Cambodia Notes: Ancient Khmer Temples

There was only one reason why I wanted to go to Cambodia, and that is to visit the ruins of ancient Khmer civilization. The fascination with history has long been kept in my heart since childhood and getting to visit the remains of an ancient empire that was once majestically alive was a dream come true.

DSC_0067Last October, my friend and I made a trip to Cambodia. We visited the temples and here is the list of my top five favorites:

5. Banteay Srei

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When we reached Banteay Srei, in literal translation the Citadel of Women, the sun accompanied us with great vigor. It was really hot. Well, in Cambodia, it is hot and humid. Unlike other temples, Banteay Srei appear to be a more developed attraction. There is a welcome lobby for the tourists and apart from the visit to the temple, people can actually do some other activities such as boat riding and fishing.

What made this my favorite are the carvings on the temples made from red sandstone. They were particularly intricate and very beautiful.

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Built during the 10th century, Banteay Srei is a temple dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva.

Aside from taking photos of the marvelous carvings, my friend and I also took the time to walk outside the temple. We walked along the trail bordered by various kinds of trees from which huge branches and roots emerged as if they are alive. In Cambodia, there are a lot of those trees. 

We decided to experience the boat ride in Banteay Srei, from where we got to know our local boatman Butsi.

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The boat ride was a pleasant experience. If not for the funny conversations we had with Butsi, it could also be a wonderful time for a personal reflection.

4. Angkor Wat

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The famous Angkor Wat, the main fuel of my desire to visit Cambodia, is a UNESCO world heritage site. Since Angkor Wat is flocked by tourist almost every hour of the day, I was dreading that the magic I’ve been yearning to experience in Angkor Wat will be zilch. Well, it wasn’t. A little mindful detachment from everyone else during the visit will make the trick. And in many ways, I did.

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We arrived in Angkor Wat before sunrise

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Entering the main temple of Angkor Wat, this little thing greeted us.

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Besides, it was truly majestic even when the sun isn’t up yet.

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3. Bayon

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Giant smiling faces. Really really huge stone faces. Those are what you will see in the temple of Bayon. These serene, smiling faces are the faces of the Buddha. Built in the 12th century, Bayon temple is the center of the city of Angkor Thom.

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There were also plenty of tourists when we visited Bayon but the bizarre and dreamlike effect of the hugeness of the stone faces wasn’t lost. It was even magnified when out of the blue, groups of dragonflies danced their way around the faces. It was a surreal show and it felt so much as if I was in a Ghibli movie.

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2. Ta Prohm

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Made famous by the game/movie, Tomb Raider, Ta Prohm is also a favorite of many. Built in the early 13th century, Ta Prohm served as a university and monastery to Mahayana Buddhism.

Wandering inside Ta Prohm, we felt the eerie atmosphere of the place. There were plenty of times when my friend and I found ourselves in a dead end, with only the sound of birds (or were those crows?) squawking and flying above the trees to accompany us.

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I loved the feeling though.

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My friend, who used to play the game Tomb Raider, made a comment that a very good job was done in designing the game because it was almost exactly the same with what we saw in Ta Prohm. Also, she said during our ‘explorations’ inside Ta Prohm that it felt as if we were Lara Croft… only dumb versions of Lara Croft because we always get lost and stuck in dead ends. 😀

Also Ta Prohm is where you will see the huge trees eating the ancient walls of the temple, making the place a favorite of many photographers.

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1. Beng Maelea

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My top favorite is none other than Beng Maelea, a Hindu temple built in early 12th century. Little is known about Beng Maelea and the temple is widely unrestored. Vegetations ruled in there as the jungle thrives, making the temple seem like a jungle maze with secret passages. Huge trees have grown in many towers and the dilapidation is everywhere.

Almost every corner was a surreal sight to behold.

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Although a wooden walkway was built for the tourists, my friend and I did more than walk on it. In fact, we did not follow the pathway. One of the police/guards of the temple guided us in Beng Maelea as we entered. With her, we went in and out spaces and holes, we went over and under huge stones and tree branches, we crossed the dry moat, entered dark corridors underneath the walkways, and found intricate carvings among the ruins.

It was like having our own Indiana Jones adventure.

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This adventure in Beng Maelea is something that I would forever hold in my memory.

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Our visit to the temples was truly fascinating. We saw things new to our eyes, we learned things we did not know before, we saw firsthand the remains of an ancient civilization, and oh what joy it is to have the opportunity like this. Yes the experience did send us feelings of awe and wonder, but there is more to our visits than marveling at how beautiful the temples are. It made us grow more curious, wonder more, and ask questions not only about the ancient Cambodia, but as well as the modern one, from which we found both beautiful and sad truths.

Nevertheless, the ancient temples of Cambodia are truly worth a visit. Having made this trip, I now wonder more about the other creations of God that I have never set my eyes upon yet.

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8 thoughts on “Cambodia Notes: Ancient Khmer Temples

  1. These temples are stunning and magnificent. By the way, I played Tomb Raider as well and loved Lara, ha, ha. When I was a teenager I even composed a list of the place she visited in order to go there as well one day. 😀

    Like

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