Tour Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s complex of ancient temples built by Khmer kings over 6 centuries. Marvel at an architectural site that rivals the wonders of China’s Great Wall and Peru's Machu Picchu.
To enter Angkor’s “Great City,” known as Angkor Thom, visitors must cross a bridge lined by a series of stone figures, representing good and evil. On the left side are 54 protector gods and on the right, 54 demon gods, playing out an ancient Hindu myth. Angkor Thom’s South Gate is one of the best preserved of this site’s entrances.
These stone elephants have seen centuries of Khmer kingdom pomp and circumstance, serving as the base of the 382-yard-long Terrace of the Elephants. The terrace was the king’s viewing stand for public ceremonies and military victory parades, featuring infantry, cavalry, horse-drawn carriages and elephants, of course.
There are some temples on the outskirts of the main Angkor Wat temple complex, and Banteay Srei is an amazingly well-preserved one. Its strong, pink-hued sandstone base could be one of the reasons, along with the fact that it was the first Angkor temple to undergo restoration. Banteay Srei means “Citadel of the Women,” and some believe only a woman could have carved its delicate wall reliefs.
An aerial view shows the grand expanse of the main Angkor Wat temple, demonstrating the meaning of its name, “temple that is a city.” It is also the largest religious building in the world -- at a staggering 11,000,000 square feet. The temple is a formidable fortress, surrounded by a 623-foot-wide moat and an outer wall measuring over 3,300 feet by 2,600 feet tall. Inscriptions inside the temple suggest that its construction took 300,000 workers and 6,000 elephants.
While some temples at Angkor Wat are almost perfectly preserved, others have been taken over by Mother Nature -- like Ta Prohm, making it one of the most hauntingly beautiful of all the temples. Tree roots and toppled stones intermingle at this site, which was once a Buddhist temple dedicated to a Khmer king’s mother.
Ta Prohm is also one of the most popular temples at Angkor Wat because of its star turn in the movie <i>Lara Croft: Tomb Raider</i>, starring Angelina Jolie. Crowds gather to take photos in front of the “Tomb Raider tree,” on the very spot where Lara Croft picks a flower before dramatically falling through the earth.
The Angkor Thom South Gate is a popular tourist entrance on the way to see some of Angkor’s most important temple sites and monuments, including the magnificent multifaceted Bayon temple and the Terrace of Elephants.
Thommanon is one of the smaller temples within the gates of Angkor Thom. Built in the mid-12th century and dedicated to the Hindu gods Shiva and Vishnu, it is almost a perfect match with the neighboring temple Chau Say Tevoda.
According to UNESCO, Angkor Wat is one of the most important archeological sites in Southeast Asia, providing a lasting example of a powerful Khmer civilization and its cultural, religious and symbolic significance. For Cambodians, Angkor Wat still holds as much cultural pride as it must have during the height of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th through the 15th century.
The Khmer King Suryavarman II identified with the Hindu god Vishnu and built the Angkor Wat temple city as a glorious tribute to him. This statue of Vishnu found in the southern tower of the temple has 8 arms instead of 4 to better protect the universe. The city itself is an earthly replica of heaven according to the Hindu faith; it could also have been built to be the king’s final resting place.
While the temples of Angkor were originally built to worship Hindu gods, Buddhas were later added as Buddhism became the popular religion. Buddhist monks and worshippers visit the temples today to light incense and offer blessings to these Buddha replicas.
The same king who designed the main Angkor Wat temple also designed Chau Say Tevoda, located within the walls of Angkor Thom a few miles away. It is almost symmetrical with the Thommanon Temple just across the road.
These gigantic, enigmatic faces greet Angkor visitors atop the Angkor Thom South Gate; they also seem to multiply atop the 37 remaining towers of the Bayon temple nearby, with each tower featuring 4 faces for a total of 148 looming visages staring out over a vast, ancient Khmer empire.