Dozens of temples adorn the Siem Reap countryside. Rich in history and beauty, they are truly wortha visit in one’s lifetime. With my past guide, Kim Rieng, leading us through the temples we visited 16 ruins ranging in age from late 13th century to the early 9thcentury. Each King during this period set about to make his mark with a new temple. The most ambitious of them all, King Jayavarman VII, built 17 temples/monuments during his reign that still remain today. Similar to the Roosevelt works project, King Jayavarman VII employed his people to construct massive temples. Interestingly, all of his temples mix Buddhist and Hindu beliefs. King Jayavarman VII was Buddhist but many of the kings before and after him were Hindu. By mixing the religions, he was able to ensure his temples were not deconstructed (like many of the Buddhist-only temples). It is estimated that during his time of power, nearly 1 million people lived within the city walls. The palaces and stilt houses are long gone, but the sandstone and brick temples remain as a vestige to the past.

Bayon, residing within the ancient capital gates of Angkor Thom and constructed under Jayavarman VII’s reign, was the first temple we visited. Nearly as famous as Angkor Wat, the faces of Bayon shining down on you make it a remarkable sight to see.

Besides the buddha faces sitting atop 37 towers, Bayon also sports numerous bas-reliefs. The intricately carved reliefs display stories of war along with every day life. It is incredible they are still in fairly good condition considering they are over nine centuries old.

Although restoration work is active at many of the temples, the past and on-going damage from tree roots is readily apparent. Temples like Ta Prohm, Ta Som, and Banteay Kdei battle the surrounding jungle on a daily basis. Huge trees grow among their passageways and walls, threatening to crumble them. In the past, trees have been removed but the death of the roots caused the structures to become unstable, and they crumbed anyway.

Angkor Wat is probably the most famous of the Khmer temples. Constructed during the height of the Khmer empire, Angkor Wat is the largest temple constructed. Surrounded by a moat representing the ocean, Angkor Wat is built upon three terraces representing earth, water, and wind. The central tower, resting upon all below it, represents the center of the universe (otherwise known as Mt. Meru). Other “temple-mountain” constructions during this time seem to be a prelude to the great Angkor Wat, each building upon the other until they reached perfection with Angkor Wat.

Apsara, mythological celestial nymphs, grace every wall in Angkor Wat. Our guide helped an author detail each and every one. Informing us that each one is slightly different, he pointed out the differences between them. Some wear jewelry; some wear their hair down; some wear elaborate headdresses, some smile, but only one shows her teeth…

Of the temples we visited, Pre Rup is our favorite. With its false doors, guarding lions, and well-preserved lintels it stands out above the rest. Wandering the temple with very few other tourists, we felt as though we had the ruins to ourselves.

Of course, this post does not contain all the temples we visited. To view temple after temple, please check out Jodi’s and Chris flickr pages. If you would like more information on the Khmer temples and the history behind them, check out The Angkor Guide. It is the authoritative guide on all that is Angkor.

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