We spend the better part of three days staying in Siem Reap, from where we visited the temples at Angkor Wat, the spiritual and physical seat of power of the Khmer Empire for hundreds of years (from approximately 800 – 1400 AD). Angkor, with its sprawling complex of ancient temples and cities, is recognized as the largest pre-industrial city in the world, many times the size of the next-largest, Tikal. Angkor Wat is located in modern-day Cambodia, a country still recovering from the terrible rein of the Khmer Rouge — but one that we would already really love to go back to.
Bayon, famous for the dozens of mysterious faces carved into its towers (look closely!), is the central temple in Angkor’s central walled city, Angkor Thom.
No one has come up with a satisfactory explanation for the meaning behind so many giant faces, which on each tower face in the four cardinal directions.
Bayon is also famous for its well-preserved bas reliefs.
The reliefs around Bayon tell several stories about the Khmer Empire; this one seems to celebrate an extremely prosperous period (see all the fish!).
We finally moved on from the enchanting, sometimes foreboding . . .
. . . and sometimes happy towers of Bayon.
Baphuon, whose main temple is currently under restoration, is another one of the gems of Angkor Thom.
The steps to all temples were steep, symbolizing that the way to heaven is never easy, and functioning as a way to ensure that people’s heads were bowed as they arrived at the temple.
To one side of a large public square in Angkor Thom, the “Terrace of the Leper King” is famous for well-preserved carvings.
The aptly named “Terrace of the Elephants,” along with its signature sculptures, was built at the right height for mounting and dismounting its namesake animals.
The function of these mysterious towers, across from the terraces, is still unknown, but one story is that acrobats walked on tightropes from tower to tower for the king’s amusement.
Giant railings like this one had gorgeous ends.
Elephant rides are popular at Angkor Thom’s south gate.
Many minor temples are mossy and crumbling.
While others are being taken over by jungle (more dramatic examples to come!).
Lacey and I rented bicycles one day and found this gem, Angkor Thom’s east gate, which wasn’t labelled on the map and had no (paved) road or tourists. We passed a herd of monkeys and a lot of jungle on the way!
Lacey gazes up at the east gate.
I climbed up for pictures of the north “face” of the east gate.
Including a close-up.
A gorgeous find!
Our bicycles helped us visit some of Angkor Wat’s lesser-known temples, which are also gorgeous. Banteay Kdei was especially photogenic.
Across from Banteay Kdei is a gorgeous man-made lake, although it is dwarfed by Angkor’s original lakes, now partly dried up.
Another temple, Ta Keo, was especially memorable for the climb to the top!
View out the top of a tower at Ta Keo.
Ta Keo’s towers had an especially surreal quality.