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Angkor Temples

I managed to see nine temples in the three days I was in Siem Reap – out of the thousand or so temples that are in the Angkor area. And, believe me, nine was enough – even I was getting all templed out by Boxing Day! They are all built on much the same plan, just with variations in scale and magnificence. They were built between the tenth and thirteenth centuries, approximately, so if you think of them as slightly older than a medieval cathedral you won’t be far out.

Most of them were originally built as Hindu temples, and have intricate carvings telling various Hindu myths. Then the Khmer kings converted to Buddhism, but saw no point in wasting perfectly good architecture, so they were re-purposed as Buddhist temples. So they are a rather odd syncretism of Hindu and Buddhist traditions – both of which were new to me.

Angkor Wat reflected in its moat - shame about the scaffolding!

This is what all the fuss is about – Angkor Wat, the biggest of all the temples, built around 1120AD. It is surrounded by a moat, with a causeway leading to the temple itself, which has five towers – apparently in homage to the five peaks of the mountain that is the home of the Hindu gods. It was absolutely magnificent – and also pretty crowded.

Angkor Thom - detail of Bayon temple towers

Next to Angkor Wat, and even larger, is Angkor Thom, which was a royal city with temples of its own. One of these, called Bayon, had carvings of the Buddha on each of its many towers. There is a school of thought that the faces are that of King Jayavarman VII who was the ruler at the time the temple was built – if so, he was surely a meglomaniac and looks rather smug don’t you think?

Ta Prohm temple through the trees

The picture above gives an overall view of one of the smaller temples, this one either didn’t have a moat or (more likely I think) it had dried up over the centuries. This particular temple was used as part of the set for the Tomb Raider film, and the locals aren’t going to let you forget that in a hurry!

Ta Prohm temple being devoured by tree roots

This temple, unlike some of the others, had not been heavily restored, and was still surrounded by jungle which was slowly devouring it. In the picture above you can see tree roots strangling a colonnade. The person I’ve got in the frame gives a sense of scale – those roots are thicker than my torso!

Banteay Srei

Finally, this is a picture of part of one of the most beautifully carved temples, Banteay Srei. It was built from a reddish sandstone, which took deep bas-relief carving very well. It is about 40 minutes north of the main group of Angkor temples.  Three months ago, during the floods which affected Cambodia as well as neighbouring Thailand, the waters rose so quickly that the road leading back to Siem Reap became impassable very quickly, and a party of  tourists got stuck at Banteay Srei and had to be airlifted out in helicopters! I’m glad I wasn’t caught up in anything as dramatic as that – a near miss in a fire was quite bad enough!

{ 1 } Comments

  1. PaulD | 1 January 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Great set of photos, impressive tree roots there