Cambodia: Temple Hopping in Siem Reap

No trip to Cambodia would be complete without a pilgrimage to the temples in Angkor!

Angkor, which is the name of the entire temple compound, is a great piece of ancient history. It is a magnificent jewel, worthy capital of the powerful Khmer Empire 830 years ago. It is also believed to be the largest city in the world at that time since it had around 4 million inhabitants.

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Angkor is located in the northern part of Siem Reap, Cambodia. It is considered as one of the most important archeological sites in the South-east Asia and it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.

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We travelled from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap by motorbike. It was the longest mini-motorbike adventure we had as we rode 400 km. It was a trip full of fun and adventure.

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Passes are required before you can enter the Angkor area. Make sure that you get a right ticket for you. If you are into architecture and you like visiting temples, they offer a 7 day pass which costs $60. However, if your time is limited or if you think you are already burnt out visiting monuments and temples, there is a 1 day pass available which costs $20 to explore the temples. The 3 day or 7 day tickets don’t have to be used on a consecutive days, which is a good thing especially if you feel that you need a break in between. The 3-day pass is good for any 3 days within a week while the 7-day pass is good for any 7 days within a month.

We bought a 3 day ticket ($40) and spent 3 days visiting the temples so that we experienced as much as we could. Each temple has its own unique appeal with spectacular photo opportunities. When we visited Angkor, so many temples were crammed with people, but we made the most of it and braved the crowds.

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We like Angkor! The temples of Angkor are simply among the most breathtakingly beautiful places that we have ever been privileged to see. They are all overwhelming and the ruins are interesting. Amazing stonework and carvings are scattered everywhere. We were also fascinated to learn about the history. The view is great, even seeing this once made our hair stood up and our heart skip a beat.

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Day 1:

We were lazily wandering around the Angkor Wat, the largest, prime, and most famous among the temples in the Angkor complex. We were attracted to its complexity and astonishing architecture. We also enjoyed the series of elevated towers, chambers, porches, galleries and the courtyards.

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Day 2:

We rode north towards Angkor Thom. It is like a great walled city. At the entrance of Angkor Thom we were greeted by different smiling faces. We first visited Bayon temple, a temple which is widely known for its multitude of Buddha’s mysterious faces looking at you from a distance and from every corner with benevolence. Our amazement had continuously increased as we continued to visit other temples.

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After we strolled Bayon, we headed to North Kleang which means “The Warehouse Temple.” We were told that no one knows what this temple was built for; probably it was used as a storage place for some very important things. This building has a simple design and it is rarely visited by tourists. We climbed the top and explored the place.

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It was already the hottest part of the day and the humidity was absolutely unbelievable, we felt that we needed a quick snack so we stopped in one of the restaurants inside Angkor Thom to get some fresh coconut juice and cold beers.

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Our next stop was at the long Terrace of Elephants. It was a huge area and the grandest terrace of Cambodia where the King watched public ceremonies.

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From the Terrace of Elephants, we continued our journey to Ta Prohm temple where we ended our 2nd day of temple hopping. This temple is best known for the twisted trees that sit over the ruins.

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Day 3:

We started our 3rd day at Ta Keo temple, a temple mountain which was built entirely of sandstone. We conquered Ta Keo, climbed the top at our risk and enjoyed the beautiful view.

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Then we continued our journey to Thomannom temple, a single-towered temple which was built around the time of Angkor Wat by King Suryavarman II. It was restored in 1960 by a French organization.

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After visiting Ta Keo temple, we headed towards Baphoun Temple, a three-tiered mountain temple. It was built by Udayadityavarman II as his state temple dedicated to Hindu god Vishnu. When we visited the place we couldn’t get through the central structure since at the time the restoration was still ongoing. Instead, we explored some of the outer parts of the temple.

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In short, the Temples of Angkor were simply inspiring. We were exhilarated, energized and enriched by the history of the place after our 3 day pilgrimage. Even though it was a long, tiring 3 days, our exhaustion was matched with enduring sense of wonder at the magnificence we witnessed throughout. With the bit of energy we had left we spent another couple of days to visit other places in Siem Reap. … 😉

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Cambodia: Experience the Majestic Step Pyramid of Ta Keo in Siem Reap

We came, we saw, we conquer Ta Keo!

Ta Keo is one of the huge temples in Angkor complex. It was the first temple built out entirely of sandstone. When Khmer King Jayavarman V turned 17 years old in 975, he initiated the construction of Ta Keo as his state temple.

