Angkor Wat and Cambodia’s Magnificent Ancient Temples

3 min read

You may have heard of Angkor Wat, but it’s far from the only temple in Cambodia. Located in Siem Reap, the famous monument shares the city with at least 1000 other ancient temples that also attract curious visitors from all over the world. I had the opportunity to explore four of these incredible feats of architecture on my recent trip to Southeast Asia and each is magnificent in its own way.

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm, constructed in the late 12th century, provided the backdrop for a scene in the film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and it’s easy to see why. Towering trees border a wide dusty path and form a leafy canopy, providing sweet relief from the blistering heat. Once inside the complex, you’re surrounded by flourishing vegetation, piles of stone blocks, and more massive trees, some with roots so mighty they’ve scaled their way on and through the abandoned structures that still stand.

Ta Prohm was once a Buddhist monastery and university. It took 80,000 workers to build it – according to a Sanskrit inscription found in the temple. There are 39 towers and over 500 former residences where 12,500 people lived across the nearly 650,000-ft2 property.

Siem Reap, Cambodia is home to many majestic ancient temples, including the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

This was pretty cool to see up close.

Siem Reap, Cambodia is home to many majestic ancient temples, including the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

This is one gigantic tree. You could probably set up a person-nest in that trunk!

Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei is one of the smaller temple compounds, but it’s still quite impressive. It stands out among the other temples due to the pink sandstone used to build it, waaaay back in the mid-10th century.

Siem Reap, Cambodia is home to many majestic ancient temples, including the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

At the entrance to the small temple complex, you get a preview of the incredibly detailed carvings and sculptures Banteay Srei is known for.

Siem Reap, Cambodia is home to many majestic ancient temples, including the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

Guardian monkeys

Angkor Wat

If the temples in Cambodia were a singing ensemble, Angkor Wat would be the Michael Jackson/Beyoncé/Tina Turner/Justin Timberlake/Sting of the group. It truly is stunning.  Angkor Wat (“Temple City”) – which dates back to the mid-12th century – rests atop about 500 acres of land, making it the world’s largest religious structure ever built. As with Banteay Srei, the fine detail of the elaborate carvings and motifs etched into the stone walls of the galleries are awe-inspiring. Imagine how much labor went into constructing such an incredible structure.

Our group visited the temples twice, once in the afternoon, where so much sweat streamed down my face it led one of my tourmates to chuckle and ask: “Did you pour water over your head?” The second time, we got up earlier than anyone should ever have to, so that we could watch the sun rise over the towers. It was all totally worth it.

Siem Reap, Cambodia is home to many majestic ancient temples, including the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

Angker Wat’s five towers represent the five peaks of Mt. Meru of Hindu lore.

Siem Reap, Cambodia is home to many majestic ancient temples, including the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

1200m2 of bas relief carvings adorn the walls of the three galleries in Angkor Wat

Siem Reap, Cambodia is home to many majestic ancient temples, including the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

You had to climb these super steep steps (say that 3 times in a row) to reach the top of the tallest tower and a great view. I hate heights so my heart was definitely doing jumping jacks on the ascent and descent. I wasn’t alone though, some chose to climb up using their hands and knees, and some scooted their way down the narrow stairs.

Siem Reap, Cambodia is home to many majestic ancient temples, including the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

These are the old stairs. Even scarier!

Watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat is clearly a popular activity.

Siem Reap, Cambodia is home to many majestic ancient temples, including the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

There must have been hundreds of people around the perimeter of the lake.

Siem Reap, Cambodia is home to many majestic ancient temples, including the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

Such an incredible sight

Siem Reap, Cambodia is home to many majestic ancient temples, including the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

Seeing the sunrise over the temples of Angkor Wat was an almost surreal experience.

On the way back to the van, after enjoying a pre-packed breakfast, a monkey accosted me.

Bayon

Bayon holds the title of most “theatrical,” or perhaps, the most “quirky” of the temples I toured. Even the entrance to the complex makes a statement. As you approach the south gate, to the left sit 54 gigantic heads of gods and to the right, a line of 54 demons. Not to be outdone, crowning the towers of the iconic, 75-ft tall, arched entryway are four faces of the bodhisattva, each looking out in all four cardinal directions. Beyond the gates lies the “city” of Angkor Thom (“Big Temple”) – once the capital of King Jayavarman VII’s empire – fortified by a massive 328-ft wide moat which surrounds a 26-ft high laterite wall that protects 360 acres, including Bayon temple. Neighborhood watch on 100.

Siem Reap, Cambodia is home to many majestic ancient temples, including the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

Face towers at Angkor Thom

Everywhere you turn in the Bayon complex, there are eyes watching. Over 200 faces etched into stone cap the 54 towers at the site. While the identity of the figures decorating the temple is unknown, some speculate they are likenesses of King Jayavarman VII and a reflection of his inflated ego. The mysterious expressions on the stone faces has led some to dub them the “Mona Lisa of Southeast Asia”.

