It has been one of those "must see" places on my list for many years. With the continuing fighting there, I was beginning to despair of ever getting to see this wonder of the ancient world, but recent news reports had convinced me that it was fairly safe to go, so for this recent Thai New Year's holiday, off I went. I have to apologize that there aren't a lot of pictures to show you. It turned out that my main camera had a problem, and about 1/3 of my pictures didn't turn out. There were no places to develop film near my hotel, so I didn't find out about the problem until I got home. I arrived at my hotel in Seam Reap in mid-morning. Right after checking in, I went off to visit the site.
Nothing can quite prepare you for the size of this ancient city. In all, there are about 40 sites in this 77 square mile district. I visited about 20 in my four days. The first place I visited was the 12th century temple of Ta Prom. This place has been left more or less as it was found, with an overgrowth of jungle and portions tumbled down. It gives you some idea of what the first westerners found when they first explored the area in the last century. This is a huge temple, one of the largest single complexes in the Angkor group. Its all on one level though, so there are no high stairways to climb, but there are a lot of thresholds to cross, so you do get a lot of exercise exploring this place. After Ta Prom I went to the "mother of all temples" -- Angkor Wat. No photograph can quite capture the immensity of this monument (which may be a tomb as well as a temple.)
Some of the apparent grandeur of the complex is due to clever perspective. The tip of the central tower is only 65 meters high. However, many of the other statistics of the temple are still quite impressive. The temple is surrounded by a 200 meter wide moat (that's more than two football fields to you Americans). You cross the moat on a wide stone causway to reach the outer wall, which itself is 5.5 kilometers long. Once you pass through the main gate in this wall, another causway 350 meters long, leads to the main temple. The main temple is built on three levels. The first level consists of an open gallery, with the inner wall continuously covered with bas-releifs depicting the Mahabharata, the Ramayama and other stories from the Hindu pantheon. Its nearly a kilometer walk to see the whole thing, but its worth it. A flight of stairs leads to the second level which is less ornate, and a very steep stairway leads up to the top level.
The next day, I visited Angkor Thom. This complex was actually the capitol of the ancient Khmer kingdom. Within its walls were the royal palace and residences for all the king's family, generals and priests. You enter this city through one of five large gates. Each gate is topped with four heads, facing each cardinal direction [left]. In the center of Angkor Thom is the temple called the Bayon. Built in its present form about 100 years after Angkor, this Buddhist temple is strikingly different. Its mountain-like structure is is topped by 54 towers, each sporting 4 faces like the city's entrance gates. Although it might sound repetitive, each of the faces is slightly different (see the picture on the right above.) Not far outside the city of Angkor Thom is the monastic complex of Preah Khan. Like Ta Prom, this temple is still mostly in the embrace of the jungle, but it is in the process of being restored, so that you can see the process of dis-mantling a structure and putting it back together.
One of the last places I visited was the temple called Banteay Srei. This little jewel is located about 25 kilometers from the main complex around Angkor Wat. Built in the 10th century, it is quite small compared to the big temples of Angkor and is build of a pinkish sandstone instead of the grey laterite of the big temples. But the use of the sandstone allowed for a highly intricate level of detail that is not seen any other place in Angkor. The detail of the "wrestlers" at the top of the page is from Baneay Srei.