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A guide to the Temples of Angkor


The temples of Angkor are amongst the World's most outstanding architectural treasures. Best known for the Angkor Wat complex, the symbol of Cambodia, the temples are a source of national pride to all Khmers. The many structures which survive today cover hundreds of square kilometres. They represent just a small part of a regional metropolis and former capital of over one million people, the social and political centre of a vast empire which once stretched from Burma to Vietnam. Whilst it is possible to visit around half a dozen notable sites within a day a more leisurely and extended approach is recommended, using one of the hotels on the following pages as a base. With the services of a highly qualified local guide, visitors are able to explore the temples at their own pace, over the course of two, three or four days or longer, avoiding the crowds and the heat of the day, often being introduced to hidden corners or stunning vistas known only to their guide. This is the best way to discover the wonders of Angkor - a highly rewarding experience that will last a lifetime. The following is a concise guide to the main attractions of the Angkor Temple complex which will hopefully assist in the planning process. Independent tours, complete with professional guide services if required, are readily available and range in duration from three to five days or longer.

Prices start from £30 per person for a full day tour


Angkor Thom - The fortified city of Angkor Thom, built by Jayarvarman VII, covers a surface of 10 square km. Enclosed by a wall and 100m wide moats, the city includes many of Angkor’s most popular monuments - the South Gate, the Bayon, the Baphuon, Phimeanakas, the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King. The city has five twenty-meter high monumental gates, each decorated on both sides of the passageway with stone elephants and crowned by four gargantuan stone faces.
Angkor Wat - The largest, best preserved and most significant of the Angkor temples is Angkor Wat Itself. It impresses the visitors both by its sheer scale and beautifully proportioned layout, as well as the delicate artistry of its carvings. Dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu by King Suryavarman II (1131-1150), it was constructed over a period of 30 years. Surrounded by a vast moat measuring 1.5 by 1.3 km, the walls of Angkor Wat themselves measure 1025 by 800m. The main temple is approached by an avenue 9.5 m wide, lined on either side by a naga balustrade. Unique among the Khmer temples, Angkor Wat faces west, which leads scholars to believe that it was intended as a tomb.
Banteay Srei - Seemingly miniature in comparison to the other Angkor temples, this complex is considered to be the jewel of classical Khmer art. Built in pink sandstone, the walls are covered in exquisitely preserved carvings of unusual delicacy. Because of its size, fairy-like atmosphere and extraordinary examples of Khmer sculpture, this temple is often a favourite. Located approximately 40 km north of Siem Reap, a visit to this temple requires a half-day excursion.
Baphuon - Located in Angkor Thom, this pyramidal temple-mountain represents the mythical Mount Meru. The main temple is still undergoing extensive renovation and many parts are closed to the public. However, visitors can see the large reclining Buddha on the west side.
Bayon - A perennial favourite, the Bayon appears to be an unprepossessing pile of stone from a distance. Once visitors have scaled the first two levels, they emerge from the narrow staircases and corridors to find over 50 towers decorated with huge, smiling stone faces, thought to represent Bodhisattvas. The lower levels have some of the best preserved bas-reliefs extant, depicting everyday scenes and historical sea battle between the Khmer and the Cham.
Phnom Bakheng - The first major temple to be constructed in the Angkor area, this temple-mountain offers extraordinary views of the Tonle Sap and Angkor wat. It is especially popular for sunset viewing.
Prasat Kravan - An early example of Khmer architecture, dating from the 10th century, these five small brick towers have been reconstructed.
Pre Rup - This pyramid-shaped temple mountain has five square shrines arranged as a quincunx. Beautifully carved doors on the upper level and good views of the surrounding countryside.
Preah Khan - This sprawling monastic complex offers visitors the opportunity to explore rambling corridors, narrow passageways and courtyards. This temple has a two-tiered structure that is supported by round stone columns (unusual at Angkor) and a wooden stairway used to access the upper floor. Because of the unusual round columns, it is believed that the temple was modeled after a wooden building long since decomposed in the jungle climate.
Rolous Group - Dating from the late 9th century, these monuments mark the beginning of Khmer classical art and served as the capital before it moved to Angkor. The three temples - Bakong, Lolei and Preah Ko - are located 15 kms southwest of Siem Reap.
South Gate - One of Angkor Thom’s five monumental gates, this twenty foot high structure is decorated on both sides with stone elephants and crowned by four gargantuan stone faces. Leading to the gate, across the former moat, are two naga balustrades, supported on one side by gods and the other side by demons.
Sras Srang - This basin, opposite Banteay Kdei, is a picturesque entry leading to the baray (reservoir). The remains of a temple can be seen in the center of the lake.
Ta Keo - A large temple-mountain, this is the first Angkorian temple to be built entirely of sandstone. The summit of the central tower is 50 meters high and is surrounded by four lower towers.
Ta Phrom - One of the most popular temples, this sprawling complex is famous for its jungle-like, ruined atmosphere, and the giant trees which rise from the stone, gripping the temple in their extensive roots. The temple appears very much as it would have to the first European explorers and invites visitors to linger in its crumbling passageways.
Terrace of the Elephants - This terrace was used for viewing public ceremonies and was a base for the King’s grand audience wall. The famous lines of elephants are at either end of the retaining walls.
Terrace of the Leper King - This double terrace contains a surprise on its hidden inner wall - beautifully carved nagas, demons and mythological beings. The name comes from the nude statue of the 'leper king' perched on the top, but why he is known as the leper king remains a mystery.

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