A visit to the temples of Angkor is a profound experience, as few sights on earth can match the immense majesty of Angkor Wat, the overgrowth of nature run amok at Ta Prohm, or the mysterious faces of the Bayon. The temples of the Angkor complex are situated in the northwest province of Siem Reap, close to the town of the same name. Its exploration is part of our journey on the mighty Tonle Sap lake, which was registered as a Unesco Biosphere Reserve in 1997. The area is home to many Cham communities living a "floating life" on the lake. Our trip takes us to two main villages in the area for an opportunity to chat with some villagers and learn more about the beauties and challenges of their uncommon lives.
• Siem Reap and the uniquely magnificent temple complex of Angkor• Tonle Sap lake, its villages, and amazing locals
• Let's take some time to visit more temples and to explore the complex more deeply• Embark for a cruise on Tonle Sap lake to discover its floating villages
[Day 1] Ta Prohm, Banteay Srei & Angkor ThomMeals: N/A | Accommodation: hotel
We rise early to travel to Ta Prohm in the dawn light. Ta Prohm has been abandoned to the elements, a reminder that while empires rise and fall, the riotous power of nature marches on, oblivious to the dramas of human history. Left as it was 'discovered' by French explorer Henri Mouhout in 1860, the tentacle-like tree roots here are slowly strangling the surviving stones, man first conquering nature to create, nature later conquering man to destroy.
We continue further north to Banteay Srei, Angkor's ultimate art gallery. This petite pink temple is the jewel in the crown of Angkor-era sculpture. The elaborate carvings here are the finest found in Cambodia and the name translates as 'Fortress of the Women', thanks to the intricate detail here, considered too fine for the hands of a man.Originally believed to date from the latter part of the Angkor period, inscriptions at the site suggest it was built by a Brahman in 967. However, some architectural historians have suggested that the inscriptions may date from an earlier structure on this site and the temple is in fact later, marking a high-water mark in Khmer sculpture.
In the afternoon, we visit the immense walled city Angkor Thom that was the masterpiece of King Jayavarman VII. Following the occupation of Angkor by the Chams from 1177 to 1181, the new king decided to build an impregnable fortress at the heart of his empire. The scale is simply staggering and we are immediately overwhelmed by the audacity of Jayavarman on arrival at the city's gates. The causeway is lined by an intricate bridge depicting the Churning of the Ocean of Milk from Hindu mythology in which the devas (gods) and asuras (devils) play tug of war with a naga (seven-headed serpent) to obtain the elixir of immortality.
We begin our visit at the Terrace of the Leper King. This intricately carved platform was the royal crematorium and the statue that was originally thought to be the leper king is now believed to be Yama, the god of death. We continue along the Terrace of Elephants, originally used as a viewing gallery for the king to preside over parades, performances and traditional sports. At the southern end lies the Baphuon, once of the most beautiful temples at Angkor, dating from the reign of Uditayavarman 1 in the 11th century. It has undergone a massive renovation by the French and is now once again open for viewing.
Our climax is the enigmatic and enchanting temple of the Bayon. At the exact centre of Angkor Thom, this is an eccentric expression of the creative genius and inflated ego of Cambodia's most celebrated king. Its 54 towers are each topped off with the four faces of Avalokiteshvara (Buddha of Compassion), which bear more than a passing resemblance to the king himself. These colossal heads stare down from every side, exuding power and control with a hint of compassion, just the mix required to keep a hold on such a vast empire. Before clambering upwards, we unravel the mysteries of the bas-reliefs, with their intricate scenes of ancient battles against the Chams and their snapshot of daily life during the Angkor period.
[Day 2] Angkor Water and Floating Village of Chong KneasMeals: N/A | Accommodation: N/A
After breakfast we travel south to one of the largest and least-visited villages on the Tonle Rising at the crack of dawn, we journey out to the Mother of all temples, Angkor Wat. Believed to be the world's largest religious building, this temple is the perfect fusion of symbolism and symmetry and a source of pride and strength to all Khmers. Built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II, this is most famous temple at Angkor. We stay at Angkor Wat to enjoy a picnic breakfast. As the crowds return to their hotels, we venture into Angkor Wat to enjoy its magnificence in peace and quiet. We begin by unravelling the mysteries of the bas-reliefs that tell of tales from Hindu mythology and of the glories of the Khmer empire. Stretching for almost one kilometre, these intricate carvings are a candidate for the world's longest unbroken piece of art.
Following in the footsteps of the devout and the destructive before us, we then continue to the upper levels of the inner sanctuary. The final steps to the upper terrace of Angkor are the steepest of all, as pilgrims of old were to stoop on their pilgrimage to encounter the Gods. Finally the pinnacle, the sacred heart of Angkor Wat, a blend of spirituality and symmetry so perfect that few moments will measure up.
Taking a break from the temples, we travel out to the mighty Tonle Sap Lake to visit the floating village of Chong Kneas. Nestled under the hill of Phnom Krom, this floating community moves location with the waters of the lake. During the wet season when the lake swells to five times its size, the village is near Phnom Krom, but during the dry season, it moves as much as 4km from the hill.
Everything floats on water in this living fishing community. There are floating schools, floating shops, floating petrol stations, even floating karaoke bars. Many of the houses are floating fish farms with large pens of fish underneath. For those that are interested, we can also make a stop at the Gecko Environment Centre to learn more about lake, which is like the heartbeat of Cambodia, providing sustenance to millions of Khmers.
Note: Pick up time on Day 1: 6.00 am
PRICE PER PERSON
• Accommodation with breakfast• Drinking water during sightseeing• Boat trip as specified• Travel in an appropriate air-conditioned vehicle with an experienced driver• The services of an experienced English-speaking guide• All entrance fees
• International flight tickets and airport tax, currently $25 per person• Visas, currently $20 per person• Meals• Beverages, gratuities and personal expenses.• Camera fees (if any)• Surcharge in peak season (Christmas & New Year)• Insurance
Mid-range• Angkor: City River hotel (Superior room)
Superior• Angkor: Royal Bay Inn Angkor resort (Deluxe room) or Tara Angkor hotel (Superior room)
Deluxe• Angkor: Victoria Angkor hotel (Superior room)
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