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Angkor Archaeological Park
Ooaj Travel Guide, tourism, hotel reservation, residence, plane, cheap pension for you holidays in angkor
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Stretching over some 400 sq. km, including forested area, Angkor contains the magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century CE. These include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations.
Angkor was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992 - the same year it was also placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger. UNESCO has now set up a wide-ranging programme to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings.
Angkor itself has no accommodations and few facilities; the nearby town of Siem Reap is the tourist hub for the area. Siem Reap - Angkor International Airport (http://www.cambodia-airports.com/siemreap/en/) has direct flights to/from Laos (Pakse | Vientiane), Singapore, Taiwan (Kaohsiung | Taipei), Thailand (Bangkok | U-Tapao) and Vietnam (Danang | Ho Chi Minh City).
Angkor is located about 20 minutes to the north, by car or motorbike, from central Siem Reap.
Tour buses visit only the three or four most accessible sites. The guided, air-conditioned comfort may not make up for the hassle of crowds and lack of options. The cost is about US$30-$70/day including driver.
Cars with drivers can be hired for single or multiple days. Though the drivers are not expert guides, they can help you explore the ruins. The charge varies from US$20-US$25 per day. It is usual for the drivers to ask for US$5 or 10 to take you to more remote areas like Bantaey Srei. Don't be alarmed if you realise that your car does not have a number plate. None of them seem to!
Motorbikes (with drivers) can be rented from any guesthouse. Rates are about US$5-$8/day for a motodup, and $10-$12/day for motorcycle trailers. Again, drivers might ask for more to visit remote ruins. Some riders are very informative, and can give you far more information about Cambodian life and Angkor than you would get from hiring a bicycle.
The rental of motorbikes (ie without a driver) to foreigners in Siem Reap is prohibited; however foreigners can ride motorbikes they've rented elsewhere (eg Phnom Penh).
Bicycles are another option, though you will spend more time getting from place to place and will have a limited range. Bikes are probably best for visitors planning on returning for several days. Bring sun screen, a good hat, lot of water and a scarf to keep the sun off your neck. The rental is around US$2-$3 per day.
Tickets are required to enter the Angkor area. They are on sale to foreigners at the front gate for 1 (US$20), 3 (US$40), or 7 (US$60) consecutive days (Cambodians can enter for free). If you buy your ticket the evening before, you can enter the park after 6 o'clock to view the sunset. A photo is required for the 3 and 7 day passes. There is a provision for obtaining this photo for free but this can be time consuming at peak times in the day. Note that regular checks for the pass are performed at almost all ruin sites. So, do carry your pass with you at all times while visiting the ruins.
Guides can be hired for about US$20 a day.
Be sure and get to the temples early as there are far fewer people there early in the morning. Arriving at the temples at 8 am instead of 9 am can make all the difference in staying one step ahead of the tour bus contingents.
Located six kilometers north of Siem Reap, Angkor Wat is one of the largest of Khmer monuments. Built around the first half of 12th century by King Suryavarman II, the temple's balance, composition and beauty makes it one of the finest monuments in the world.
Though 'Wat' is the Khmer (Cambodian) word for temple, the westward orientation of the structure is atypical of temples. Scholars believe that the architecture and sculptures are that of a temple where Lord Vishnu was worshipped but it was also built as a mausoleum for the king after his death.
How to explore
The size of the monuments makes it look overwhelming when one encounters it for the first time. The following is one of the suggested plan to explore Angkor Wat. Enter through the west entrance. When you reach the entry tower, walk to the right to get a glimpse of all the five towering goupras.
Passing the tower and the libraries on both sides of the walkway, climb down the steps towards the left side and get to the water basin. You can catch a glimpse of the temple and its reflection in the water. Go past the basin and reach the left end of the temple.
You would by now have reached the starting point of the famous bas reliefs depicting scenes from various mythological stories and historic events. Walking from left to right you will come across scenes from battle of Ramayana, battle of Mahabharata, army of Suryavarman II, scenes from judgement by Yama (the supreme judge), churning of ocean by demons and gods to get Amrita - the nectar of immortality, Vishnu's victory over demons, victory of Krishna over Bana and other scenes of battle between gods and demons.
Climb the steps to reach the second tier. One can reach the third tier and the central courtyard within by climbing the steps oriented towards any of the four cardinal points. However, it is suggested that the steps on the west be taken, as these have now been fitted with a handrail — particularly useful when descending.
