|The statues that line the entrance to the multi-dimensional Preah Khan temple.|
|One of the many temples built inside the large Preah Khan temple in northern Angkor Wat.|
|Many trees and branches have grown over the ancient ruins, but no tree has grown to this height like the one at Preah Khan temple.|
|Prasat Ta Som temple has some beautiful sections inside and out.|
|East Mebon temple has some fascinating sections of sandstone towers.|
|Ta Prohm has some great ruins mixed with trees, and is often referred to as the "Tomb Raider" temple.|
|The relief and sculptures in Banteay Srea temple are so exquisite that tour guides refer to it as the "art gallery of Angkor Wat."|
|The entrances, sculptures, and reliefs make Banteay Srea a great place to take close-up photos and review what you learned at the National Museum in Phnom Penh.|
|Ta Keo temple is tall and has a lot of stairs. The side benefit is a view of the great forest surrounding the Angkor Wat temples.|
|At the top of Ta Keo temple, where you can rest and worry about tripping over the steep stairs on your way back down.|
|Angkor Thom is a massive complex that includes the Bayon temple. How do you get to it? Find a stone gate of course.|
|Some of the facial sculptures outside of Angkor Thom are huge and bring a whole new dimension to the temples.|
|The rarely seen angled view of Angkor Wat. The largest and mightiest of them all, when you think of the ancient temples of Cambodia you will invariably think of this building.|
|How important is Angkor Wat to Cambodians? It is the image on the Cambodian flag.|
One of the great wonders of the world, arguably the best ruins in the entire world, and the number one destination of Southeast Asia is Angkor Wat. There is little wonder why: a massive complex of temples well preserved that today draw millions of people to see ancient Khmer architecture and development at its finest. Set in the backdrop of a beautiful forest, it’s obvious why “Tomb Raider” (2001) was shot on site here. The best part is that if you get away from the main temples housing nearly all the tourists, you too can feel like a lost explorer finding an ancient temple all by yourself.
Angkor Wat initially began under the leadership of Suryavarman II (ruled 1113 AD to 1150 AD) as a Hindu temple. This massive fortress has as many stones as the Pyramids of Giza but only took thirty years to build. Elephants, bamboo scaffolding, boats, and pulleys contributed to this massive effort. Once the king died, Angkor Wat was soon sacked and burned by the Chams from Vietnam. This raid explains why the next great endeavor, Angkor Thom, was surrounded by a protective moat. Angkor Thom was built by King Jayavarman VII (ruled 1181 AD to 1218 AD) and is almost grander in scale. While Angkor Wat may be the main attraction, Angkor Thom deserves its own respect and takes longer to explore than Angkor Wat.
The Golden Years of Khmer construction would be under these two kings, but building would continue for nearly 500 years until a myriad of situations (mainly food security) lead to the abandonment of the site. These years would contribute many more temples and a slow conversion of the temples from Hinduism to Buddhism. While recognized today as Buddhist temples, many of the sculptures show signs of Hinduism (specifically Preah Khan). The Khmer architecture would be the defining characteristic of this era, and was used to show their affection for the Gods. The temples have no living quarters arrangement or signs of dwelling since these temples were for the Gods only.
A tourist could spend up to a week exploring every temple of Angkor Wat, but most come for a two day visit. Tuk-tuks and bicycles are the main mode of transfer, and walking from temple to temple is highly discouraged since the entire site of Angkor Wat is larger than modern Paris. All tourists come from the nearby city of Siem Reap where touts abound to help you see the ruins for yourself. Make sure to come during the right time as Cambodia can be hot and oppressive or rainy and miserable. I recommend winter due to solid temperatures and a near guarantee of sunshine. Nevertheless, be prepared to see the largest religious and one of the most impressive sites in the world.