I was introduced to Cambodia quite by chance. A couple of months ago I saw a friend’s pictures of the Bayon and Angkor Wat; and was immediately smitten. Somehow as Paulo Coelho would say, the universe conspired with my wish and it was granted 🙂 I got to visit Cambodia 🙂
We spent 6 days here (less for such a beautiful place) with 3 days in Siem Reap and 3 days in Phnom Penh. In Siem Reap we decided to tak 2 full days and explore quite a few of the temples that it is so famous for. We didn’t want to make it a hurried trip and cramp everything in one day, nor did we want to just sit and see all the temples at a leisure. Hence 2 days worked best for us.
All the temples in this place are a mix of Hindu and Buddhist mythology. Since the Kings here kept converting between these 2 religions, all the temples carry quite a bit of Hindu mythology (very similar to that in India) and you see the stories from Shiva, Ramayana, Mahabharata etc depicted all over these temples. However the most common is the 4 faces of the Buddha (always resembling their King then) and the sagar manthan / ocean churning between the devas and the asuras.
For our day 1 of the temple visit, we started with the South Gate. There are quite a few gates all over the city and some are victory gates and some are defeat gates. This was for announcing to the town the outcome of a battle, depending on which gate the army came back from. This gate below depicts the sagar manthan done by the devas and the asuras and the 4 faces of the Buddha.
Interestingly, all these stones are not glued together but just placed over one another and locked somehow. It’s amazing to see how it has withstood centuries with such simple construction mechanism.
We then went to see one of my favourite temples, the Angkor Thom or the Bayon. This used to be a city built by the most famous king, Jayavaraman VII and is known for the 54 towers with 216 faces of the Buddha all over. It also has walls with some beautiful carvings depicting a civil war fought and the celebrations thereafter. The carvings are so amazing that you can even decipher the different nationalities of the people who fought in this war.
We then walked to the nearby Royal Enclosure and the Phimeanakas. Though there is nothing much left of the actual temple but it’s being restored and has some beautiful carvings and a representation of the Mt. Meru. There are also quite a few stairs here to climb, but the view from the top is so worth it.
We then saw the Terrace of the Leper King and the Terrace of the Elephants.
We then went to the highlight of our visit – the Angkor Wat. This is undoubtedly the most beautiful and the most amazing of all the temples in Siem Reap. And the first look is something that will stay with you forever.
This is believed to be the largest religious structure in the world but more than the size what really strikes you is the symmetry in the design of the place. It also defies quite a major logic – it faces the west (side of death) instead of the east (side of praying). While we loved exploring this whole temple complex, what really amazed us was the intricate carving of the apsaras (no 2 are alike), the missing buddha statues from the murals (they were removed when the King converted to Hinduism), missing Buddha heads from various statues (stolen and sold as antiques) and the various carvings from the Mahabharata, Heaven & Hell, Vishnu, etc.
After a long day in these temples, we decided to call it a day and spent the rest of the evening in the Pub Street, shopping at the various quaint NGO stores and the getting relaxing massages…
Tips for the Trip –
- Cambodia accepts dollars so carry currency accordingly.
- Passes are available for visiting temples for 1 day, 3 day and 7 days. Decide on what you want to see and buy a ticket accordingly.
- A lot of stories here are from the Hindu mythology. So please brush up on the same before you go there as these people really like to discuss them and ask what we believe in. It also helps to appreciate the place better.
- There is a lot of walking around to see these places, so wear comfortable shoes.
- The temples are pretty particular about the dress code, so please cover the shoulders and the knees.
- Always take a guide as you really get to know the stories and the history of the place. It’s not so much to see in these temples especially the main ones without a guide.