Majestic Angkor Wat
The temples of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom remain serene, as if they were still largely untouched by human interference
City of Peace
Siem Reap Airport lies about 10km and 15 minutes by bus from the city center. The road to town is flanked by hotels and resorts that reveal Siem Reap’s place as a popular tourist site. While the city welcomes visitors from around the world, it has not lost its authentic beauty. The Cambodian government regulates construction and architecture to maintain Siem Reap’s identity in harmony with the Angkor complex. Most hotels and resorts feature Khmer architecture with red roofs. Buildings cannot be taller than 65 m so as not to surpass the tallest temple towers. This demonstrates local people’s reverence for this sacred site.
The second largest city in Cambodia, Siem Reap attracts thousands of tourists each day. Nonetheless, it remains calm, with no traffic jams or noise. Security is quite good despite a vibrant atmosphere in the main streets and markets. The friendliness and simplicity of the Khmer people make visitors feel comfortable. Even at busy tourist sites, order and security are strictly guaranteed. The temples of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom remain serene, as if they were still largely untouched by human interference.
The best time to discover Angkor is during the dry season between November and April. While the summer brings treacherous tropical rains and burning sunshine, legions of visitors still stand in line waiting to discover Siem Reap’s most famous temple compounds: Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat.
Built at the behest of King Jayavarman VII in the late 12th century, Angkor Thom was the last and longest-standing capital of the Khmer Empire. On a perfect square that measured 3 km by 3 km stand temples dedicated to deities and ancestors of the Khmer kingdom. Key materials include laterite and sandstone. Historians and archeologists still struggle to understand the construction techniques of the ancient Khmer workers. The prevailing theory holds that workers used a canal system to transport stones weighing up to 1.6 tons over 30 km from quays to the construction site.
The compound is home to 54 towers of various sizes, each tower featuring the massive statue of a face carved on each of its four facades. Whether these smiling faces embody deities, demonstrate key Buddhist principles, or represent King Jayavarman VII is still subject to debate. The benevolent and enigmatic faces lend the Bayon a romantic and otherworldly atmosphere.
To the east of Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm Temple is another much-visited site. Ta Prohm was both a Buddhist monastery and a secluded royal place built for King Jayavarman VII. King Jayavarman VIII ordered that all Buddhist images be destroyed and replaced with Hindu motifs. Therefore, the temples reveal both Buddhist and Hindu influences. Largely untouched since the late 19th century, Ta Prohm remains dotted with massive trees. Great roots wrap around the old temples, threatening to pull them apart.
Khmer architecture reached its peak with the temples of Angkor Wat. Visitors usually come here at the sunset when the sun’s rays shine directly through the main western hall. Nobody is sure why Angkor Wat faces west while all of the other temples in Angkor face to the east.
Visiting Angkor Wat in a heavy rainstorm, I found the main hall relatively deserted, all of the other visitors intent upon the masterful stone carvings. Lining an immeasurably long terrace are the longest and largest stone murals in the world. They measure 2.5 m high and run for 800m along the terrace of the temple’s first floor. Sophisticated and gentle patterns portray key scenes from epics and recount the deeds of King Suryavarman II, who ordered the construction of Angkor Wat. The second floor of the temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Visnu. This floor boasts a variety of carved Apsara fairies. With their inspiring faces and postures, these fairies appear incredibly lifelike. Representing Heaven, the third floor lies 65 m above the ground and is reached by a steep, narrow staircase. Few can enter this Heaven. Those who succeed are rewarded with a magnificent panoramic view of Siem Reap and the Angkor compound.
It was a dream-come-true when I set foot in this land of ancient temples and marveled at the architectural masterpieces of Khmer civilization. Touching stone walls that had stood for millennia, I felt total peace of mind amidst these sacred temple towers.