the largest, and best preserved, temple within the complex and we took about two and a half hours to explore it properly. Unfortunately it is also a complete sun trap, so best avoided during the heat of the day!
Once we’d explored Angkor Wat, we headed to the ancient walled city of Angkor Thom. First stop through the imposing East Gate was the temple of Bayon, which is full of carved faces staring out at all angles and rather gothic towers. This shady temple is fascinating to explore – you feel like Indiana Jones walking through the thin dark corridors and it was one of my favourites of the tour.
Angkor Thom is a huge complex within itself, and home to further temples, such as Baphuon.
My very favourite temple of the entire trip, however, was Ta Phrom. Most famous for being the setting for Angelina Jolie to run around in “Tomb Raider”, this temple has been preserved nearly in the state it was found in and is covered in ancient trees fighting to reclaim the ruins for the forest. It is a surprisingly big temple, and we spent over an hour walking around the complex.
For our second day, we went further afield to visit Kbal Spean – a stream with carvings of patterns and ancient phallic “lingas” in the riverbed. The river is a pleasant (if uphill) walk of a couple of kilometres. Thankfully there is a waterfall you can cool off at before you head back!
We also headed to the famous “temple of women” – Banteay Srei. Banteay Srei is best known for being carved from unusual pink stone (rather than the yellow stone of most of Angkor) and is home to incredible stone carvings. These carvings are so intricate that some say they were carved by the delicate hands of women, rather than men and hence the name.
For our final day we took the deceptively-named “Grand Loop”, which actually features less temples than the nearby “Small Loop” that we took on the first day.
Some of the temples here are in fairly spectacular states of disrepair, and are literally being propped up. I’m not sure what the long term plan is for them, but hopefully it will involve some specialist care!
One of my favourites of the Grand Loop were Preah Khan – an incredible complex which has columns that look like they could belong in Ancient Greece!
The southern side of the complex is in a slightly more shambolic state, with fallen rocks blocking up much of the temple and their doorways.
My other favourite was Neak Poan – a temple set in the middle of an enormous lake which could only be reached by crossing a rather rickety bridge! It was very peaceful and serene and I imagine would be beautiful at sunrise.
It was a fairly knackering three days – the heat was tough and visits to Angkor Wat definitely rewards the early riser! I’ll do a “how to” post for anyone interested in seeing the temples in three days, but I hope these photos show what an awe-inspiring, enormous and diverse complex the temples of Angkor really are!