Day 1 – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat and surrounding temples is an absolute must see for any world traveler. Yes, it’s always hot and often crowded, but with more than 45 structures to explore (that’s just the number listed in the guidebook) it’s also possible to find moments of solitude in some of the most fascinating ruins in the world, from the intricate carvings of Banteay Srei to the Indiana Jonesesque Ta Prohm where the ficus trees overtake the crumbling ruins.

Morning – Banteay Srei, Bantaey Samré

Afternoon – Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som

Banteay Srei

We had a car and driver for our first 2 days of temple exploring. Not having a better idea how to organize our visit we relied on the Lonely Planet two day itinerary starting with Banteay Srei located 36K outside of town. The 10th century structure is one of the most exquisite examples of Khmer carving in the world. 

A beautiful morning with the sun light filtering through the mist over the rice fields, I should have stopped to take a photo but was in a hurry to arrive at the temple before the tour buses. Unfortunately our car broke down 8k from the site. Not wanting to wait an hour for a replacement vehicle to show up we convinced our driver to find an alternative. He reluctantly flagged down a motorcycle, paid the guy $1.50US and Don and I climbed on the back for the last 10 minutes to the site.

This was fortunate as there was already 1 tour bus at in the parking lot when we arrived at 8:15 and about a dozen an hour later when we left. I would suggest arriving when the site opens at 7:30, which was my intention.

The small scale of this temple combined with the delicacy of the carvings is charming. The structures almost completely covered in fine detail like an over decorated wedding cake. Each of the lintels on the various buildings is carved with a different scene. In the morning a number of them are lit. Others would be lit in the afternoon but I don’t know when the trees surrounding the complex interfere with the lighting. The center of the complex is roped off so it is easy to get photos without other tourists marring your shot, but the small site would fill up fast with very many busloads of tourists.

Bantaey Samré

The Lonely Plant suggests that this smallish 12th century complex, although restored and quite complete, doesn’t receive as many tourists as some others. WHen we arrived 10AM this turned out to be true. There was one large group there during our visit which was easy to manage our visit around.

A tidy square complex you can easily see the architectural aspects of the complex. At some sites the visit winds you through the structures, however, at Bantaey Samré you walk around the outside of the structures inside the perimeter wall  that encloses the temple. You can also enter some of the buildings but the best carvings are on the outside.

Afternoon Visit

When we started our visit at Preah Khan at 2:45 none of these sites were particularly busy.

Preah Khan

Preah Khan is a larger 12th century complex that was once used as a Buddha University. Here you pass through long dark narrow hallways that lead to more open areas with beautiful carvings that have remained surprisingly intact despite the general ruinous state of the complex.

Before the west gate is a bridge with some remaining asuras (demons) overlooking the moat.

The hall of dancers has some great intact lintels as well as reliefs carved in the walls.

The visit took us about an hour but the complex is large and it could take much longer if you want to do more exploring.

A curious two story building with no visible means to enter the second floor.

Neak Pean

To reach this 12th century island temple you have to cross the causeway. Personally this was the prettiest and most interesting part of the temple. Otherwise you are not really close enough to any of the structures to see the details.

Ta Som

A smaller 12th to 13th century complex with noteworthy interior carvings and a great strangler fig at the East gate with face towers. The visit took us about 30 minutes.

November 16, 2018

For links to all the posts in this series see the Laos/Cambodia page.