Sunday, December 25, 2016

Day One at the Temples of Angkor

When we were in the very early planning stages of our trip, we knew that we definitely, absolutely had to make the trip to Siem Reap to visit the Angkor Archaeological Park. The temples at Angkor are among the oldest in the world, and Angkor Wat is actually the largest religious building in the world.

Angkor means 'city' in the Khmer language, and the famous tourist attraction that exists today is the site of the ancient capital city of the Khmer Empire.

Apparently, Angkor was the world's largest city before the Industrial Revolution and had a population of over 1 million people at a time when London was inhabited by 50,000 people.

These are all pretty amazing facts, but nothing could have prepared us for just how massive and intriguing this ancient city is.

We began our first day at Angkor at around 8am, when our tuk tuk driver picked us up from our guesthouse. Taking a tuk tuk is the best way to get around the park, as it really is a huge area, and it also provides you with shelter from the hot sun.

After we bought our tickets, our first stop of the day was Srah Srang, which is a big water reservoir. There is a platform above the top of the reservoir which is flanked by naga serpents and guardian lions. As you approach the steps to the platform, the lake appears almost like a surprise, as it remains hidden by the terrace. This lake is apparently a very popular spot to watch the sunrise.

Sra Srang

Banteay Kdei 

Opposite the reservoir is Banteay Kdei temple, one of the smaller temples in the park, but equally impressive. The entrance to the temple is a carved stone arch, with four faces carved on the top. We were wowed by the size of the trees inside the temple grounds. The root structures on the trees are crazy! Banteay Kdei temple was apparently never finished, and now what was left unfinished lays in ruins. What is left, however, are some beautifully intricate bas relief sculptures on the stone walls, some of which are very well preserved.

Ta Prohm 

Behind Banteay Kdei temple is the famous 'Tomb Raider' temple, Ta Prohm. The jungle has well and truly taken over the incredible ruins of Ta Prohm, and it is the huge, tall trees that really make it impressive. You cannot really be sure which is holding up what- the piles of mossy stones holding up the walls, or the thick tree roots supporting the ruined structure. Mother Nature sure is an incredibly powerful force, and she definitely won't let a crumbling stone building stand in her way.

Ta Keo

Next stop on our tour was Ta Keo temple, which contains five tall towers in a pyramid shape, as a symbol of Mount Meru, the centre of Hindu mythology. The steps going up to the main platform were extremely steep, and I actually felt quite scared walking down them. The temple was never finished, as work was abandoned probably after the death of the king who ordered it to be built. This means that the temple has been left undecorated.

Nearby to Ta Keo is Chau Say Tevoda temple and Thommanon Temple which we visited next. The two temples were built in similar styles, with Buddhist and Hindu carvings.

Our lunch spot

After this we were ready for lunch, so we stopped at a nearby rest area. We had eaten breakfast at the start of our tour, near the water reservoir, and we found that the food was overpriced and not very good. So for our lunch we just decided to buy some bananas to snack on :)
Near our lunch spot was an abandoned ruin of a temple, where we stopped to take some pictures. Nathan found a shedded snake skin there, but alas (!) he did not find a snake.

Bayon Temple 

Cheeky monkeys outside the temple

After lunch we returned to our tuk tuk to take us to the Bayon Temple inside the city of Angkor Thom, which was the last capital of the Khmer Empire. Bayon is a very interesting and highly decorated temple, with numerous bas reliefs lining the walls. The huge stone faces on the towers inside the temple are it's most interesting and unique feature.
One funny thing that happened just before we entered the temple was watching the monkeys climbing in the trees outside. We watched one monkey jump down from a tree to snatch a bag of bananas from a poor unsuspecting woman! It was quite funny to watch.

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom is quite a large old city, comprising of several temples and monuments. We had a really enjoyable time wandering the grounds of the ancient ruins, with the sound of the cicadas in the background.

Angkor Wat at sunset

Our last stop of the day was at Angkor Wat, to watch the sunset. We were able to capture some really nice pictures by the reflection pools outside the temple. The sunset created the most perfect golden light over the fields and the ponds, and it was a perfect way to end our day.

Day two blog post is coming up soon :)

Thanks for reading,
Hannah xx