I spent the last days of 2016 and the firsts of 2017 in Siem Reap Cambodia, a low lying urban sprawl south of the Angkor archeological site, and I had a wonderful time exploring the cities, both ancient and modern. Angkor Wat is Khmer (Cambodian) for “City of Temples”, and that is essentially what it is: ruins of Hindu and Buddhist temples stretching over almost 250 square miles of all sizes and types. I covered as much of that area as I could in the 3 days I spent there, and I don’t believe I can truly capture the magic of that area through words or pictures, but I will do my best to try and accomplish that here. Enjoy!
Some alleyway decorations I found in the streets of Siem Reap
Pigs heads for sale at the Old Market in Siem Reap. You could get anything at this market, which took up an whole city block, from fine silks to freshly fried bananas (20 for a dollar!) with everything and more in between. One thing that surprised me was that almost all of the prices in the touristy parts of Siem Reap were in US Dollars, and they were used interchangeably with the Cambodian Riel. It felt weird to be using the same money I do at home while on the other side of the world.
Tried my first scorpion, which tasted unlike anything else I have ever eaten, but the dominating sense of the experience was the hard, crunchy shell, which took a while to chew over
Sunset over the Siem Reap river with neon lighting on the bridges (more to come of that later)
I chose to do all of my exploration of Angkor Wat on bike, which was often slow and laborious, but it gave me the freedom to explore off of the beaten path. The closest temple ruin to the city of Siem Reap is about five miles away, and the temples are spread out over a large area, so I was biking about 25 miles a day give or take, which got pretty exhausting come day 3. Anyhow, I don’t regret it one bit
The eastern entrance to the Banteay Kdei temple, which was the first of many faces carved out of stone that I would come to see.
A prayer area in Banteay Kdei
The first of many massive and beautiful trees I would come to see, nestled up next to the core of the temple
Prae Roup temple from a distance. On my first day I didn’t really have any places I was planning to go to, as I just wanted to wander and go wherever looked cool in the moment, and it was an amazing feeling to be cruising around and then be greeted with a building as magnificent as this.
Temple steps could be a bit daunting after a couple of hours on a creaking city bike
But the views down and around were absolutely worth it
This lion was in better shape
Crumbling off into infinity
One of the elephants standing guard at the corners of the Eastern Mebon temple
A chicken and some kids doing their thing outside of Ta Som temple
An amazing tree archway deep in the Ta Som temple
Each tower structure had its own unique view from below, and this was one of my favorites
The view out over an ancient manmade lake that surrounds the temple Jayatataka
The lake in the center of the island in the center of the lake is the center of Jayatataka
It was interesting to see the degree to which some structures were well preserved and others were left to the powers of erosion
All sorts of forms
Climbing was always rewarded with quite the view
A gallantly posed cow that I stumbled upon on a small path in-between temples. One cool thing about the Angkor area is that there are people who live among such grand temples so casually.
A tree spilling over the pavers outside of Ta Prohm Temple
The Tomb Raider tree, named for Angelina Jolie’s appearance under it in the aforementioned film
Me and the trees
Ta Prohm is one of the more popular temples in the area, but for good reason. There are giant trees intertwined with the entirety of the temple
A beautifully restored corridor
The trees all around the temple are characterised by roots that seem to spill down out of the sky, as if the tree grew upside down
It creates an interesting intersection of the natural and constructed worlds, all while being maintained meticulously by the restorative workers
A massive tree through a doorway
Nature fights back
Trees that look like waterfalls and spiderwebs at the same time
Some beautiful moss covering a corridor
A structure of Hindu figure Garuda, with some faces thrown on top for good measure
The reverse view of Ta Keo Temple’s summit, which is massive and eerily undecorated, as the king who built it’s regime fell before it could be finished
Photoshoot of a photoshoot
Some beautiful carvings
To be honest I can’t remember the context in which this picture was taken or why there was a red light in a temple, but its a cool picture of some stonework so here it is
A ceremony of some sort happening within the walls of Angkor Thom, which used to be the capital of the Khemer empire (more on that later)
The eastern gate of Angkor Thom. Each gate has a bridge over a moat leading up to it and then has a narrow throughway like the one in this picture. During busy times that means the gates get pretty backed up with cars, rickshaws, scooters and bikes, but being on the most mobile form of transport meant that I could do some line cutting
The dilapidated tower of Prasat Preach Palilay
The view up out of the tower
Some more massive trees adjacent to the tower
Candles lit all over the facade of the Terrace of Elephants with a car zooming by
Seeing the sun creep over the horizon to reveal the towers of Angkor Wat was one of the most surreal sunrises of my life
I got there very early in time to get a seat right next to the reflective pool, leaving my hostel at around 4 am to get there in time, but that didn’t stop the people behind my from getting in my way
The crowd assembled to watch the last sunrise of 2016 was massive but luckily they were all behind me
The light started to fully illuminate the environment, and it was so stunning.