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The building of Ta Keo was never completed since after his death. The reason for its no completion remains a mystery. However, there were some speculations on why it remained unfinished: First, there was a struggle for succession after the death of King Jayavarman V so the works stopped.  Second, a lightning struck the unfinished building and, for Khmer people it symbolized an evil omen. Had it been completed, it would surely have been one of the most beautiful temples in the Angkor complex.

Ta Keo is unique. It looks like “square” without any decoration which makes it simple and different from other monuments in the Angkor compound. It is referred to as “Hemagiri” which means mountain of golden summits. It has five towers which represent Mount Meru. The Ta Keo’s towers sit atop a 22 meter tall step pyramid and it consists of five levels.

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We climbed to the very top of the temple even though it was very scary and quite challenging. The stairs are incredibly steep, quite narrow and uneven. The height can be daunting and frightening. There is no scaffolding to support you and there is no handrail to hold onto it. That was why we found it difficult to get both up and down and going down was even trickier to us. In spite all these, we didn’t give up the challenge to climb the top. We had to use both our hands and legs to climb up and down. But, when we reached the top, the view was truly impressive and we took amazing photos. I would say, it was a great unforgettable stair climbing experience we have ever had in Cambodia.

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If you wish to make a good steep incline, here are some tips:

  • Wear a good pair of shoes.
  • Carefully watch your steps.
  • Stay close to the edge so you can balustrades for support.
  • The danger is there and you climb it at your own risk.

Try and experience the climb in Ta Keo and bring the home the memory of a life time.

Cambodia: The Terrace of Elephants in Angkor Thom

About 830 years ago, during the ancient Khmer civilization, Khmer King Jayavarman VII built the Terrace of Elephants in the late 12th century. It was used as a giant viewing platform during the public and royal ceremonies.

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This enormous and impressive Terrace of Elephants is located at the centre of Angkor Thom. It is about 350 meters long and about 3 meters high. As the name suggests, it is decorated with many elephants carved on stones. There are also lion-like creatures and garudas carved on the walls. I have heard that the Terrace of Elephants was once covered in golden-framed mirrors. The mirrors were used to reflect the events that took place in the courtyard below the terrace.

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On the north end of the Terrace of Elephant is the Terrace of the Leper King. This side of the terrace contains beautiful carvings such as five-headed horse, dancers and Khmer warriors. However, on the south end of the Terrace of Elephant is the Baphuon Temple. It also contains many gigantic elephant carvings.

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When we visited the Terrace of Elephant, we found out that it was one of the busiest sites in the Angkor complex because we noticed that everyone stopped here as part of their tour-plan since it is near the Baphoun Temple. In spite of the huge crowd, we had an interesting walk on the terrace and we saw a lot of nice carvings behind the wall that couldn’t be seen when you just walk from the road. While strolling from atop of this ancient terrace, we saw a massive courtyard and heard some birds chirping which made us feel like we were in a jungle.

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Ta Prohm Temple: Framed by Gigantic Trees

Ta Phrom Temple is unique. It is famous for its wonderful huge old trees growing through, over and around the temples that are hundreds of years old.

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King Jayavarman VII built Ta Phrom Temple in 1186 AD. It was a Buddhist temple dedicated to his mother. It is one of the massive temples in the Angkor complex.

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The natural surroundings of the temple give a splendid feeling to the whole temple experience. We were amazed by the simplicity of this temple. We liked the bizarre growth of the trees; some of them have huge tall roots between which you could build a small house. We enjoyed looking at the trees growing on top of the stone walls. We savored seeing some lichens, mosses and other creeping plants delicately carved on the walls. We adored the way the roots coiling around the stone walls; it shows how nature has reclaimed the land. All these gave us a great impression and gave us a sense of how it would have looked like discovering Ta Phrom Temple for the first time after it had been abandoned for four to five hundred years. This is really something to behold.

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We went there in the afternoon. We found it a good timing because the leaves filter the sunlight and welcomed us with enough shade while casting some greenish light. We took many good pictures since the sun shone a fabulous glow on the trees and the temple.

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This ancient temple has continuously been receiving thronging crowds since parts of the Tomb Raider movie starring Angelina Jolie was filmed here. Even though it gets busier and busier as everyone wants to see the trees, everyone gets a turn and you can still find your own mysterious space and entangling roots with the temple.

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If you love history and photography and if you dream about such mysterious places, Ta Phrom is the perfect place for you.