Temples, temples, everywhere, and we saw them ALL. Our great tuk-tuk driver David picked us up at 8 am and we were off back into Angkor to visit as much as we could. Once again, I’ll just give short impressions of each area and hopefully let our photos do most of the talking.
We started off in the big one, the largest religious structure in the world. Surrounded by a 100 m wide moat, the grounds are something like 700 m by 1300 m, filled with a series of concentric enclosing walls. It’s almost impossible to appreciate the scale here, as the structures inside each smaller area are obscured by the walls outside. As you move inward, it seems that each area is just as big as the one before, and much higher than what you could see from outside. Pretty impressive. One of the walls is totally covered in a relief mural, several hundred meters long, wrapping around the whole thing. Once inside the inner temple, We could finally see the five main ‘beehive’ spires reaching to the sky. Unfortunately, Alina’s tank top barred her entry, so I climbed the super steep staircase alone to check things out above. Incredible views over the surrounding walls and jungles, and many sculptures in relief on all the towers and walls.
After the wide open spaces and blaring sun of Angkor Wat, we had a respite among the ruins of Banteay Kdei, nestled in the forest. We got a first taste of nature overcoming man, as some walls were infiltrated by gigantic tree roots.
Largely left to the jungle, this temple is in a state of disrepair, many of the blocks toppled in piles between the towers. Huge spong trees thrust their roots between the stones, giving an amazing atmosphere. We had a great time exploring through the collapsed hallways and meandering paths. After being inspired by the temple’s Hollywood past (Tomb Raider), we decided to create our own one-shot masterpiece.
After a relaxing lunch of Fish Amok we visited this temple, notable for the complete lack of carving on any of the surfaces, making for a very stark appearance. Our driver commented “the king didn’t give bread to the carvers”. We aren’t sure if he was joking or what.
This is the large walled city of the Angkor empire, said to have over 1 million citizens at a time when London was a backwater of 50,000. These days, it is a largely empty space, most structures have been built of wood and thus decayed over the centuries. Only the gods were allowed to live in stone houses. You enter through one of several gates that pierce the walls, crossing a bridge lined with the familiar balustrades of men holding up a naga (many-headed snake). We had also run through here during the half-marathon a few days earlier, so we knew what to look for as we headed towards the various temples within.
Famous for it’s 200 stone heads, Bayon is so different from all the other temples. But I guess you could say that about almost every one we visited. Here there is once again a summit terrace high above the surrounding walls and enclosures (themselves containing impressive murals of armies at war on the shores of the great lake Tonle Sap). Once on top, you walk through a maze of towers, each containing several massive stone faces staring out at you.
Here is a short video to give you an idea what it was like on the top!
A series of three ever higher terraces, this temple is meant to represent the holy mount Meru of Hindu mythology. It’s quite a climb up to the top, and rather barren. The entire eastern wall of the temple has been re-purposed into a sculpture in block relief of a reclining Buddha, though it takes a lot of imagination to see.
This small temple was situated in a secluded area away from the crowds, near the old area of the royal temples. We liked that it seemed to have guardian sheep on each of the corners, though they were probably meant to be lions or something.
Terrace of the Elephants
A long terrace stretching down the central avenue of Angkor Thom, much of the length is covered in a relief of elephants. At the far end is a small terrace with elephant sculptures jutting from the rock above, their stony trunks extending to the floor.
Terrace of the Leper King
The top of this small terrace is bare, but the draw is the intricate series of relief carving all around the base. You walk inbetween 2 closely spaced walls, surrounding the contours of the terrace, and marvel at the women, kings, and snakes staring out at you from the stone.
Preah Neak Poan
This small shrine was built on a man-made island in the middle of a reservoir. You walk along a raised wooden causeway over the surrounding water till reaching this water temple, a series of ponds surrounding a central structure wrapped in entwined snakes.
Our last stop of the day, we snuck in the entrance just 2 minutes before closing time. Here we saw the only two free standing statues among all the temples, and this complex was notable for the long series of connected covered hallways. Many of the other areas seem to have lost their roofs, but this place seems very close and contained by comparison, like an endless maze of tunnels.
Wow, a crazy day. We were amazed at how efficient our driver was at dropping us off at temples and telling us how to go through them so he could meet us on the other side, ready for the next thing. I was really surprised and happy we got to see so much. In fact, we were pretty much templed-out by the end, and decided to forego the third day in Angkor and just relax and recover.