Beautiful, intricate motifs cover the walls of two galleries that surround Bayon’s main temple. The bas-relief carvings reflect the daily lives of the Khmers in the 12th century, as well as tales based in Hindu mythology.

Siem Reap, Cambodia is home to many majestic ancient temples, including the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

Two monks review the photos they took on a smartphone.

Siem Reap, Cambodia is home to many majestic ancient temples, including the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

It is considered respectful to cover your shoulders and knees while at a temple.

Siem Reap, Cambodia is home to many majestic ancient temples, including the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

With my tourmates. Including me there were 3 Americans, 1 Brit, 1 Swiss, and 1 Aussie in our group. Can you guess who’s from where?

More from my Southeast Asia series:

Part I: I Survived Crossing the Street: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam in 36 hours(ish)
Part II: Phnom Penh, Cambodia: An Emotional Visit to S21 & The Killing Fields
Part III: Tarantula Eating, Silk Spinning & Candy Making: A Road Trip through the Cambodian Countryside

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24 Comments
  • CountryLifeCityWife
    March 20, 2016

    I have been telling Earl we should put this on our list. Your photos are beautiful. I will tell you that money would scared the sh!t out of me!!! 😮

  • Packing my Suitcase
    February 24, 2016

    Amazing!!!! These temples are surreal, they remind me of my trip to Luxor in Egypt with all the old and gigantic temples. What an unforgettable trip for you! I hope to visit Cambodia someday!! 😀

    Thank you so much for sharing this post with us over at #MondayEscapes 😀

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      February 24, 2016

      And I hope to visit Egypt one day! How incredible it must have been to see the Luxor (and not in Las Vegas)! Yes, I do hope you get to visit Cambodia; it’s a lovely country!

  • PriVin
    February 20, 2016

    Beautiful pictures, Lovely Blog. Hope to visit the temples some day!

  • Urska @ Slovenian Girl Abroad
    February 17, 2016

    Love your beautiful pictures. 🙂 #MondayEscapes

  • globalmunchkins82
    February 16, 2016

    Forgot to mention #MondayEscapes 🙂

  • globalmunchkins82
    February 16, 2016

    Cambodia is high up there on my list. I just haven’t seen any other place quite like it. Thanks for the great photos and showing more than just Siem Reap. Makes me want to go even worse now 😉

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      February 23, 2016

      Cambodia is one of the more unique places I’ve gotten a chance to visit. It’s a wonderful place and I have so much respect for the Cambodian people. I do hope you get to visit one day and see the beauty beyond Siem Reap!

  • Marcella ~ WhatAWonderfulWorld
    February 15, 2016

    Beautiful post! I went in 2013 and adored seeing all of the temples 🙂 You managed to get the most beautiful shot at sunrise too *swoon* #Mondayescapes

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      February 23, 2016

      I’m so glad I got myself out of bed to catch the sunrise, it was so worth it!

      Thanks for your comment, Marcella!

  • Anthony Bosin
    February 14, 2016

    I was there this week, UNIQUE…

  • hbksloss
    February 14, 2016

    Very cool photos! I’m not a morning person either but looks worth it to get up early and see the area from a different perspective. We did a sunrise walk around Uluru in Australia. It was a great experience to watch the sun rising, lighting up the ‘rock’ as it became day

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      February 14, 2016

      Wow, that Uluru experience sounds amazing. I am hoping to make it to Australia this year and I’ll have to put that on my list!

  • Heidi
    February 10, 2016

    I skipped the sunrise. Ain’t nobody getting me up at 4:30am!!!! Nice photos!

  • sourgirlohio
    February 9, 2016

    I love the pictures! They’re absolutely beautiful! What an experience.

  • Roberta
    February 9, 2016

    Wow. Looks amazing! I definitely wanna visit those temples. It looks really peaceful. The sunrise is so stunning. Gotta put this on my bucket list 🙂 Have a great week xx

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      February 10, 2016

      The sunrise was a unique experience. Nothing like being surrounded by hundreds of people from all over the world, speaking different languages, and all in awe.

      Thanks for your comment, Roberta!

  • lizannelloyd
    February 8, 2016

    You have some wonderful photos. This was my mother’s description of her visit to Cambodia in 1969 http://somerville66.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/cambodia-in-1969.html

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      February 10, 2016

      One of the thoughts that kept running through my head at these temples was how many people must have walked the same grounds over hundreds and thousands of years. Reading your mom’s (lovely) words and seeing her (wonderful) photos – which look so similar to mine – is a reminder of how much bigger than us the world is. But the end of the post, wow, I can’t even imagine. What a time it must have been to visit Southeast Asia.

      Thanks for sharing, Liz!

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