Monday, January 26, 2015

Exploring Angkor monuments

If you read my post about sunrise at Angkor Wat, you must be aware that I damaged my DSLR at sunrise.  Thereafter I resorted to clicking photos on my phone [thank you One PlusOne for the wonderful camera!].  I do hope the photos transport you to Angkor and bring you a holistic experience of the temple ruins.  

Also, it took me close to 12 hours (spread over 3 days) to put together this mammoth post, including sifting through tons of photos of the temples. I do the short write-ups accompanying photos of temples. do justice to bring you insights into the temple!

Angkor archaeological park

Contrary to popular belief, Angkor Wat is not the only temple at the park, there are several others spread over a vast area lush with trees.

The most popular tourists circuits are small circuit and big circuit.

Small circuit - Angkor Wat, Phnom Bakheng (optional), Bayon, Ta Keo, Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei, Prasat Kravan (optional)

Big circuit - Small circuit + Preag Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon, Pre rup

Hungry for more? - you could head to Banteay Srei, 23 miles off Angkor complex.  

Map from
While I spent only a day (entry fee - USD 20) exploring the temples in a tuk tuk, for leisurely viewing of temples, I recommend at least 2 days, if not 3 .  For architecture/ history buffs, the park has 7 day passes as well!

After buying the entry pass, the first temple complex is Angkor Wat.  Like the temple itself, the entry is grand with a long bridge over a moat.

First look of Angkor temple complex
The first-look of the moat is straight out of an ancient movie set.

Naga carving adoring the bridge to Angkor Wat
Doorway to Angkor
That very moment I knew that the day would be packed with discoveries of many exciting temples!

Buddhist monks still come here to Pray
And a low-down on prayer spots of the monks!

Angkor Wat - of sunrise and sunsets
[big & small circuit]

Angkor Wat was originally a hindu and later a Buddhist temple. It is the largest temple in the entire complex and is a masterpiece of Khmer architecture.  The temple rests next to a moat and its central towers resemble a lotus. 

Beyond this lies Angkor!
Enough has been said about witnessing sunrise at Angkor Wat.  It remains my absolute favourite experience of Siem Reap.  No wonder Angkor Wat figures even on the Cambodian flag!

Famed and Framed - Angkor in the distance!

A Magical sunrise

Intense orange accents

Sun rising behind Angkor

We were enamored with the temple and spent nearly 2 hours here, first to witness a spectacular sunrise, then to pacify myself upon damaging my camera and thereafter to explore the huge precinct. There is even a viewing point inside this temple, but the queue was too much and hence we decided to skip it.

Gopurams inside Angkor temple forming lotus shape

Walking the walk

A smaller temple in Angkor compund

As tourists look at Angkor, Angkor looks back!
(entrance, pathway and moat)

An enthusiastic photographer!

The vastness of the complex!  Put on your walking shoes!
(Note the hot air balloon on top left!  If you got money....)

At the centre of Angkor

Other temples in the Angkor complex

Stunning sight

First of the many headless figures I'd witness that day

People balance stones and make a wish.  So did I!
Angkor Wat complex has much to offer,including buddhist shrines, temple and a look into life of monks!

Buddhist shrine inside Angkor complex

Buddhist temple inside Angkor complex

Prayer flags

Young monks practicing music 
Having explored the entire complex at length, yet it wasn’t enough! And after much dilly-dallying, we returned to watch the sunset upon the beautiful temple!

And I return once again late evening!

Look who's horsing around

Angkor Memorabilia

So beautiful, I want to keep clicking photos!

The sunset brings with it the purple and pink hues!

Farewell to the sun....
South gate - a grand entry to Angkor Thom
[big & small circuit] 

South gate is your doorway to Angkor Thom temple complex whose crowing jewel if the popular temple of Bayon.  Whether you do big circuit or small, if you begin your tour at Angkor Wat, you need to pass through the South Gate. Angkor Thom complex also has west, north and east gate which mirror the south gate. 

Note the sparse crowd!
As we had spent 2 hours at Angkor, by the time we reached the South gate, most tourists were either eating breakfast at their hotels, to return later to explore other temples, or the persistent one’s already were way ahead of us in the circuit.  Hence, we were lucky to limited crowd to battle.

