Angkor Wat is only the largest temple of a huge number of temples you can visit when staying in the town of Siem Reap. Consequently Siem Reap is the main tourist destination in Cambodia. The city has hotels from 5 stars to hostels. It has a night life centered on lively Pub Street. In order to see a large number of the temples, a long stay is advised. In order to see them all, a much longer stay is needed.
The guide books will tell you to get out of bed at 4 a.m. and join the multitudes to catch this view. It is fairly impressive and worth missing breakfast for. The books say to see the sunrise, then go back to your hotel for the breakfast spread and come back later. Most people do. But if you have a good guide, he will let you go hungry while you explore the temple almost alone, as we did.
Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, and I am sure the most ornately decorated.
Yes we visited numerous temples. I was soon up to my temples in temples. The cynical part of me started thinking of them as another pile of rocks. They all had a back story. Built in the 12th, 13th centuries by kings whose names I cannot pronounce, even though they all sounded the same. Most of them are being or have been restored to some degree. Many by the French back when they ran the country. Most of the restoration is strictly to preserve the temples integrity. There are many places where the construction material of choice in the 13th century (limestone) is replaced with concrete. It lacks the otherwise ubiquitous bas reliefs and has no patina. But it at least keeps the roof up.
My favorite temple is called Bayon.
Now I will take you to Angkor Thom. Don’t leave yet, this is good!
Most of this temple, nicknamed the Jungle Temple is overgrown with these giant fig tree roots. It makes the entire experience seem like you are in another world.
Because we missed some of Bayon the first time, we insisted on a return visit. You’ll see why, keep reading.
Bayon, like all the temples is surrounded by tall walls fully carved with bas reliefs. In Bayon, they are in three layers. On top depicts the life of the royals. The middle level is the lives of warriors and upper echelon government types. The bottom layer is the common people.
Now for my favorite moment temple exploring.
Before I left for Cambodia, I saw an episode of Ancient Aliens on the History Channel. As always they were talking about clues about the alien visitors left for us by the sculptors of old. I already mentioned the flying chariots (Chariots of the Gods) . They showed a bas relief from Bayon. Of a dinosaur! A dinosaur that had been extinct for 8000 years carved onto the side of a temple “only” 800 years old.
There are many theories about this carving. One is put forward by fundamentalist biblical people to prove that yes, the entire world was created in seven days and dinosaurs and man walked the earth at the same time. Another is that maybe just one stegosaurus survived 8000 years and made his way to Cambodia. Another is that it is a depiction of a pig with a palm tree behind him. And my favorite is that an alien had a stone carver put it on the wall just to screw with our heads. What ever is true, it is a favorite little spot to visit for tourists now.
OK, no more temples. Go to Siem Reap yourself and spend as much time as you want seeing the dozens of really intriguing works from a time when Europe was in the dark ages. The Khmer civilization was truly advanced. I think it was the Alpha Centaurians who helped them, but…
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