Angkor was the capital of Khmer Empire (or Jemer) that dominated the area of Cambodia and parts of Laos and Thailand since the early of nine century A.D until the fifteenth century A.D when the Kingdom of Ayutthaya (Thailand) conquered the city. The citizens of Angkor then moved to the city of Phnom Penh, the present capital of Cambodia. That was about the year of 1351. Since then only the religious and pilgrims inhabited the temples of Angkor Wat and the vegetation was invading them through centuries. In 1860, the French naturalist Alexandre Henri Mouhout rediscovered the temples and began to write about them. In 1901, the French began to restore some temples and the first visitors arrived in 1907. Today more than 2 million people visit the temples every year. Angkor Temples become the most famous destination for any Cambodia tour packages.
Ta Prohm, famous for Tomb Raider
About 8.30 in the morning, we start our Angkor tour with the visit to the temple of Ta Prohm (built in AD 1186 during the reign of King Jayavarman II). This temple was practically unknown until the famous movie Tomb Raider was filmed here. Ta Prohm is the best example of the relationship between nature and ruins. A huge tree rises above the temple itself and the roots envelop the temple by eating it and preserving it at the same time. Pure symbiosis. If the roots were cut, the temple would surely collapse.
In the next photo, you can see some of the small surprises that many tourists travel to Cambodia like, especially the superstitious ones. It is a relief of a smiley face sculpted in the rock of the temple that lets itself glimpse through the roots that seem to respect it expressly.
The fortified city of Angkor Thom
We climb back the tuk tuk and continue our Cambodia private tour with a visit to the fortified city of Angkor Thom (built between 1181 and 1219 A.D by King Jayavarman VII). Within this city there are some of the most famous places of the historical park.
Like Ayutthaya in its heyday, Angkor Thom was the center of a mega city of one million inhabitants when the main European cities barely reached 50 thousand. The city had 12 km of walls surrounded by a moat full of crocodiles. It had 5 doors of 20 meters high. The first thing we saw upon entering the Angkor Thom compound was the terrace of the elephants. The terrace is a raised stone structure with an esplanade in front. The king climbed onto the terrace and from there watched the shows in the form of parades or elephant fights. From afar we also saw the terrace of the leper king, a similar terrace on which there is a statue that is believed to represent a king who became ill with that disease.
Then we were visiting Phimeanakas, an ancient palace of the kings of Angkor that you can climb up and get beautiful views. In the palace you can see several ponds that were used for royal ablutions.
Next we met the temple of Baphuon, a large temple that is believed to have been the most beautiful in the city. It started as a Hindu temple but when the Angkor Empire was moved to Theravada Buddhism, the king of the time built a huge Baphuon recumbent Buddha. In 2010, that Buddha was in restoration and now you can see it. We will still need a little imagination to see it whole since half of its body collapsed and was not restored.
Even inside the walled city of Angkor Thom, we found the favorite temple of most tourist that travel to Cambodia: the Bayon Temple. It is the most visited after Angkor Wat. The main characteristic of Bayon are the 54 towers decorated with 216 faces. Somebody believes the faces are those of King Avalokiteshvara or Jayavarman VII. It is impressive to walk around the temple surrounded by all those sculptures of giant and smiling faces from more than 8 centuries ago.
Another attraction of Bayon are the reliefs with more than 11 thousand sculpted characters that tell us how the population of Angkor Thom lived as well as naval battles between the Khmers and the Cham (Muslims who lived in the center of Vietnam at that time).
Angkor Wat, the jewel in the crown
We went back to the tuk tuk and drove to Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world and named after the historic site. Angkor Wat is also the image of the Kingdom of Cambodia and its figure is on the flag and on its bills.
Angkor Wat was first a Hindu, then subsequently a Buddhist, temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world. The temple was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in Yasodharapura. It has become a symbol of Cambodia and it is the prime attraction for all tours in Cambodia.
View tour: Cambodia - Vietnam Highlights 15 days