Major Temples – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Major Temples – Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat: We kept going back day after day to admire the most spectacular temple in the kingdom (hence its namesake). You don’t just walk up the steps to the five towers (called “quincunx”) – a walkway extends over a wide moat, through an outer building and across a large field before you reach the stairs of the interior palace that lead to the courtyard of the main temple; only then do you start scaling the steps of Angkor Wat. The outside walls of the interior palace contain a series of bas-reliefs that depict the history of the Khmer empire and its legends when you follow a counterclockwise circuit (make sure to look at the mural of the levels of heaven and hell on the south wall and the story of “The Churning of the Sea of Milk” on the north wall). Plan to spend at least one afternoon concentrating on Angkor Wat. If you have the time, try going at each point at various times during the day: sunrise, afternoon light and sunset. We did sunrise there two days in a row and liked it best when we arrived extra early and could climb to the top level, instead of standing on the walkway with the large, sleepy tourist groups.

Bayon: Ever get the feeling you’re being watched? Well, you will after visiting this temple, which has hundreds of faces staring at you from all sides of the massive stonework (there are 37 towers and almost every one has faces on four sides). The carvings point toward the cardinal directions and range in size from merely large to incredibly massive. Bayon (or as my friend liked to growl in his deepest voice, “BAAAYYY-OONNNNN!!”) is the second biggest temple after Angkor Wat and is the central point of Angkor Thom.

Bantey Srey: Looking for something delicate after the imposing force of Bayon and the immense size of Angkor Wat? Bantey Srey might be just what you want. Sometimes called
the Citadel of the Women or the “dollhouse temple,” the intricate carvings are somewhat
reminiscent of the tiny tile work on a little girl’s miniature doll abode. The stonework here is some of the best-preserved of the ruins, with the pink limestone making the curlicues and leaves stand out. During our visit, a traditional band was serenading guests. Tuk-tuk fare to this temple can cost $15 a day instead of the usual $10-12, but the ride is worth it. You bounce on dirt roads past water buffalo and rice paddies, where children too young for school work in the fields. Keep your hands on your wallet if you stop in a village along the road – in the five minutes it took to fill our driver’s motorcycle, our tuk-tuk was swarmed by children begging for us to buy sugar cookies and cane flutes.

Ta Prohm: This is the temple for anyone who ever wanted to be a wood nymph or gnome. Massive fig and silk-cotton trees grow from the temple, turning it into a forest of jungle and stone. Ta Prohm was left partially unrestored, and the effect is enchanting. We went in the early morning and captured numerous photos of light streaming through the trees. Try to go when it’s deserted. Watch out for bugs and wildlife – we had encounters with snails, scorpions and spiders. (The last group was the funniest – a spider larger than my palm jumped from its web onto my friend, and watching him run, scream and flail to get it off made my morning.)