Siem Reap is an ancient town and the cultural capital of Cambodia. The city, which is located in the north-west of the country, is considered such a mainstay of their heritage that its Angkor Wat temple is the central theme on the national flag. The city has an international airport that serves tourists who visit Cambodia to explore its traditional legacy rather than see the remnants of the dark past of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh.
Angkor Wat is probably the most well-known of the famous temples of Cambodia and holds a special place in the hearts of Hindus around the world as it is also the largest Hindu temple on the planet. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the temple is designed like Indra Lok and its five dramatic towers represent Mount Meru.
The temple, which was built by the great king Suryavarman II, has beautiful scenes from Hindu mythology depicted on most of its walls and pillars, but the outer area with excerpts from Ramayana are particularly impressive.
There are eight water tanks within the main temple building which used to serve as bathing ghats for the royal family in earlier years.
Tourists particularly flock to witness the spectacular sunrises and sunsets which can be viewed from the temple in all their glory.
Angkor Thom/ Bayon Temple
The Bayon temple of the Angkor Thom complex was built much after Angkor Wat in the regime of Cambodian king Jayavarman VII. The temple is more closely associated with Buddhism and has a network of corridors and small courtyards that can be reached by climbing up and down the maze of its steep staircase.
The most imposing are the huge faces on some of its 54 towers. While the faces are believed to have spiritual significance, these nevertheless resembled the king Jayavarman VII who got the temple constructed in the first place.
One of my favourites, the temple of Ta Prohm exudes peace and ensconces the serenity of deep woods. Built also by King Jayavarman VII, the temple is distinctly Buddhist and was meant for use by the King’s mother.
The impact of age and time passing by is most visible in this temple, as most of its buildings can be seen in the grip of the tentacles of enormous trees that have grown in the area and overtaken it. The roots and branches may have claimed the temple for their own but the effect of the overgrowth is most dramatique and shows the power of nature over human endeavour.
Considered a gem of Khmer art, Banteay Srei, which is located on the outskirts of Siem Reap, is a temple devoted to Lord Shiva. Though small, the shrine has intricate carvings on its walls which have been built out of stone of a pinkish hue. The compound contains remnants of several Shiv lingas, which may have been removed later when Hinduism waned in the country.
Banteay Srei is one of the rare temples in the Angkor series which was not commissioned by the king but a tutor priest.
Besides these temples, which have been given UNESCO world heritage status, tourists can visit the night markets, the Cambodian Cultural Village, Angkor National Museum and the War Museum, take a boat ride in Tonle Sap Lake and see the charming Apsara Dances while in Siem Reap.