THE CLASSIC: ANGKOR WAT
You will only work out why this temple complex is so perfect to the human eye as you venture into the interior and observe the precise symmetry of the architecture. From the intricate reliefs to the staged cone peaks, the buildings shun human imperfection for the religious ideal of the perfect equilibrium. Concentric circles are intrinsic to the shapes here and they symbolise Mount Meru, a holy Hindu mountaintop. This mammoth complex contains 1200 temples and Angkor Wat is both the name of the complex as well as the main temple that most armchair travellers are familiar with – the one facing what looks like a lake. That lake is in fact a rather extravagant moat. Built by a King, Angkor Wat is testament to the once-great Khmer empire which stretched from Malaysia to Burma.
The Khmer empire ruled until the 15th century and after that the temples were maintained by monks who reside in the temples to this day, making it an active religious site. While it was built as homage to Hinduism, Buddhism was introduced as the official religion at the end of the 12th century. The monks buoy the temples with brightness and life and if you manage to photograph the robed men as they walk with heads bowed between the black and white temples of Angkor Wat, you’ll have a photo worthy of National Geographic.
THE FACES: ANGKOR THOM
The Bayon temple is in the centre of Angkor Thom, the last of the extravagant Khmer cities to be built. More modern than Angkor Wat, it marks the time when Buddhism began to take hold in this region. With more than 50 towers, each side of the tower has a face carved into and out of the stone.
They represent both the ego of the King, allegedly who they slightly resemble and the enlightened beings or bodhisattvas of Buddhism. These faces peer out subtly but they are realistic enough to be startling. With a benevolent smile and eyes you can’t be sure are open or closed, some refer to them collectively as the Mona Lisa of South East Asia. The faces look serene and satisfied and with a length of 4 metres and a direction facing each point of the compass, they have a good view of the majestic Angkor region.
Another building in the Angkor Thom complex is Phimeanakas which was built long before neighbouring structures. Take time to find it and you will be rewarded with what appears to be an ancient stairway to heaven. The ruins have depleted just enough to render this a stone staircase with no end point – just a vertical drop off at the top in the sky.
THE JUNGLE: TA PROHM
Is it a tree supporting a temple or a temple supporting a tree? You decide in this, the most magical of temples where nature mingles with man’s designs for higher beings, the goddess of wisdom in this case, to whom the structure was dedicated to. The jungle has stone upturned by tree scaffolding and leaves have embedded into sandstone after centuries of erosion. Seeing saffron-robed monks wander between stone embedded with tree roots and branches makes this destination more than a historic monument.
Discovered by French naturalist Henry Mouhot in 1860 the temple was intentionally left as found, overrun by jungle. It was used to film Angelina Jolie’s film Tomb Raider and for the more vintage film fans, Indiana Jones. There is, in fact, a Tomb Raider tree where Jolie picked a flower and was sucked beneath the earth in the film. The film setting needed no embellishment – this place is as surreal as it gets. It is maze-like and with alleys shaded by vine you will feel like you are in your own adventure film. It is considered the third most important temple in Cambodia – after Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, placed first and second respectively.
The complex of temples is a World Heritage site. Many of the Hindu statues have been removed and replaced with sculptures of Buddha and numerous renovations are underway. Time seems to have stood leaving an imprint of mystique. You won’t forget interesting experience with adventure tours to explore Cambodia of ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA.
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