“Temple run” in Siem Reap

Last year, I planned a trip to visit Siem Reap in Cambodia. This place has been on my bucket list for so long. Because oftentimes I browse pictures on social media, I can always see people posting photos of Angkor Wat. I have always dreamed about checking out its stunning view one day.

Angkor Wat is the most renowned and best-preserved temple complex in Cambodia. The temple was built by the Khmer King in the 12th centuries as a Hinduist temple. Later it was turned into a Buddhist temple in the 13th centuries. It is the symbolic style of Khmer architecture in the dynasty of Angkor. The temple has a symmetrical structure and decorates with elegant bas-relief friezes portray pieces of Hindu epics. Angkor Wat has become the landmark of Cambodia and is displaying on the country’s national flag. This UNESCO Heritage site attracts millions of visitors each year. 

What makes this trip more memorable and unique is to watch the sunrise in front of this magnificent architecture. Now you may ask me what is so special about watching the sunrise in this place. Well, I assure you that you will truly be amazed by the breath-taking view. The combination of the grand architecture with the beauty of nature makes it a perfect art piece that no filters are ever needed. Something funny about watching the sunrise was that my friend and I are both not early birds so getting up super early was such a pain for us. Nonetheless, we woke up early in two consecutive days to watch the sunrise.

In fact, this trip was not all about Angkor Wat. Siem Reap is home to approximately a thousand temples that vary in sizes. That is also why I call my experience ‘Temple run’ as it reminds me of the game I played when I was a kid. Although I wasn’t really running around the temples in Siem Reap, this really was the first time I visited so many temples on one single trip.

Another top-rated temple in Siem Reap must be The Bayon which is located at the heart of Angkor Thom. On top of the temple, there are 54 towers with each has four sides. The temple is known for the mysterious faces (Khmer’s smiles) that are carved into the side of the tower. It is said that each face appears differently, so there is a total of 216 ‘Khmer’s smiles’.

Ta Prohm was built by the Angkor King in 1186 as the residence for his mother. Walking around the temple, I saw many fallen pillars, and I was totally astonished by the destructive power of nature. To be honest, I’ve never seen such huge trees in my life. They are like the ‘green giants’ growing out of the temple. It seems like the trees and the temple are battling against each other for the territories. Obviously, the ‘green giants’ won the fight. An interesting fact about Ta Prohm is that the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was shot here.

Banteay Srei is relatively small in size comparing to the Angkor Wat temple complex. It was located about 22 miles away from Siem Reap. Banteay Srei is a modern name of this temple, and it means “citadel of beauty”. The distinctive pink sandstones with exquisitely carved reliefs of female deities (Devata in Hindu term) made this miniature temple a jewel among thousand of temples in the city.

Beng Mealey is a Hindu temple, and it is said to be the most mysterious monument in the Angkor Archeological Park. The temple is submerged in the recklessly growing nature. There are many lost temples in the forest of Cambodia, but this is to be the most accessible one. A wooden walkaway is built to lead the adventurers for the discovery of the lost temple. I love to be surrounded by the natural air conditioner for a little while in a sultry summer afternoon. Due to the lack of protection, many sculptures were stolen. The daunting ruins and primitive presence created a unique vibe in this place. Don’t you think this can be the perfect movie scene? In fact, ‘Two Brothers’ was filmed in Beng Mealey. 

Other places we visited include Preah Khan, Pre Rup, Ta Keo, Banteay Kdei, Neak Poan and Chao Say Tevoda. Preah Khan is one of the few temples used for both Hinduism and Buddhism and is best known for its tremendously long and narrow corridors. Pre Rup is a very tall temple that I was actually a bit scared when I was walking down the stairs. It is another recommended spot to watch the sunrise. Ta Keo is a temple with a pyramid structure and is Khmer’s first sandstone architecture. However, it has never been completed since its existence. Banteay Kdei is the first Buddist temple in Cambodia and is famous for the delicate carvings. Neak Poan is a small temple situated in the middle of the ornamental lakes. However, the lakes are already dried up. Chao Say Tevoda is 170 m south to the Thommanon Temple and both are badly damaged due to neglect. The reasons why these two temples are built have remained mystical.

I am utterly impressed by the wondrous architectures that depict the glory of the Khmer Empire. It is hard to imagine how Khmers managed to build those majestic temples back in the days where advanced construction techniques and tools didn’t exist.

Despite learning a bit of history, there are many thoughts flow into my mind. Cambodia is the first least developed country I have ever been to. People are still living in poverty, and the development of infrastructure is far behind its neighbouring countries. I learnt that tourism is one of the major sources of income in this country and I could see that many people work so hard to make a living. I remember the day my friend and I headed to Angor Wat for the sunrise at 4 am, the shop owners have already started to get ready for business. However, it has been a year since I travelled there. Now everyone is experiencing this global pandemic, and I wonder how a country that relies so heavily on tourism is going to sustain during the hard times?

Till next time!

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