Things to Do in Cambodia - page 2
Known for its photogenic gateway (gopura) choked by the roots of a strangling fig tree, Ta Som is one of Angkor’s smaller temples. Jayavarman VII built the complex in the late 12th century, and it’s particularly scenic because it’s still overgrown. The inner sanctuary includes towers with faces like those at the more famous Bayon.
Less visited than Siem Reap’s “big three” (Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm), Banteay Kdei is a 12th-century Buddhist monastery that lies conveniently close to Ta Prohm and Srah Srang. The towering trees that overgrow the site add atmosphere, while it’s easy to imagine ancient monks praying and sleeping in the tiny cells as you stroll.
A favorite Angkor sunset spot, Pre Rup is a 3-tier mountain temple topped with five sanctuary towers. Built in 961 AD as a temple to the Hindu god Shiva, Pre Rup’s name means “turn the body,” and some believe it was used for cremations. Its warm brickwork and red laterite stone look beautiful at sunrise or sunset.
Just north of the Terrace of the Elephants in the 800-year-old city of Angkor Thom, the Terrace of the Leper King takes its name from the statue that stands atop it. Around 20 feet (6 meters) high, the grand platform stands out for the detailed carvings on its exterior and interior walls: kings, princesses, spirits, sacred snakes, and more.
Opened in 2007, this modern, interactive museum showcases Khmer civilization and the Angkor era. Eight different galleries put the period in context with artifacts gathered from sites including Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. Topics covered include religion and belief, the great Khmer kings, the pre-Angkor period, and ancient costume.
Believed to have been built during King Suryavarman II’s reign in the first half of the 12th century, Wat Athvea is one of several Hindu temples around Siem Reap that remain shrouded in mystery. Less visited than the nearby temples of Angkor, it’s a worthwhile detour for those looking to escape the crowds.
A heavily restored 12th-century temple, Banteay Samré feels more like a citadel. The Khmer emperor Suryavarman II built the complex, which includes a hall, two libraries, a temple, a dry moat, and fringing walls. Though Banteay Samré is smaller than many other Angkor-era monuments, it boasts some impressive carvings.
With shaded pavilions and elaborately carved stone pieces, Baphuon is one of the most magical temples in Angkor Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Set within the grounds of Angkor Thom, a huge 12th-century site that dwarfs even Angkor Wat in size, Baphuon attracts visitors with its reclining Buddha and dilapidated charm.
One of Siem Reap’s oldest temples, Wat Bo is known for its collection of well-preserved wall paintings from the late 19th century. Though Wat Bo is a Buddhist temple, these paintings depict the Reamker, which is Cambodia’s interpretation of the Ramayana—an epic Hindu story about the love between Rama and Shita, the strongest man and the most beautiful women of all time. There is also an impressive collection of Buddha statues.
It won’t take long to explore Wat Bo as it’s not that big of a temple. However, the paintings are well preserved and, in addition to illustrating the Reamker, the paintings also give insight into daily life in this area. A sharp eye might catch foreigners painted into the scenes, get an idea of what fashion looked like in those days and perhaps spot the likeness of French soldiers. It’s a quiet respite from the liveliness of Siem Reap and a nice break from the expansive temples of nearby Angkor Wat.
Refurbished in 2018, the 5-acre (2-hectare) War Museum Cambodia is devoted to the weapons of Cambodia’s many conflicts. The collection, which you’re allowed to handle, runs from tanks and fighter planes to small arms and rocket launchers. One room focuses on the landmines that have caused such suffering in Cambodia.
More Things to Do in Cambodia
Built during the ninth century at what was the center of the royal city at the time, Phnom Bakheng (also known as the temple of Shiva) is one of the oldest temples in Angkor. The five-tiered pyramidal structure, built on top of a hill, and was originally surrounded by 108 towers, an auspicious number in many Eastern religions.
While the temple ruins of Phnom Bakheng are impressive, the reason most visitors come is to watch the sunset from the top or to attempt to snap the money shot of Angkor Wat rising up from the jungle in the distance (the site sits less than a mile from Phnom Bakheng). To avoid the crowds, consider coming at sunrise instead.
Set near the center of the Royal Enclosure in Angkor Thom, Phimeanakas served as the king’s personal temple during the 10th and 11th centuries, before Jayavarman VII constructed Angkor Thom around it. Historians believe the three-tiered temple was once topped with a gold-covered tower, but very little of it remains.
According to local legend, the king would visit the top of the temple each night to meet a woman with the head of a naga (a serpent deity), and that if he failed to show up for the tryst, disaster would strike his kingdom.
While many of the temple’s decorative elements have been removed over time, it’s still worth making the short but steep climb to the top, where you’ll be rewarded with excellent views of nearby Baphuon.
