Cambodia has so much history, it was hard not to dive in and begin learning. The great part is that you can walk through remaining structures as you learn about the ancient cultures from long ago. The Temples of Angkor are classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and hold an important piece of Khmer history.
The temple grounds stretch over 400 square kilometers of land and were once the empire of the Khmer people. I woke up bright and early one morning, 3:00 am to be exact so that I could beat the tourist crowds and catch a private glimpse of this magical land as the tropical sun came up to reveal the most incredible views.
The first temple I had the opportunity to walk through was the oldest, Angkor Wat. This temple is known to be the largest religious monument in the entire world – so I knew I had to get there first. I wandered down the long stretch of road with the dim light of my cell phone leading the way through the dark. I stopped at a pond before entering the actual temple for a perfect view of the massive temple as the sun came up behind, reflecting the image against the water.
Wandering through Angkor Way was like stepping back in time. The sandstone structures come together to form what is known to be a depiction of the universe.
After touring Angkor Wat, I jumped on my tuk-tuk and headed to Angkor Thom – enclosed by enormous sandstone walls encapsulating the temples that made it the ultimate form of security in the past.
Within Angkor Thom is the Bayon Temple – known to be the most mysterious for the four-faced grinning statues that are found on every peak. Archaeologists and specialists are still unsure of why the ancient cultures had created this but it is said to be Avalokiteśvara, a bodhisattva enlightened being who embodies the compassion of all Buddha’s.
As if stepping into a whole other world, the Bayon Temple is truly mesmerizing. I was awe-inspired as I walked through the narrow paths, surrounded by the towering sandstone pillars and over 200 giant stone faces smiling down at me. This temple is also fascinating as it had originally been built as a Hindu religious monument and later on taken on as a Buddhist site. Today, it is still used as a Buddhist religious monument.
By mid-day, I felt the rays of the tropical sun, one of the hottest days of my travels through Asia. However, I was so fascinated by the archaeological sites that I continued on to my next destination, the temple of Ta Prohm.
Walking down the rugged pathway, I had chills run up my spine as I looked around to see the trees overthrow the ruins and intertwine into a hypnotic natural work of art. The archaeological site is surrounded by wild jungle and the tropical plants grow wildly through the temple remains, exposing their roots.
This is a smaller and lesser known temple – I was pleased to find only a small handful of people looking around. The Banteay Kdei is known to be the Citadel of Chambers and there are Buddhist statues set inside the temple.
The day spent around the Temple of Angkor was an unforgettable experience. The rich history of the Khmer people is intriguing and the unknown secrets leave a mysterious atmosphere throughout the sites.
Cambodia is a one-of-a-kind country – a country built upon ancient beliefs and traditions.