Wow. The temples at Siem Reap in Northern Cambodia are simply beyond description. The scale of the archealogical park is enormous--everyone recognizes the 3 main stupas of Angkor Wat (on the right) and the jungle temple of Ta Prohm (where Lara Croft Tomb Raider was filmed), but there are hundreds of other temples in the area. You can spend weeks exploring, climbing and hiking through them. So enjoy all the pictures below; I hope this gives you an idea of how magical and special this place is.
The majority of the temples were built during the heyday of the Cambodian empire in the 10th through 13th centuries. King Jayarvaman VII is responsible for the most impressive areas--some as temples for worship, other as tombs for his parents and some as massive religious cities, housing up to 70,000 people. This entire site is a great juxtaposition of Hindu and Buddhist cosmology and imagery. On the left is us posing in front of one of the towers in Bayon, the main temple in Angkor Thom.
Below on the left is is the causeway leading to the West Gate of Angkor Thom. On the right is Bayon. Home to hundreds of images of Lokesvara's face (four-sided, usually), this is the most impressive example of baroque Khmer architecture.
Our tour guide, Sim, while not the best English speaker, knew all the great spots for amazing photos. Below is each of us kissing Lokesvara (from afar, thanks to perspective). Hey, we're engaged, not married yet!
We walked through the woods of Angkor Thom, scouting out some of the smaller temples. On the left was one of our favorites, as two trees sprouted out from the stairs. It was just a teaser of what was to come later--Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider). On the right is me below a tree root. Everything about this place was BIG.
Once inside of Ta Prohm, we were blown away. It would have been easy to stop the trip here, as we'll be hard pressed to find anything more awe-inspiring and beautiful. But hey, we're always up for a challenge! Enjoy the montage of photos.
And one more that will probably end up framed on our wall...
From Ta Prohm we headed a few km south and crossed the long causeway over the moat leading up to Angkor Wat. This more famous spot is the prime example of classical Angkor architecture. It originally had 9 main towers but today only 5 are still standing (but you usually get a vantage point straight on, so it looks like there are only 3). On the left, we're standing between two nagas (5-headed snakes believed to be the mythic ancestor of the Cambodian people) with Angkor Wat on our right. Below are two more of our favorite photos. The word "picturesque" really just does no justice...
That evening we treked up a hill 1km west of Angkor Wat to watch the sun set (see on the right). Pretty spectacular view... That night we had a great dinner in town and got much-needed foot massages. Life is tough!
The next morning we got up super early to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat. This involved tiptoeing across the causeway in pitch black, which gave us the feel of being the first explorers to ever set eyes on this man-made wonder of the world. Once inside, we set up on the stairs to the northern library and waited for the sun to poke through.
We spent the rest of that day on the grand circuit route, seeing some of the less-popular (though still amazing) temples. And we went back to Ta Prohm just to get lost in the ruins at 6am, when we were the only people in sight. Such a special morning!
We're still hanging at the beach right now, relaxing (after 5 consecutive mornings waking up before 6am). On Monday we take a bus across the border into Vietnam, where we'll start our five weeks there with Ho Chi Minh City. I'll leave you with one more picture from sunrise... Enjoy!