When to visit
The sight of the grand monument towering over the landscape is breath-taking at any time of day. However, to maximise the effect it is suggested that the first trip to Angkor Wat be made in optimal lighting conditions, usually around 1~2 PM. Sunrise at Angkor Wat is a also great sight to witness. Hence most of the tourists tend to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat, then explore other ruins in the morning and then return to Angkor Wat later in the afternoon. The sun rises behind Angkor Wat and the best colors are seen just before the sun climbs into view. As the position of the sun as it rises varies according to the time of year, do position yourself accordingly. For example, in November-December time when you facing Angkor Wat, the sun rises on your right hand side. Hence grab a place to the extreme left of the entry tower to see the sunrise. Sunset at Angkor Wat is best viewed either on the top tier or outside the main temple structure.
Built in the latter part of the 12th century by King Suryavarman VII, Bayon is one of the most widely recognised temples in Siem Reap because of the giant stone faces that adorn the towers of Bayon. There are 54 towers of four faces each, totaling 216 faces. There is still a debate as to who is being depicted in the faces. It could be Avalokiteshvara, Mahayana Buddhism's compassionate Bodhisattva, or perhaps a combination of King Jayavarman VII and Buddha.
How to explore
Bayon's plan can be divided into three levels - the first two are bas-reliefs and the uppermost consists of the central sanctuary. The outer gallery depicts scenes from everyday life and historical events, while the second inner gallery depicts mythical figures and stories. In total, there are more than 1km of bas-reliefs to be viewed in the Bayon.
Enter Bayon from the east. The outer gallery comes into view first. The second gallery is on the next higher level. The third level is where you will encounter many of the famous faces (and tourists). The fact that these stones are exposed to direct light makes it easy to shoot pictures throughout the day, though mid-day sun eliminates shadows . You will find fewer tourists too during this time of day.
When to visit
The surrounding and the tall towers makes Bayon a bit dark and flat for study and photography near sunrise and sunset. Hence, it is best to visit Bayon when there is plenty of light. 10:00 morning to around 4:00 in the evening is the stretch most people prefer.
Located just to the northwest of the Bayon (the center of Angkor Thom), the Baphuon is supposed to represent Mount Meru (sacred to Hinduism), and is one of the largest and grandest structures in Angkor. Built into the western face of the Baphuon is a giant reclining Buddha, added in the 15th century after the region converted from Hinduism to Buddhism.
Archeologists had dismantled the Baphuon to perform renovation when they were interrupted by the civil war; the records for piecing the temple back together were subsequently lost or destroyed. Today it is undergoing painstaking reconstruction work and so visitors can only walk around the outside base, as heavy machinery and work crews dominate the main structure.
Other Angkor Thom
The Bayon and Baphuon temples form only part of what was formerly the giant city of Angkor Thom, once thought to hold a population of one million.
In addition to the Bayon and Baphuon temples, the ancient city of Angkor Thom holds a number of other sites of interest:
Ta Prohm was built during the time of king Jayavarman VII and is best known in the Angor Archaeological Park as the temple where trees have been left intertwined with the stonework, much as it was uncovered from the jungle in . It might be considered in a state of disrepair but there is a strange beauty in the marvelous strangler fig trees which provide a stunning display of the embrace between nature and the human handiwork. This is one of the most popular temples after Angkor Wat and the Bayon because of the beautiful combinations of wood and stone. Black and white film photographers especially love this site because of this and most of the stunning postcard shots of Angkor's trees come from here.
The temple itself is located within the Angkor Thom city walls.
Preah Khan was Jayavarman VII's first capital, before the completion of Angkor Wat. Large and atmospheric, yet somewhat overshadowed by Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm, this temple is partly in disrepair with strangler figs crawling up the walls, but has some excellent carvings and less visitors, and is well worth a visit. The temple is some 3 kilometers north of Angkor Thom.
This red colored temple is well known for its intricate carvings, and is worth a half day trip on its own, since it is a bit further from Siem Reap than the main Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat areas. Car and motorcycle drivers will charge a bit extra ($10 USD) to take you to the temple.
Despite a ban on development or commercial zoning, dozens of small noodle and snack shops have sprung up near the major attractions of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.
The area has seen a large increase of hotels and guest houses in 2003, with many new 3 to 4 star places opening up on the road between the airport and Siem Reap. See Siem Reap for hotels and hostels. Camping is not allowed.