Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The majestic temples of Siem Reap...

Being granted the opportunity to visit Siem Reap was sheer luck as we were told by one of our local Cambodian friends, that part of their beliefs is to visit Siem Reap at least once in their lifetime.  Almost as a pilgrimage to the once holy land, Siem Reap is home to many majestic temples located in the north west region of Cambodia.  These temples awe visitors around the world with their enormity and rich heritage.  Built over a millennium ago, the temples still flaunt the reminisce of Khmer civilization and art.  We must admit that even though the temples are ancient in age, the carvings are still well preserved and magnificent to view.

The magnificent carvings on the temple walls and pillars.

Excited at being able to explore these historical monuments, we rose early and boarded our flight from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap at 5.30am in the morning.  The weather was fantastic, almost perfect witnessing the sun rise and having the cool morning breeze complimenting the beginning of the tour.

We arrived in Siem Reap shortly... the flight was a short flight of about 45 minutes.  Upon arrival, our tour guide greeted us in true Cambodian hospitality, by placing his hands together and welcoming us to his country.  We boarded the mini van and began our journey towards the temples.  Our tour guide explained that Siem Reap is home to over 1000 temples which were built between the 9th and 13th centuries.  Over time, these magnificent temples have begun to wither as the remaining structures are merely the sacred skeletons of the Khmer Empire.  Buildings of stone were reserved for the Gods so whilst the Khmer kings and slaves resided in Angkor during the construction of these magnificent temples, they all lived in wooden home which has long since vanished.

The entranced where we began our temple pilgrimage

With so many temples and not having much time on our hands, we chose to visit the main temples which included Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, Angkor Thom, Terrace of Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King and the mysterious faces of the Bayon.  

The heads at the Bayon Temple

It is believed that each new temple was built by an estimated 1,000,000 people who lived in Angkor during the time.  Our tour guide mentioned that this was when the population of London was a mere 50,000 people.  These remarkably labour intensive building projects were undertaken by the Khmer kings which comparatively is likened to the construction of the pyramids in Egypt by the ancient Pharaohs.

Apsara carvings on the temple pillars.
Each temple has its own history, one such temple was the Terrace of Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King.  The terrace of elephants is literally a terrace composed of elephant statues which possibly could have been an viewing gallery for royal events in the past.  The terrace of the Leper King, houses a remarkable statue of King Yasovarman, known as the Leper King as he passed on after contracting Leprosy. In Hinduism, the statue is believed to be Yama (Yemen), the God of death.

Terrace of Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King
We then ventured to Ta Prohm, the beautiful temple where the movie Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie was shot.  This specific temple reminds us of the power of nature over the power of mankind as you can visually notice how the huge silk tree roots are devouring the temple.  Constructed in 1186 AD, the temple was originally known as Rajavihara (Monastery of the King), a Buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of King Jayavarman VII.

The incredible Silk trees devouring the Ta Prohm temple

We ended the tour with visiting the magnificent Angkor Wat.  Religiously, Angkor Wat is the largest temple in the world and is said to equal the volume of stone of the Cheops pyramid in Egypt.  Angkor Wat is also the temple which is symbolically represented on the modern day Cambodian National flag.  A remarkable temple which took an estimated 30 years to build, was said to be the work of King Suryavarman II.  Today the temple is home to Buddhist monks who have preserved and maintained the temple.   

Angkor Wat Temple

There are very few sights on earth that can match the majesty of Angkor Wat or the Siem Reap experience.  So, whether you are a lover of architecture or not, Siem Reap is a profound experience.  A short visit encompassing 2 days and 1 night would be adequate if you wish to grab a quick glimpse of these architectural treasures however we do advise three days to be fair to explore this magnificent area.

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