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Exploring the Temples of Angkor

Entrance to Angkor temple complex

Angkor Bayon Temple stone carving

For sheer size and subject
matter, the temples of Angkor
remain one of the world's most
impressive religious complexes.

Once the capital of the mighty Khmer Empire, the temples of Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia, are one of the most awe-inspiring religious complexes in the world. Between the 9th and 13th centuries, more than one thousand temples incorporating both Buddhist and Hindu influences were constructed.

With hundreds of temples and ruins, it's tough to know where to begin.

There are two general circuits, which can be traveled by bicycle or hired tuktuk. Most travelers will spend one day on the "big" circuit, one day on the "little" circuit and one day filling in the gaps and exploring smaller temples.

Angkor Big Circuit

The 26 km "big" circuit is a good introduction to the highlights of the Angkor complex. The circuit starts off at the magnificent Angkor Wat, the world's largest religious building.

Built by the emperor Suryavarman II to honor his patron god, Vishnu, Angkor Wat is sure to impress even the most "watted-out" traveler. Its central three-story temple is surrounded by an 800 meter frieze featuring intricate bas-reliefs; don't miss the most famous scene, titled "Churning of the Ocean of Milk," on the eastern side.

From Angkor Wat, head north into Angkor Thom, an ancient fortified city surrounded by five large gates. Visit the Temple of Bayon, an enormous gray stone temple featuring 216 over-sized depictions of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion. Also don't miss a stop by the Terrace of Elephants, once used as a venue for public ceremonies and parades. End the circuit with a magnificent view of sunset from the top of Phnom Bakheng, but be warned: some tourists take the quest for the perfect sunset photograph seriously. Be careful not to get in their way!

Angkor Little Circuit

Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm, familiar to
movie fans as set location
for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

The 17 km "little" circuit is the only way to reach the temple of Ta Prohm, one of Angkor's most popular attractions and the setting for the films Tomb Raider and Two Brothers.

While most of Angkor's temples have been carefully restored, Ta Prohm has been left to nature's devices. Gargantuan tree roots have overtaken crumbling parts of the temple, and huge piles of debris lie scattered in and around the main complex. Other highlights of the "little" circuit include Ta Som and Banteay Kdei.

Angkor Wat Fast Facts

angkor wat• The only way to see Angkor is to book a tour via travel agents in Cambodia or in nearby Asian capital cities.

• Transport is available by bus from Phnom Penh and Bangkok, or on flights from major airlines direct to Siem Reap airport, only 15 minutes from the city center.

• At your hotel in Siem Reap, be sure to ask for the English language tourist guide offering helpful information on Angkor.

• Stay properly hydrated throughout the entire Angkor complex trek. Bring bottled water or take advantage of local vendors hawking soft drinks onsite.

• The official Angkor ticket office is located along the main road to Angkor.
Hours: 5 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Admission: one-day pass $20; three-day pass $40; one-week pass $60.

About the Author... Jessica Arriola Marati

More about Angkor Wat around the Web:

Angkor Archeological Park Guide - Wikitravel

The Temples of Angkor and Siem Reap


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