There are many temples in Siem Reap, each one unique and worth a visit. Some temples are within a few minutes of the other so it makes good sense to view them on the same day. I saw Pre Rup from across a rice field on our way to Banteay Srei. This was such a pleasant surprise that I begged my guide and tuk tuk driver to let me explore the ruins. In this temple we can see the pyramid style of construction crowned by five lotus towers (in this photo you only see three).
Farther afield is Banteay Samré which is one of the least crowded temples we visited. There's a pleasant walk between tall trees leading up to the walled temple grounds. Unlike Banteay Srei where you can only walk around the perimeter of the temples, at Banteay Samré we could enter the central temple. It is bare now but once upon a time within this hallowed walls, only the high priests or Brahmin were allowed entry.
On our way back to Siem Reap from Tonlé Sap Lake, my tuk tuk driver took me to Phnom Krom which is situated on a hilltop. We climbed a long flight of stairs and walked for several minutes before we got to Phnom Krom. It was a tough walk in the afternoon sun and I had to stop to catch my breath and rest my legs a little. There's a stunning view from the top of surrounding villages which were flooded during my visit in late October. We saw a rainbow in the distance, a promising sight in the midst of ricefields and houses under water.
Baphuon has such a spectacular secret hidden in its ancient stones. When the French archaelogists were restoring the retaining wall in the western side of the temple, they pieced together an unfinished reclining Buddha which may have been built by the Buddhist faithful around the 15th or 16th century. The temple itself was completed during the reign of Udayadityavarman II (1048-1065). In the photo above you can discern the head of the Buddha, his eyes, nose and ear.
Arrange with your hotel for a personal guide. They are licensed and wear a uniform. The hotel can also arrange for a tuk tuk driver or if you prefer, a chauffeur and car. The rates are quite reasonable, around $25.00 for a full day guided tour and $15.00 for the driver.
In what was once a killing field during the Pol Pot regime, there's a memorial to the people who were executed by the Khmer Rouge. It is believed that as many as two million people were killed and their remains left in one of many killing fields throughout Cambodia. Wat Thmey, a monastery with a large temple, is located on that killing field in Siem Reap and within its grounds is a collection of skulls found in the area. They say that after heavy rains, teeth and human bones rise to the surface and these would be gathered by locals and laid to rest in the glass fronted stupa within Wat Thmey.
This is arguably the most beautiful temple in the Angkor complex. It is referred to as the Citadel of the Women and many would like to believe that this temple was built by women because of the intricate bas reliefs found in the walls and pediments throughout the temple. But in fact, this was built by a Brahmin and dedicated to Shiva. Her image is everywhere as the venerated Creator and Destroyer in the Hindu trinity.
Causeway leading to the inner sanctum
What's so appealing about this temple? Perhaps it's the intimate scale or the pink sandstone walls or the doors that lead to more doors behind which garudas sit in the sunshine. But at every corner you turn, there's something that will catch the eye. It could be a well preserved and artfully carved pediment or a delicate apsara or a column still standing since the 10th century.
Banteay Srei is about 30 minutes away from the center of Siem Reap. It's a pleasant drive through green countryside with surprising views of temples like Preah Rup and Banteay Samre. And there's a nice walk around the premises through a forest of trees that leads to a gallery of photographs of archaelogical work done in the area and narrative descriptions of some of the bas reliefs found in Banteay Srei.
About 20 minutes away from Siem Reap is Tonlé Sap Lake where you can catch a boat to the floating village of Chong Kneas. During my visit in October, the water level of the lake was quite high. Monsoon rains had inundated many areas of Cambodia and Thailand. I saw houses under water along the road to Tonlé Sap and the surrounding rice fields were flooded making no distinction between land and lake. Cows lined the highway where they were safe from high waters. My tuk tuk driver deftly plunged into washed out roads or heavily potted ones like the one shown above. At one point we got stuck in a deep pothole but he thankfully got us out of it. I swayed in all directions inside the tuk tuk as we rode out of town. (It is not unusual to see red mud as it comes from red soil common in Siem Reap.)
From atop Phnom Krom, we had this view of the extent of the flood. The waters had risen to the roofs of houses.
We made it to the dock without further ado and I boarded a boat to Chong Kneas. There was thin traffic on the lake away from the pier. Water hyacinths grew profusely in some sections of the lake.
Many of the floating homes had one room and you could see through to the back of the house. Most villagers make a living by fishing. In the neighborhood are a village store, a basketball court which doubles as a hall for parties and weddings and a school which I visited. Life on the water is as normal as possible until the residents have to move depending on the season.
The floating village store is like a mini grocery store. I was able to buy a box of ramen noodles and pencils for the kids attending the nearby grade school. I also found notebooks and other school supplies as well as snacks and beverage. I'm sure they carry most of the villagers' daily needs.
This is the Truong Tieu Hoc grade school where I brought the noodles and pencils for the schoolchildren. It's a Vietnamese school as most of the villagers are Vietnamese who have lived in this area for a long time. If the child's family has no boat, sometimes they improvise.
These boys are in a plastic tub. My boat driver told me he often lost his books and school supplies because his little boat would turn over often. But he survived and now he is a boat driver who speaks English fluently. The students I met in class were well behaved, wore white uniform blouses though not all of them had the same color pants or skirts.
This trip to the floating village was quite a good break from visiting temples. There was so much to see and learn and it was a great way to meet local people.
Boat tickets are sold at the dock. Most passengers arrive as a group so they are placed in one boat. I came solo so I had the boat to myself. It costs US$35.00 to hire a boat for one person.
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Images by Charie. These photographs may not be used without the sole permission of the photographer.
Bayon was built in the late 12th or early 13th century by Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist temple in the center of Angkor Thom, the capital of the Khmer empire. There are more than 200 facial sculptures on 37 surviving towers. Four faces are carved in each tower staring at four different directions. These faces are believed to be the bodhisatva of compassion, Avalokitesvara or Lokeshvara.
There are studies suggesting that the faces in the temple are similar to that of Jayavarman VII from existing statues of him. This is not far fetched in light of the traditional belief among Khmer rulers that they were devaraja (god-king), but unlike other rulers who practiced Hinduism, Jayavarman VII was a Buddhist and would have aligned himself with Buddha and the bodhisattva (enlightenment being).
Khmer army marching to battle
Bas reliefs cover the walls of Bayon in exquisite detail. There are scenes of battles, celebrations after the battle, everyday life, the next life. It's a picture book of the Khmer empire for all generations to come.
There's an important architectural element in the positioning of the towers shown above. Notice the diagonal perspective. The guides are quick to point this out.
To enter Angkor Thom, you need to purchase a pass before you enter the Angkor complex of temples. A single day pass cost US$20.00. For a three-day pass, you would pay US$40.00. It's best to buy a multiple day pass if you are planning to see temples beyond Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.