Temple park highlights
The main attraction of Siem Reap is of course the magnificent Angkor Archaeological Park. This 400 sq km park is the home of over 300 magnificent temple ruins from the Angkorian era. Most of the temples were constructed between the 9th and 12th century and they are a truly impressive display of ancient Khmer architecture, art and civilization.
The 3 must see highlights of the park include the famous Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm.
Angkor Wat is visually, architecturally and artistically breathtaking. It is a massive three-tiered pyramid crowned by five lotus-like towers rising 65 meters from ground level. Angkor Wat is the centerpiece of any visit to the temples of Angkor.
Angkor Thom (Big Angkor) is a 3km2 walled and moated royal city and was the last capital of the Angkorian empire. After Jayavarman VII recaptured the Angkorian capital from the Cham invaders in 1181, he began a massive building campaign across the empire, constructing Angkor Thom as his new capital city. He began with existing structures such as Baphuon and Phimeanakas and built a grand enclosed city around them, adding the outer wall/moat. He then constructed some of Angkor’s greatest temples including his state-temple, Bayon, set at the center of the city. There are five entrances (gates) to the city, one for each cardinal point, and the victory gate leading to the Royal Palace area. Each gate is crowned with 4 giant faces. The South Gate is often the first stop on a tour.
This sprawling monastic complex is only partially cleared of jungle overgrowth. Intentionally left partially unrestored, massive fig and silk-cotton trees grow from the towers and corridors offering a ‘jungle atmosphere’ and some of the best ‘tree-in-temple’ photo opportunities at Angkor. Ta Prohm is well worth an extended exploration of its dark corridors and open plazas. This temple was one of Jayavarman VII’s first major temple projects. Ta Prohm was dedicated to his mother. (Preah Khan, built shortly in the same general style, was dedicated to Jayavarman VII’s father.) Ta Prohm was originally constructed as a Buddhist monastery and was enormously wealthy in its time, boasting of control over 3000 villages, thousands of support staff and vast stores of jewels and gold. Of the monastic complex style temples, Ta Prohm is a superior example and should be included in almost any temple itinerary.