Set back from the west bank of the Siem Reap River, Wat Preah Prom Rath temple boasts a history that may date back to the 13th century. However, everything to be seen here was built after World War II. Colorful statues and lush gardens in the heart of downtown offer the chance to see how Cambodian Buddhism is practiced today.
Srah Srang is a baray, or reservoir, that is located south of the East Baray and east of Banteay Kde. Srah Srang was created by excavation in the mid-900s and, while there are several theories, it’s not clear whether the significance of this reservoir was religious, agricultural or a little bit of both. However, Srah Srang is best known as an ideal location for viewing the sunrise.
At present Srah Srang measures almost 2,300 feet (700 meters) by almost 1,200 feet (350 meters) and is still partially flooded. A basement was found in the middle of it, which suggests that there may have been a temple on an artificial island at some point in the past. The landing-stage is located opposite the entrance to Banteay Kdei and is bordered by naga balustrades, ending with the head of a serpent mounted by a garuda with unfurled wings; guardian lions watch over the steps that lead down to the water.
A large, air-conditioned wooden pavilion on the grounds of Siem Reap’s Angkor Village Resort, the Angkor Village Apsara Theatre hosts classical Khmer dance performances with a live orchestra. Shows typically include the graceful apsara (nymph) dance and scenes from the Hindu epic known as the Ramayana, with a Cambodian-themed dinner.
Travelers looking for cold beers and cheap food almost always find themselves in the throes of chaotic Pub Street. Local taverns, unique vendors, musicians and traditional dancers line this paved pass, giving Siem Reap’s entertainment Mecca a true party vibe.
Pedestrian-only streets mean it’s easy to wander between stalls selling traditional crafts, ice-cold beers and spicy hot soups. Food here is as popular with locals as it is with travelers. Strong-stomached visitors can sample frog legs, beetles, snake and crispy grasshoppers, while the less adventurous can head indoors to dance at bumping disco techs, or simply saddle up to one of the numerous outdoor tables and sip cool drinks while absorbing all of the city’s energy.
With its golden sands and clear water, Nang Yuan Island (Koh Nang Yuan) is the poster child of southern Thailand. Hike the rocky, forested landscape; swim and snorkel in crystalline water; or just relax in relative quiet. Nang Yuan sees only a fraction of the crowds that flock to its neighbors.
Built in 1443, Wat Ounalom is perhaps the most important pagoda in Cambodia’s capital city. Comprised of 44 structures, including a stupa thought to contain an eyebrow hair of Buddha, this impressive attraction was damaged during the Khmer Rouge and later restored. An early morning trip provides a quiet respite from the bustle of a busy surrounding city. In this peaceful setting visitors can hear monks chanting while they wander the pagoda, and even visit with them after Morning Prayer.
Often overlooked by visitors exploring Angkor Archaeological Park, Bakong is a 5-tier temple with its own unique charm. One of the earliest temples in the region, Bakong was built within a strict geometric matrix, a style recognizable in the later Angkor Wat. The temple grounds, home to multiple freestanding satellite temples, provide a welcome break from the crowds of nearby Angkor Wat.
The absence of carving shows that Ta Keo, a sandstone mountain temple that stands almost 164 feet (50 meters) tall, was never finished. Started by Jayavarman V during the 10th century, the vast structure, with four corner towers around a central turret, would have been one of Angkor’s most impressive. It still offers sweeping views.
A 10th-century Hindu temple, Prasat Kravan bucks the Angkor trend: It’s built from brick, not stone. The five brick towers may seem unimpressive from the outside, but it’s the carvings within that are the draw. Brick bas-reliefs here include Vishnu riding his sacred bird, Garuda, and Lakshmi, his wife, holding lotus flowers.
The 3 main temples that form the Roluos Group (Roluos Temples) stand apart from the main attractions around Siem Reap, lying to the west of the town rather than on the main northern axis. They’re also significantly older, dating from the 9th century when this area was known as Hariharalaya.
Preah Ko, the oldest, is arranged as two rows of three “prasats” (towers) each, and boasts stunning stone carvings and plasterwork. After that comes the intricate 5-tiered Bakong, and finally Lolei, which dates from 893. This last temple resembles Preah Ko but with 4 instead of 6 towers, once stood on its own island, and is noted for its fine examples of Khmer calligraphy.
Yasovarman I, who would found the first city at Angkor, built this small brick temple in the late ninth century. It’s one of the Roluos Group, a cluster of temples about 12 miles (19 kilometers) from Angkor Wat. With its four crumbling brick towers, Lolei is similar to, but smaller than, the group’s best-known temple, Preah Ko.
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- Things to do in Angkor Wat
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