For nearly six centuries, between AD 800 and 1432, Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire. I had seen photos of Angkor Wat, [and happily use a post card of its iconic view because it was impossible to photograph with crowds and terrible backlight during our visit.] But I had no idea that Angkor is actually the remains of an ancient metropolis with temples and monuments and ruins spread out over a 70+ square mile area north of Siem Reap. The jungle is never far away, making every effort to bury the ruins again as they had been until the 19th century. Angkor disappeared during the days of the Khmer Rouge and only since the early 1990s has restoration and conservation been underway again. As I’ve mentioned, it’s no secret anymore.
The circuits to see the temples require lots of time and transportation assistance. Big tour busses cannot navigate the roads to some of the sites [a good thing]. Without a tour guide, it is quite possible to become disoriented in the ruins, distracted by all there is to see.
We began our exploration in Angkor Thom, the final city site of the Angkor empire complex, founded in 1177. It is surrounded 26’ high walls running more than 7 miles around the city, protected by a moat. There are five entrance gates, all bearing giant stone faces, and the South Gate is lined with rows of stone gods.
Once inside the gates, the Bayon is the central temple with three levels, 54 towers and more than 200 huge stone faces. There are bas-relief carvings everywhere with everyday scenes, battle scenes, and beautiful dancers. I kinda regret that we didn’t ride the elephant, but there were too many things to see and I couldn’t choose among the options. [More pics available through Flickr link.]