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Cambodia > General information > Region and city guide > Visiting the temples of Angkor

              Siem Reap & Angkor Wat Travel guide (Part 3)

Visiting  the Temples of Angkor

 

The tourist trade has split the temple routes into three so-called circuits: The Petit Circuit, the Grand Circuit, and the Rolous Group Circuit.


The Petit Circuit is the quickie, one-day trip around the highlights of
Angkor. If you are on an excursion from Phnom Penh this is probably the trip you will make. Unfortunately you miss many of the most interesting and unique sites, but you do see the three main temples and the Terrace of the Elephants. 

The Grand Circuit is more involved, including many of the smaller temples – the little gems of
Angkor.

The Rolous Group Circuit goes to outlying temples.By combining the Rolous and Grand Circuit routes you will see the vast majority of the popular temples in two days. Having the third day on your pass allows you to go back and revisit your favorite temples (or the ones that were too crowded the first two days) and visit at least one temple at sunset or sunrise.


The
MainTemples & Sights:


Angkor
Wat – Petit and Grand Circuit

Bayon – Petit and Grand Circuit

Baphoun – Petit and Grand Circuit

Terrace of the Elephants – Petit Circuit

Ta Prohm – Grand Circuit

East Mebon – Grand Circuit

Neak Pean – Grand Circuit

Lolei – Rolous Group Circuit

Preah Ko – Rolous Group Circuit

Bakong – Rolous Group Circuit 

You must have a visa-sized photo for your photo ID entry pass.  Bring two photos in case the ticket office needs to keep one. It is not currently possible to get on-site photos.  You can usually go into the complex for free after 5:15 pm –great for viewing some of the temples at sunset.  The fee for admission may seem steep, but once you have seen how much needs to be restored and kept up you may think the fee is too low.

Make sure to buy your ticket from the official station outside the main complex, and don’t give away your pass when you are done. Too many places in Siem Reap sell recycled passes. That leads to problems. First, it is illegal and you could get into trouble. Second, the money doesn’t go to the upkeep of the sites.

Angkor Thom
 
The royal capital city, built by Jayavarman VII (12th century), is called Angkor Thom. The entire city was walled and surrounded by a moat that was several hundred yards wide. It may have been populated with alligators to help discourage marauding invaders. Much of the complex was destroyed by invading Chams, and the site was rebuilt. A few temples in the area (Baphoun and Phimeanakas) survived the destruction and became part of the
new city.

There are five gateways into the city – one facing each compass point and one (the Victory Gate) that leads from the
Royal Palace to the East Baray (a baray is an artificial lake or reservoir). As you stand there, try to imagine parades of elephants with their howdahs passing through, bearing the royal family and their cortege. Elephants were highly venerated and valued in a culture with no other way to do the heavy work or get from place to place.
 
There are five causeways that pass over the former moat.  They are lined on one side with demons and on the other side with gods.


 

Bayon 

This is one of the temples Jayavarman VII built when he restored his royal city. It is in the center of Angkor Thom. As you walk around the Angkor Thom site, keep in mind that no walled European city of the time came close to this size, nor were the walls anywhere near as high (eight m/24 feet) or their moats as wide (100 m/300 feet).


The Bayon is one of the most impressive sights in the entire area. You can get a much better perspective on this wat than many others because it was not built within the traditional wall – Jayavarman VII must have decided the outer walls were enough.


It is shaped like a pyramid with four towers that are actually
carved heads of Jayavarman as a Bodhisattra. There are

additional carvings on each head of lotus flowers and numerous smaller towers with heads that look to the compass points. The all-seeing god-king, perhaps? The walls of the building are decorated in bas-reliefs, but the ones at Angkor Wat are much more impressive.


The Royal Enclosure




The site built upon by Jayavarman VII was actually already in use. An earlier emperor, Suryavarman I, had laid it out; Jayavarman made additions and improvements.

One of the top sites in the Royal Enclosure is the Terrace of the
Elephants (the Royal Terrace).

A
nother is the Kleangs, believed to have provided accommodations for foreign ambassadors and dignitaries.

All of these buildings pre-date Jayavarman VII.


Tip:
The Terrace of the Elephants is a must-see.  

The Terrace of the Elephants


Phimeanakas (Celestial or
Flying Palace) was renovated was renovated by Suryavarman I. At one time (according to Chou Ta-kuan) this entire structure was sheathed in gold. Now it is a ruin, but you can still see the lions that used to guard the four entrances to the central tower.

Until the construction of the Phimeanakas the Angkor site buildings had square bases. Now, for the first time, a rectangular base was used.

The Baphoun is one of the most important temples to see at the Angkor site – one of the few buildings to survive the sacking by the Chams. It is not in a good state of repair, so it is more noteworthy for its builder (Udayadityavarman II) than its architecture. In its heyday only Bayon was a larger temple.

Phnom Bakheng

As you head south from Angkor Thom you will come to the “temple mountain” – Phnom Bakheng. There is a Buddha footprint and great views of the surrounding area – especially Angkor Wat – from the 60-m (200-foot) hill. You can climb the hill or ride an elephant. The elephant rides are over-priced ($15 or so) but the elephants need the work if they are going to eat.

 Siem Reap and Angkor Wat Travel Guide
 Part 1 : Introduction & How to get there

 Part 2: Angkor Temples

 Part 4 : Visiting Angkor Wat

 Angkor Temples map
Picture of Banteay Srei Temple

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Cambodia: Visiting the temples of Angkor - Angkor Thom, Bayon, The Royal Enclosure, Phnom Bakheng, & Phimeanakas