Depiction of 'churning of the ocean'
The South Gate is a gate reminiscent of arches of Indian Forts, albeit decorated with giant faces.  Our tuk tuk passed over a bridge, with is flanked by demon statues demonstrating ‘churning of the ocean milk’ or ‘samudra manthan’.

Inside South Gate! - let the discovery begin!
[big & small circuit]

Eager tourists being briefed by their guide just outside Bayon
Bayon was the second temple I visited. The temple is undergoing massive restoration to rebuild rows of giant faces that adore this Khmer temple.

Restoration work in full swing
Inspite of the restoration, the faces which remain create a beautiful image against the canvas of cloud-studded sky!

Bayon, in all its glory!

Recognize the face?

A group of better preserved faces

Bayon was an important part of King Jayavarman VII’s capital i.e. Angkor Thom.  On his death, the hindus and Buddhists modified the temple to suit their traditions. 

The series of faces, almost resembling each other piqued my curiosity.  Wikipeadia tells me “that the similarity of the faces on the temple's towers to other statues of the King Jayavarman led many scholars to the conclusion that the faces are representations of Jayavarman VII himself. Others have said that the faces belong to the bodhisattva of compassion called Avalokitesvara or Lokesvara”. Either ways, they are stunning!

Let me click a selfie!
Painted on the canvas of sky!
Also, the carvings on the temple walls are beautiful and very well preserved.

The beautiful carving and the beauty with her map!

Basking in the sun as we take a breather at Bayon
The Bayon temple also has carvings of Apsaras.  The Apsaras came to life in the form of artists dressed in attire depicting a scene from Apsara dance, a Cambodian Classic!  The colours of the costumes were a beautiful contrast against the weathering structure of Bayon!

Apsara costumes

....and the demon
 Before exiting the Bayon, I said a quick prayer at the Buddha statue.  Peace shall be!

A symbol of patience and solitude
On our way our of the temple complex, we stopped by a Buddha shrine right next to Bayon and also captured a stunning panaroma of Bayon!

Elephant Terrace & the Terrace of Leper king
[big & small circuit]

A row of elephant carvings followed by carvings of leper king line each side of Angkor Thom.  As we made our way to the big circuit in our tuk-tuk, we passed by the eastern wall adorned with the carvings.  

Being Indians, elephants didn’t really excite me!  Also, the place was teaming with tousists, so we decided to give it a skip and instead enjoyed the view from the tuk-tuk! 

Preah Khan (Big ciruit)
[big circuit] 

Like Angkor, this temple entrance also has a moat.  The area around the moat is lush with trees and very peaceful.

I met a couple of sweet kids, who surprisingly recognized that I was from India.  They even mentioned that Indian come to Angkor in large numbers!

Cute kids recognizing us as Indian
 We also sat back, taking in the temples and reading the map of Angkor!

Connecting the road to the temple over the moat is a bridge flanked by statues of garudas holding a nagas.  However, most statues are headless and the one’s that stand are weathered/ damaged in clashes of anti-buddhist uprising by King Jayaraman.

Unlike other temples, Preah Khan is not elevated.  Instead, it is a series of temple rooms, with crumbling roofs and surprisingly well preserved carvings.  Intervined with the temple rooms are trees with thick rooits growing everywhere! 

Main entrace - but the light was bad
Inside the temple

Apsara carving


The imitation games

Make a wish, take a chance, make a change......and break away....

The trees add such character to the ruins!
Inside the temple!

On the instructions of our tuk-tuk driver, we entered the temple at one gate and were supposed to exit from another.  Little did we know that the temple was accessible from three gates.  I’m sure you can guess the story from here!  We exited from the wrong gate and walked almost 2 kms (as tuk-tuks and cyclists passed us by!) to find our tuk-tuk driver snoozing away to glory at another gate! Hence, I can never forget this temple!

We also got fleeced!  We bought magnets depicting Angkor Wat and bayon at a crazy premium.  Oh well, a lesson learnt!! But the magnets are beautiful :D

The wrong exit!
Artificial Island of Neak Pean
[big circuit]

I had zero interest in Neak Pean after the 2 km walk.  To my disbelief this temple was nothing but a tiny Buddhist temple surrounded by an artificial lake (yes! King Jayavarman’s architects were talented!).  And yes, I didn't click a simple picture of it!

