On the next leg of our journey through SE Asia, we flew south to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Adjacent to Siem Reap is the ancient city of Angkor, the former capital of the Khmer Empire.
On our first afternoon in Siem Reap we visited the Angkor National Museum to learn about the sites we’d be visiting over the next several days.
The museum had several informative films and a great collection of artifacts. We learned some of the historical background of the temples and about the symbols that are used in the decoration of these temples.
Unfortunately, photos aren’t permitted in most of the museum (shhh!).
Visiting Angkor Wat at sunrise is one of the must-do experiences when in the area, so the next morning we rose at around 4am to buy our tickets and get into position.
The kids were a bit groggy but they did surprisingly well. 🙂
After taking in the sunrise we explored more of the temple, which was built in the 12th century and is supposedly the largest religious monument in the world.
Several of the interior walls are covered with immense, detailed bas-reliefs depicting stories from the Ramayana.
As the sun began to beat down on us, we headed for the shade of Ta Prohm, part of the Angkor Thom temple complex.
After the temples of Angkor were abandoned (around the year 1600), the jungle slowly reclaimed the sites. When the temples were ‘rediscovered’ a few hundred years later, many were cleared of vegetation and restored. However, it was decided that Ta Prohm would be left as it was found, trees and all.
This is an amazing place to reflect on the power of nature.
Nearby, Bayon is covered with large smiling faces, supposedly images of the King who presided over the construction of the temple.
Bayon also has huge bas reliefs that depict historical and religious stories.
The Khmers were true masters of stonework; nearly every surface was covered with detailed carvings.
Another picturesque temple, Banteay Kdei.
At the Elephant Terrace.
We saw several monkeys as we wandered around the temples. Some of them were quite aggressive; one snatched a water bottle from a surprised tourist, twisted off the top, and gulped down the contents.
The next day we traveled to Banteay Srei, which is located about 15 miles from the main Angkor complex.
This temple is largely constructed of red sandstone, which is particularly well suited for detailed carvings. It is amazing how well these carvings have held up after 1,000+ years!
Land Mine Museum
On the way back from Banteay Srei we made a stop at the Cambodia Landmine Museum. Cambodia has a sad history of war; millions died during three decades of conflict beginning in the 1970’s. Those who survived had to deal with the legacy that included huge swathes of land covered in mines.
The Cambodian landmine museum was created by former Khmer Rouge child soldier Aki Ra. After the war Aki dedicated his life to removing landmines, some of which he had buried himself.
It was a powerful and somber experience to learn about the legacy of landmines in Cambodia and elsewhere in the world.
Markets and More
Having gotten our fill of temples, we spent some time exploring Siem Reap. At the “Old Market” we went shopping for a new duffel bag. Even though we had made an effort not to buy any large souvenirs during the trip, the smaller items were starting to add up and we were running short on space. We figured an extra bag wouldn’t be a big deal since we only had a few more destinations left!
While at the market Wes also got a haircut. 🙂
Afterwards, pool time!
Angkor is one of the most different and amazing places we’ve ever been, and we’re glad we spent a few days there!
Next up, Vietnam!