When you mention Cambodia, Angkor Wat is often the first thing that comes to mind. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Angkor Wat is a temple unto itself. It is impressive, but not the only temple in the local vicinity. The area where Angkor Wat is located holds dozens and dozens of temples (some restored, some which are just piles of rubble now) – called, collectively, the Temples of Angkor.
My husband and I visited the Temples over 3 days and managed to cover Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Ta Phrom, The Terrace of the Elephants, The Terrace of the Leaper King, Banteay Srei, and a few others.
We hired a tour guide, which was worth way more than we paid. Not having a guide would have had us looking at these wondrous structures with no idea where they came from, what they stood for, and what it all meant. Our guide told us stories at every temple about the Kings who built them (and destroyed them, and rebuilt them), the carvings and what they meant, and showed us hidden gems in the temples and carvings that we never would have found on our own.
Of course, the first question we had was “How did they do that?”
The stone blocks that make up the temples can weigh up to several hundred tons each. Our guide described how the people of the time used levers, pulleys and the strength of elephants to move the stones into place. It seems plausible, and yet out of this world, because it isn’t until you see one of those stones in person that you can truly understand how big and wondrous they truly are.
And it wasn’t just the size of the stones of the temples, but the details at each one. Every stone, at every temple, hand carved to specific proportions, many of the carvings mirroring each other. The sheer scale of the delicate, intricate work blew our minds over and over.
While it’s clear that Angkor Wat is on the national flag of Cambodia for a reason, Ta Phrom was actually my favourite. This temple has been overtaken by trees and left that way, so they grow out of the ground and in and around the temple as if to say, “I will reclaim you – you came from me, and you will be mine once more”. It’s raw and natural and really so beautiful.
These temples aren’t easy to get around. You have to work for it to see them from all sides. There are some treacherous climbs, but the views from the top were always worth it.