"Here then are those temples which for so long seemed like visions... Here are the foundations, the plinths, the galleries, the extraordinary domes resembling multi-ringed tiaras" —Claude Farrere, L'illustration, 1931
The "Prize of Southeast Asia" — the Temples of Angkor — are, surprising to most visitors, the greatest concentration of ruins ever constructed. Angkor what? Many people have heard of the main temple Angkor Wat, but Angkor, the temple complex of the same name, consists of over 70 discovered ruins spread over 200 square kilometers. Angkor Wat itself is a kilometer-wide and one of the most magnificent monuments ever constructed. There are astounding structures of equal impact all around — a density of ruins unparalleled anywhere else in the world, including the Nile Valley. A short one-hour hop from Vietnam or Thailand, Angkor provides an easy stop during any trip in the region and Siem Reap, the nearby base for exploring the temples, has become one of the region's most dynamic towns, including night markets and world-class dining and hotels.
— Siem Reap: once a sleepy base for exploring the temples is now one of Asia's most charming towns
— Hidden Angkor: it is possible to avoid the crowds. We will ensure you experience the magnificence and unique places in even at the most popular temples, in tranquility and away from the crowds.
— Angkor by helicopter: thrill to astonishing views from above the vastness of Angkor
— Architectural breadth: Angkor Wat is the most well known, but the Bayon, Banteay Srei, the Southgate of Angkor Thom, and Ta Phrom are all magnificent and remarkably unique temples
— Hiking Kulen Mountain: ancient carvings under waterfalls
— Cycling Ta Phrom: A two-wheeled tour for everyone, away from the crowds
— Preak Toal: you don't have to be a bird watcher to enjoy Asia's largest bird sanctuary within the Tonlé Sap Biosphere Reserve
— Khmer heritage at the local silk farms, national and Korean musuems.
— Roluos Group: most visitors skip the small yet well-preserved very first temples erected in the area, but they shouldn't be missed.
— We've far more special places, activities, and encounters you should not miss while touring Angkor. Contact us for a trip consultation.
While the massive Angkor Wat is only the tip of the"monument iceberg, it's worth devoting several hours of time exploring and taking in the hundreds of yards of magnificently-carved bas reliefs
Think of Angkor Thom as a city within a city, with dozens of striking and unique monuments, including the Bayon, a favorite of many travelers.
At the heart of Angkor Thom is the Bayon (above), the mesmerizing, if not mind-bending temple of Jayavarman VII's ego whose massive 4-headed stone faces smile down at you. For more reading, in this piece, travel
writer Michael Buckley gives us a glimpse of the treasures of
Angkor Thom in The Splendors of Angkor Thom.
Left to the jungle, Ta Phrom over the centuries has been overrun by plant life. The contrast has created an incredible setting of stone and plant.
Banteay Srei: It is surprising to see how little this temple seems to feature in some itineraries given its delicate beauty. This is often cited as a highlight by the various groups I have led over the years and is particularly interesting when combined with the Landmine Museum. Again, the Landmine Museum is often flagged as an unexpected highlight for visitors, as it is a subject they have heard about but don’t really know the extent of the problem or the bigger picture.
One of the earliest temples, the petite Banteay Srei features the most intricate of bas reliefs carved in bright pink sandstone
Private Villa in Angkor
For a private moment within the temple complex, reserve a stylish, traditional wooden house overlooking the royal bathing pond of Sra Srang. Once used by the ancient Khmer kings and their concubines, this is a celebrated spot for sunrise and sunset. In a serene setting amid the rural village atmosphere of Angkor, this sala offers a range of original experiences from dining, cooking classes and cocktails and is the perfect private escape from the crowds around Angkor during the heat of the day. Unwind or indulge, it’s the perfect complement to the temples for special occasions.
Options at the sala include:
—Enjoy a breakfast choice from three continents between.
—Khmer Cooking Class between 8am and 12 noon, which we begin with a visit to the local market. Maximum of six people.
—Lunch outdoors, Khmer and international.
—Yoga or meditation, by prior appointment, between 2-5pm.
—Sunset Cocktails - with a signature Khmer cocktail, similar to the Singapore Sling but with a unique twist.
—Dinner of Khmer and international cuisine, between 7-10pm.
Early morning departure from Siem Reap to visit "the lost temple" of Beng Mealea (about 30 miles). Beng Mealea, a titanic temple the size of Angkor Wat, was a slumbering giant lost for centuries in the encroaching forests of Cambodia and resembles a set from Tomb Raider. The temple is a mirror image of Angkor Wat, but totally consumed by the region's voracious flora. Constructed by Suryavarman II (1113-1150), the builder of Angkor Wat, the forest has grown wild here making hard to get a sense of where the monument ends and nature begins.