Right as I was about to get up and explore the the temple itself, the sun came further up and illuminated the clouds beautifully. This is one of my favourite pictures in all of my travels so far
Some monkeys hanging out by the eastern entrance of Angkor Wat. While the central temple is massive, the whole grounds of the temple take over 20 minutes to walk from end to end, and the Angkor Wat temple is the largest single religious site in the whole world
A pile of old window bars
Almost the entire perimeter of the temple, over 600 yards, is covered by intricate bas relief carvings, which are well preserved and restored to tell many of the stories from Hindu mythology and Khemer history. The carvings ranged from massive war scenes taking up whole hallways to celebratory processions depicting a king’s ascension to the throne
A War Elephant amidst the total chaos of battle
The repetitive figures of the hall depicting the churning of the sea milk were awe-inspiring
Hindu iconography is fascinating, with mythical creatures and figures unlike those of any other religion. I forget which god this is depicting, but he has 24 arms, all of which are holding war staffs
Vishnu, the god to whom the temple is dedicated, riding on top of the shoulders of Garuda into battle
A long line to get to the top of the temple
But the view was absolutely worth it. In the background you can see a hot air balloon rising over the temples, but it isn’t nearly as cool as the balloons of Bagan, which is a story for a bit further down the road
A beautifully restored seven headed serpent at the western entrance to Angkor Wat
Bikes allowed you to pull right up to the temples, which saved your leg strength for the slog up the stairs. The temple here is called Baksei Chamkrong
Some of the many faces depicted in the Bayon temple, which is the heart of Angkor Thom, which was the largest city in the whole world in the 13th century. Things have changed a lot in the ensuing centuries, but it still holds a power and importance despite the elapsed time
The historical jury is still out on whose face is adorned all over the temple, but they think it is either Jayavarman VII, who is the king who called for the building of the temple, or the smile of a Bodhisattva or Buddha after having achieved enlightenment.
I find it fascinating how these rocks all have such a history, as many of the source quarries are over 25 miles away from the temples themselves. Each rock has been shaped and carved and subsequently eroded to get to where it is today, and bearing witness to that history is a powerful experience.
Looking up at the Baphuon temple just northwest of Bayon
Looking down from the top of Baphuon out over the terrace leading up to it
A giant reclining buddha statue that has seen better days but is nonetheless very impressive. The face of the buddha is right in the center of the photo if you don’t see it right away
Some lions just lying discarded among the temples
Looking down on Pub Street in Siem Reap during the new years celebrations. While Siem Reap itself is a pretty touristy place, I was pleasantly surprised by how many Cambodian people were out in the streets celebrating with the tourists. This scene was outside one of the western bars, but I spent most of my night outside of this stand selling fruit smoothies that was playing what I presumed to be Cambodian music, doing my best to dance as the Cambodians do. Very wrist oriented. This was one of my favorite new years festivities in my life, as I had a great time with lots of wonderful people
The lights on the river on my last night in Siem Reap. While I came there to see Angkor Wat, I had a wonderful time in the city itself, and I definitely want to come back here again some time in the future.
Coming up next is my time in Chiang Mai and the surrounding areas. Stay tuned!