Angkor Wat, Bayon & Ta Prohm are inarguably the most visited temples in the world-famous Angkor Archaeological Park. If you’re in Siem Reap for a short visit and only have a day or two in your hands, I highly recommend visiting these 3 temples. With breathtaking architecture, unimaginable grandiosity and tons of history, these temples are more than worth your while. Let’s take a look at what you can expect to see at each of these architectural marvels:
The largest religious monument in the world, Angkor Wat is an absolute must-see. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, it was built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II. The sheer complexity and grandiose of the temple still baffles historians and architects all over the world as there is really nothing like it anywhere else. In addition, the fact it is oriented west to east (highly unusual for a Hindu temple), still sparks debate about the reasons why it was built by King Suryavarman II.
You can easily spend 3-5 hrs exploring this intricately built temple. There are plenty of spots that will leave you awe-struck. Tourists usually flock to catch the backlit temple at sunrise. While I would’ve loved to catch a glimpse, I wanted to explore the temple premises peacefully and therefore we decided to get there by 8:30 am when the temple was relatively less crowded. The temple closes at 5:30 pm so make sure to visit before that.
Did Angkor Wat live up to all the hype? Absolutely! It’s unbelievable how this stunning temple, deemed to be the center of the universe in Hindu mythology, has survived the depredations of both mankind and nature. In fact, I would say a visit to Cambodia is certainly incomplete without a visit to this pièce de résistance of the Khmer empire.
Our second stop was the ethereal Bayon temple. Built in the late 12th century by Buddhist King Jayavarman VII, it lies right in the center of a complex of temples in Angkor Thom (“Great City”), the last capital city of the Khmer empire. The entrance road to Angkor Thom is dotted with 54 stone figures on each side (Devas on the left and Asuras on the right) which makes you feel like you’re being transported to a different world altogether.
When you get to the Bayon temple, the first thing that completely captivates you are the many mildly-smiling faces. The faces supposedly depict either bodhisattva Avalokiteswara or King Jayavarman VII himself. The temple itself is a tightly knit composition of nearly 55 sculptured towers. This gives the visitor the feeling of being lost in a delightful maze. Even though it doesn’t compare to Angkor Wat in scale and grandiosity, it is definitely up there in terms of architecture and detail. Extensive bas-reliefs line up the walls of this stunning temple. It comes as no surprise that many tourists rate Bayon as their favorite temple in the Angkor Archaeological Complex.
Symbolically, the Bayon temple serves as the link between heaven and earth. It is also probably the only temple originally built as a Buddhist temple. It was later converted to a Hindu temple by King Jayavarman VIII. This is probably why you see a beautiful Shivling in one of the prayer rooms of the temple.
Our next stop was Ta Prohm – otherwise famous as the temple where the movie “Tomb Raider” was shot. Originally known as Rajavihara, it was built by King Jayavarman VII in the 12th century as a Buddhist monastery and university of higher learning.
The beauty of Ta Prohm lies in the fact that is probably the least restored of all temples. This allows tourists to get a feeling of what history reclaimed by nature looks like. With giant trees growing through the temple ruins, Ta Prohm is easily the most photogenic of the 3 temples we visited.
Fun Fact – The makers of Tomb Raider paid $10,000 per day of shooting to the Cambodian Government. As a result, Ta Prohm is up there with Angkor Wat & Bayon as one of the most visited temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park.
Looking to plan a quick getaway to the Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap, Cambodia? Make sure you read this.