Siem Reap and the Angkor temple complex : Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Banteay Shrei, Banteay Samre & Ta Som

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Angkor Wat is a massive site, and the town of Siem Reap is almost entirely supported by the tourism generated from the Angkor complex. Tourism supports the hoteliers, bars, restaurants, guides, drivers; and those employed directly by the park as security, sweepers and ticket inspectors. It’s great for the local economy; and the economy of Cambodia as a whole.

In order to see the site properly you have several choices, drivers, tuk-tuks, moto taxis, and bicycles. Some people even attempt to hike around, but seeing as the site is three kilometres from Siem Reap, covering an area of over four hundred square kilometres and some sites are over twenty five kilometres from town, it makes it a hard slog, especially in thirty degree heat.

We hired a Tuk-tuk driver for our time in the city and he was great, he knew about the sites, spoke good English and recommended us things

I’ve already posted about Angkor Wat, and Angkor Thom which you can see here. This post focuses more on the temples further away, and generally not as popular, except Ta Prohm, which is incredibly popular.

Ta Prohm, is with the exception of Angkor Wat itself possibly the most recognisable site due to the Tomb Raider film series. It was left to ruin and the trees took over and turned it into the most enchanting, fantasy spectacle. This was the sort of place you wished you could play in as a kid. Unfortunately, due to the years of trees taking over and roots winning battles against buildings, it’s looking a bit unstable. Lots of support pillars and tension wires are holding very old bits of stone together.

Banteay Shrei and Banteay Sambre are both located further afield in the complex several kilometres from the main attractions. As such they are a bit smaller, but with the added bonus of being quieter and less tour groups.

Ta Som, like Ta Prohm and to an extent Preah khan, was left untouched. It features a beautifully overgrown doorway where a tree has snaked all around, giving it a fantastical atmosphere; another of the many highlights of nature overtaking the man-made structures.

Preah Khan, is without a doubt my absolute favourite place in the Angkor complex. Its vast, and has great big open spaces where you can imagine everyday life going on, but it also has little hidden away corners, where you can pretend you’ve stumble upon as yet undiscovered ruins.  It’s also pretty quiet compared with Bayon, Ta Prohm and Angkor wat. There’s a whole new level of amazingness at Preah Khan when all you can hear is the birds.

Siem Reap and the Angkor temple complex: Angkor Wat & Angkor Thom.

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We flew from Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap, as we had ended up spending too much time in Vietnam enjoying the middle areas of the country and its relaxed beach culture. It was a quick flight, and it ended up buying us an extra day in the Angkor temple complex; pretty much the only thing we felt we absolutely couldn’t miss out on in Cambodia. We’ve already decided we’re going to plan another trip to Vietnam as we decided to leave Ha Long Bay for another time (the weather was so grey, and I would have been so disappointed had it been overcast and not the beautiful blue images we’ve seen in magazines and photographs) so perhaps we can revisit Cambodia too.

Firstly, a little historical context. The Angkor temple complex dates from around about the ninth century, when the king of the time declared independence and created what was to become the Khmer empire. Over the passing of time, war, rebellion, and such like happened and inevitably there were conflicts, death and overthrowing of monarchies – standard historical stuff.

The changing of rulers meant new structures within the Angkor complex, and embellishments on existing ones. Jayavarman VII, is worth a mention. In his thirty odd year rule (from 1181) he was a hero prince who drove away the Cham forces (modern day southern Vietnam) from Angkor. He was also Buddhist, not Hindu like his predecessors and built much of the modern day Angkor site, including a lot of the well-known sites of Angkor such as Bayon, Ta Phrohm & Preah Khan.

In more recent history, the French colonised modern day Vietnam & Cambodia as French Indochina and spent many decades developing and clearing the Angkor sites until political instability and rise of the Khmer Rouge forced a stop. Since the 1990’s the popularity of the site as a tourist attraction has increased and as such, renovations and investments have increased.

That was brief and not very historical but you get the point, lots of groups had a part to play in creating what is the largest historical site in the world. Although it can never be verified some historians argue that up to one million people may have lived in the Angkor region during its peak.

The extended site is absolutely massive, the superlatives are endless and you can easily spend a week here just exploring.  We spent three days here, and I’ve broken the temples down into two posts. This post covers Angkor Wat & Angkor Thom area. The other post is viewable here, and covers Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Banteay Shrei, Banteay Samre & Ta Som.  There are literally hundreds of other sites with the complex.

Angkor Wat, is the generalised name quite often used to refer to the entire site, but is in fact the centre piece of the Angkor temple complex and the largest religious monument in the world.

Angkor Thom, is the collected area including Bayon temple, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, and the terraces of the Elephant King, and Lepers respectively.