Also, the water at the lake was supposedly used for cure illnesses.  No wonder out tuk-tuk referred to Neak Pean as a hospital and not a temple!

But hold on, what makes Neak Pean a must-visit is a walk over the long-wooden bridge which is the only access to this island.

Bridging the gap

Stunning and how!! This panaroma doesn't do justice to the location
The bridge is flanked views of still water on sides, rustic looking dead trees and endless clouds that the water reflects!  Absolute beauty!!

A lonely boat


Now you see us!
Smallest temple, Ta Som
[big circuit]

Ta Som was the smallest temple on our circuit and pretty much unrestored.  This ensured that the temple was almost empty. 

Because of the angle of the sun I got good shots of this temple, which elevated Ta Som to another level.

Though, we missed locating a third gate which is now strangled by roots of a tree which is supposedly the prime photo spot at Ta Som – oh, well, we still rock!

East Mebon, the guardian of East Baray (a dry moat)
[big circuit]

At the far eastern end of Angkor Archaeological Park lies the temple of East Mebon, built by Rajendravarman II.  It is a temple dedicated to Shiva (hindu God) and to commemorate parents of the king. 

The decorative elephant and lion statues are symbolic of East Mebon.  The central enclosure contains chamber for the linga!  

The architecture resembles hindu temples and I felt absolutely at home here!

Pre Rup
[big circuit]

This temple requires you to climb a lot, and climb high.  It’s also a popular temple for tourists to bid adieu to the sun.

Tourists struggling to climb and up down Pre-rup

Successful climber!
 Like East Mabon, Pre rup was also dedicated to Lord Shiva and built by Rajendravarman II .  

The similarities in construction are notable.  However, Pre rup definitely is the better preserved and grander of the two!  It even offers amazing views of the Angkor archaeological park!

Banteay Kdei
[big & small circuit]

Nothing spectacular about this temple; it’s a series of dilapidated and crumbling sandstone citadel chambers.

 Except that it has a Buddha statue where monks still come to pray and devotees light incense sticks at the foot of the Buddha.

Prayer hall

It also huge trees with big fat roots, at the far back of the temple.  It is clear that the tree towers over the ruins of the temple and is a great photo-op.

Such drama, I could die feasting my eyes on it!
Ta Prohm
[big & small circuit]

This temple is close to my heart, mainly because the conservation and restoration work is partnered by Archaeological Survey of India.  As we walked towards the main temple, workers were hard at work trying to re-create the charm of the temple.

The temple itself is not grand, but the roots of trees creeping up the temple are its most characteristic feature.  Tourists throng the centre of the temple to see the spot made famous by the Lara Craft’s movie Tomb Raider.

Ta Keo
[big & small circuit]

After seeing so many temples, we neither had the excitement or the energy to see this temple.  So we just sat back in our tuk tuk and admired the temple from a distance.

Phnom Bakheng
[big & small circuit]

Most popular sunset spot - this temple is set amidst lush forest and requires climbing steep stairs. We were supposed to witness a sunset from this temple but changed out mind and chose Angkor Wat again mainly to avoid crowds and another crazy climb to the summit of the temple!


Soumyendu said...

Now this is truly an astonishing lot of beautiful pictures! I don't know if you visited Boro Budur as well in Java, perhaps the largest Hindu temple complex in the world which was also discovered among dense forests.

Your pictures of the smaller temples are superb, apart from the sunrise panorama photos. Congratulations!

Cmde Harshad Datar said...

It is a wonderful photo blog. The photos are superb. You have a very free flowing and emmensely readable style.

Keep writing with the same flair.

giri said...

Fantastic clicks Preeti...outstanding indeed...

Preeti Datar said...

Thank you for being stopping by my blog and encouraging me to share my stories.

@Soumyendu, I have not yet visited Boro Budur. Infact, the moment I read your comment, I decided to google it and it looks amazing! Just the kind of places I should visit, maybe soon :)

Cmde Harshad Datar said...

Well written blog with fantastic photos. It revived my fond memories of Angkor wat


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