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Hi everyone!  We just left the closest thing yet to paradise on a little island called Koh Rung and wrote up our thoughts on Angkor Wat whilst relaxing on the beach. We are currently in Kampot, Cambodia and off to Vietnam in the next few days.  More on Phenom Penh and Cambodia’s unknown beaches soon, for now enjoy our experience at one of the wonders of the world!

Everyone has heard of the wonderous Angkor Wat, mysterious temples in the North of Cambodia. The trip is a must do for any Southeast Asia traveler and its easy to see why.

To demystify this ancient wonder, here’s some background.  The word ‘Angkor’ is a derivation of ‘nagara’, which is the Sanskrit word for city.  All of Angkor was more than a city – the temples that survive are a skeleton of the ancient Khmer empire that in its heyday had an estimated population of 1 million (when London was only 50 000) and included not only temples but residential areas, rice fields and a water management system. Records on the daily life at Angkor are limited, as inscriptions were for matters of religion or state. Chinese emissary Zhou Daguan visited Angkor for a year in the 1200s- his notes after his return for China paint a picture of Khmer life that remain similar to today in the countryside.

During the Angkorian period the ruling god-kings built temples as a way of asserting their divinity, and more than 900 temples were built between the 9th and 15th centuries.  Angkor Wat is the most well-known temple and is considered to be the largest religious building in the world. One of the interesting things we found while exploring Angkor was the influences of both Hinduism and Buddhism, a small example of a larger theme in SE Asia of the dominant communities of China (trade) and India (spirituality).

We hired a tuk-tuk for the first day around the temples, which was a great way to explore and see the main sights. We took bikes out the second day, which we loved – it allowed us to really feel the size of the city and experience the small things. (We found a bar with a pool to cool off afterwards!) We saw sunrise over Angkor on our third day, and explored the temple again to revisit the amazing bas-reliefs (carved religious stories protruding from the walls).

Because things are more fun in list format, our top 7 temples are below in no particular order.

-East Mebon: Known for its well-preserved elephant statues, so a clear winner in Camille’s books.

-Angkor Wat: One of the amazing features is the well-preserved stories captured on the bas-reliefs including the Churning of the Sea of Milk which depicts a God / Demon tug of war with a serpent instead of a rope.  The same motif can be found around the complex.

-Preah Khan: At one point it was a Buddhist university! A huge, quiet complex.

-Bayong: A mass of face towers gives off the impression someone is always watching.  I’m guessing this is what they intended.

-Ta Keo: Huge complex of sandstone made to seem larger as it was unfinished after it was struck by lighting.  Sean’s favourite temple, this was a must see for us.

-Ta Prohm: Inspiration for the temple in Tomb Raider, fun to explore in its natural ‘ruined’ state with overgrown trees and roots looping in and around the temples. Lots of dead ends of doors filled with tumbled bricks meant retracing your steps frequently.

-Banteay Kdei: One of the less visited temples means this was fun to imagine uncovering as the French did in the early 1900s.