Note: Although it is the most accessible of Angkor’s lost temples, to reach the best viewpoints, some climbing is necessary and in some areas are ladders to aid. After exploring the complex, enjoy a picnic lunch overlooking the ruins.
After Beng Mealea, visit nearby Koh Ker, a large temple mount. Abandoned to the forests of the north, Koh Ker, capital of the Angkorian empire from AD 928 to AD 944, is now within day-trip distance of Siem Reap. Most visitors start at Prasat Krahom where impressive stone carvings grace lintels, doorposts and slender window columns. The principal monument is Mayan-looking Prasat Thom, a 55m-wide, 40m-high sandstone-faced pyramid whose seven tiers offer spectacular views across the forest. Among the many other temples that are found around Koh Ker, Prasat Bram is the real highlight, a collection of brick towers, at least two of which have been completely smothered by voracious strangler figs; the probing roots having cut through the brickwork like liquid.
Travel by boat on vast Tonle Sap lake to Kompong Pluk (water levels permitting). Cruising down the narrow waterway into this medieval floating village, where the houses stand atop stilts as much as twenty feet above the water. The population of about 10,000 people, all of whom make a living from the fishing industry. Everything here lives on or above the water, including pigs, dogs, crocodiles and people, all jockeying for space in this unique floating community. Also exploration the surreal flooded forest here before continuing to the village of Chong Kneas. After reaching dry land, return to Siem Reap by road to freshen up before dinner.
Daytrip Notes: departing by 7:00 AM will place us at Beng Mealea and will have us there before any groups, but as with any other temples, the earlier the better. Picnic lunch today.
We can organize short flights over the temples to longer flights of one ot three hours, including the stunning clifftop setting of Preah Vihear, landing to explore the temples by foot.
Our last photography series tour of Vietnam & Angkor concentrated on places providing exceptional photography opportunities, including the stoic capital, Hanoi, overnight on Halong Bay, hilltribes and mountain vistas of Sapa, and the emerald green vistas of the Mekong Delta. In Cambodia, the now bustling capital city of Phnom Penh was visited, and the tour culminated in shooting at what was the center of a great civilization, the grand temples of Angkor. View some of the the images taken by participants on the trip here: Vietnam & Angkor Images Gallery.
Beyond Angkor: For more touring and travel ideas in Cambodia, visit our Cambodia page and our favorite capital city in Southeast Asia, Phnom Penh, an easy and fascinating one-day stopover en route to the temples.
Renowned Khmer historian Dr. Pich Keo, who has been interested in Khmer Arts and the history of Angkor since a young boy. In 1965 he attended the school of fine art in Phnom Penh until 1970. After graduation he was employed by the École Française d'Extreme Orient (EFEO) working for the Angkor conservation until the Khmer rough took over the area in 1975. In 1980, after the fall of the Khmer Rouge to the Vietnamese
In 1992 he became the Director of the National Museum in Phnom Penh and recently he has been promoted to be the Director of Department of Angkor Conservation working in cooperation with the UNESCO and the Ministry of fine art and culture.
We recommend reading the following articles and books to reference during your exploration of the temples:
Angkor, Why An Ancient Civilization Collapsed by National Geographic, July 2009. Scientists now believe Angkor utilized a vast and complex water system that collapsed due to drought. [Divining Angkor]
Angkor, An Introduction to the Temples by Dawn Rooney. (1994, Passport). Revised edition 2011.
Angkor, Heart of an Asian Empire by Bruno Dagens (Thames and Hudson). Out of print.
It is impossible for your guide to provide a comprehensive summary of the various temples, culture, and history of the Khmers during the short time they share with you. For those with desire of a deeper understanding, we will provide you with a reference book after arrival. for those with desire of a deeper understanding, we recommend bringing Dawn Rooney's reference book -- the long time "bible" for the temples. We can also arrange a foreign expert, a top professor of Khmer archeology and architecture to spend a half day with you. Please enquire.
Angkor: Cambodia's Wondrous Khmer Temples (Sixth Edition) (Odyssey Illustrated Guides) Paperback – April 16, 2011 by Dawn Rooney (Amazon Link)
Ready to get started planning your Vietnam trip and visit to Hue? Submit a contact form below, or call us:
San Francisco at (415) 680-3788 , or in Hanoi contact us at (84-4) 3562-6665