The charming town of Siem Reap in the heart of Cambodia owes its magical appeal to the historic Khmer kingdom, who built the largest temple complex in the world in the immediate vicinity. Siem Reap is the perfect starting point to get to know these unique and breathtaking buildings. After the fascinating impressions of a sightseeing tour, the lively city offers a relaxing contrast. In a street scene that was largely shaped by the French colonial period at the beginning of the 19th century, colourful evening markets, a variety of original restaurants and a multi-faceted nightlife await you. To get in the mood for the history of the Khmer, a visit to the Angkor National Museum is worthwhile and the Cambodian Cultural Village offers interesting insights into Cambodian culture and history.
Angkor Wat is considered the largest sacred building in the world and covers an area of almost 1,700 square meters. Because of its historical significance, the temple complex has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Angkor Wat was built at the beginning of the 11th century as a Hindu cult site and became a Buddhist temple about 200 years later. The inner area of the complex is enclosed by a moat up to 623 feet wide. In it rises the enormous temple with its five towers. The main tower in the middle is 213 feet high. Beside the sheer size, the artful reliefs with which the big sandstone blocks are adorned are very impressive. Especially famous are the finely elaborated representations of the Apsara dancers. You will get a wonderful impression of Angkor Wat after dusk, when the temple is effectively illuminated.
In Angkor Thom you will not find a single temple like in Angkor Wat, but the impressive remains of an early metropolis. The capital of the Khmer kingdom was founded at the beginning of the 13th century and with more than one million inhabitants it was considerably larger than the medieval cities in Europe. Of the once magnificent city of Angkor Thom, only the remains of the temples remain, as stone as a building material was reserved for religious buildings during the Khmer dynasty. The secular buildings were made of wood and have decayed over the past 600 years. The former city area is surrounded by a city wall. The fascinating atmosphere of Angkor Thom can be experienced when you take a walk along the city walls, which are often overgrown with jungle, away from the big attractions.
The temple of Bayon is beside Angkor Wat the most impressive sacral building of the Khmer kings. It dominates the centre of the ancient city of Angkor Thom. Of the original 50 towers of the temple, 37 are still completely preserved. All towers show several reliefs of smiling faces up to 23 feet high. They represent a Bodhisattva, an important symbol of Buddhism. The entire complex is surrounded by open porticoes. They offer an insight into the filigree structure of the round temple, which has been repeatedly changed over the centuries by alterations and extensions.
The Baphuon Temple is an almost 98 feet high step pyramid built in five levels, from which you can enjoy a magnificent view of Angkor Thom. Over steep stairs you can reach the individual floors one by one. Particularly worth seeing are the reliefs on the second pyramid step, which show artistic representations from Hindu mythology. Beside the temple there is a huge sculpture of a reclining Buddha that was built later beside the once Hindu temple. The imposing building was extensively restored over a period of 50 years and is therefore one of the best preserved temple buildings in Angkor Thom.
The temple complex Ta Prohm fascinates by its half-decayed condition. It was deliberately not restored and only made sure that visitors can visit the site without danger. Especially impressive is the tropical vegetation with huge trees, whose widely ramified roots often completely overgrow a building. The complex complex consists of the ruins of a temple and numerous buildings of a monastery in which up to 13,000 monks once lived. The overwhelming scenery of Ta Prohm served as a set for the film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
Before Angkor Thom became the headquarters of the Khmer kings, the temple district of Preah Khan was the most important place in the region. The largely well-preserved complex with its flat temple buildings forms a surprising contrast to the other sacred buildings of the Angkor region. Preah Khan was probably also the seat of a kind of religious university, where more than 1,000 scholars taught. The numerous walls, moats and dams make the area of Preah Khan look like a labyrinth in parts. As in Ta Prohm, the huge tree roots, which almost bury individual buildings, also amaze here. The most beautiful lighting for souvenir photos is provided by the low sun in the late afternoon.
The Hindu temple Banteay Srei is because of its compactness a surprising contrast to the enormous buildings of Angkor Wat. Freely translated, Banteay Srei also means "Fortress of Beauty" and the temple is considered a particularly interesting sight in the area around Siem Reap because of its artistic stonemasonry. The walls of the buildings in the 1,000-year-old temple complex are almost completely decorated with reliefs and engravings. The red sandstone masonry was relatively easy to work and allowed very detailed representations. The building material is relatively resistant to weathering and explains the comparatively good state of preservation of the temple Banteay Srei.
Phnom Bakheng is a 180 feet high hill, the top of which is occupied by the pyramid temple of the same name. The building is relatively dilapidated and its great charm lies in the fantastic view you can enjoy from here. Especially from the 5th floor of the pyramid there is a great landscape panorama and you can admire Angkor Wat from a bird's eye view. Phnom Bakheng is a very popular destination to experience a spectacular sunset. In the afternoon at the foot of the hill an original shuttle service with elephants is offered to save you the somewhat strenuous climb. Less
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