For several centuries, Angkor was the epicentre of the Khmer Empire. With impressive monuments and sophisticated urban plans, Angkor demonstrates the development of a formidable kingdom and its exceptional civilisation. Today, the site is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia and no traveller to the region will want to miss its extravagant beauty.
Hiding in the forest of Cambodia’s northern province Siem Reap, Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. The whole complex covers an area of more than 400 km², including forested area, and it contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the formidable Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. According to the Cambodian, Angkor (ប្រាសាទអង្គរ) is the embodiment of Mt Meru, the Mt Olympus of the Hindu faith and the home of ancient gods. The temples exemplify therefore cultural, religious and symbolic significance, as well as high architectural and artistic value. Most notable sites are the Bayon Temple in Angkor Thom decorated with more than two hundreds of Buddha’s faces, Ta Prohm where buildings are dominated by nature, and Angkor Wat – the ultimate expression of Khmer genius.
1. Angkor Thom
Meaning “The Great City” in Khmer, Angkor Thom (អង្គរធំ) was the last and most enduring capital of the Khmer Empire (over 300 years). It was established in the late 12th century by Cambodia’s most celebrated king, King Jayavarman VII and stretches over 9 km². The city was built in a nearly perfect square and was protected by a multi-layered system, including high walls and a wide moat. During its golden age, Angkor Thom may have governed a population of one million people.
Standing exactly at the heart of this ancient city is the mesmerising Bayon Temple – the intersection between Heaven and Earth. Constructed in the late 12th or early 13th century, it served as the official state temple of Jayavarman’s kingdom. The temple is known for its 216 gargantuan smiling stone faces of Avalokiteshvara – a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. They were carved on the many towers which jut out from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak. The curious smiling image was thought by many to be the portrait of the King himself.
2. Ta Prohm
With enormous tree roots embrace crumbling towers and walls are strangulated by systems of vines, Ta Prohm ( ប្រាសាទតាព្រហ្ម) does look otherworldly. Known as Rajavihara (Monastery of the King), the 12th-century Buddhist temple lies approximately one kilometre east of Angkor Thom and was dedicated to the family of King Jayavarman VII. It was filled with temples, closed courtyards and narrow corridors and more than 12,500 people used to call this place home.
After the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 15th century, Ta Prohm was abandoned and neglected for centuries. Unlike other monuments in the area, Ta Prohm is in much the same condition in which it was discovered by European explorers in the 1800s. Hundred of years old trees tower overhead, their leaves filter the sunlight and cast shadows over the whole scene. The temple is simply swallowed by the jungle, making it the most atmospheric ruins in the Angkor Archeological Park.
3. Angkor Wat
Perhaps you will never be prepared for the enormous size and overwhelming beauty of Angkor Wat (អង្គរវត្ត). Built in the early 12th century by King Suryavarman II, the temple complex was originally dedicated to Vishnu – one of the three major deities in Hinduism. It was designed to represent Mount Meru – home of the Hindu gods and goddesses – with quincunx of towers at the centre surrounded by three rectangular galleries, kilometres long wall and a moat. The whole complex extends over 162 hectares making it the largest religious site in the world. At the end of the 12th century, the city of Angkor fell to invaders and the “Capital Temple” receded into the jungle. However, it still served as a Buddhist temple and pilgrimage site over centuries.
Angkor Wat is the best-preserved example of Khmer architecture. It reflects the creative ambition and the spiritual devotion of all Khmers and thus becomes their source of inspiration and national pride. This can be easily recognised through Cambodia’s national flag, on which Angkor Wat is proudly located in the centre.
- An Angkor Pass is required to visit the temples and sites in the Angkor Archeological Park. Passes can be purchased at the main entrance on the road to Angkor Wat. As of 2017, the price is 37$ (1-day pass), 62$ ( 3 days pass) and 72$ (7 days pass). Please note that crisply bill is required.
- It’s recommended to buy the ticket the day before to avoid the massive crowd in the morning. The pass will be checked at the entrance of each major temple, so keep the pass with you. If you were caught at the site without a pass, you may get a considerable fine.
- The park is opened at 5:00 and closed at 18:00. Some temples might be closed earlier.
- As most of the temples face east, the best lighting condition is in the morning except for Angkor Wat (However, watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat is amazing!). The temples surrounded by jungle such as Ta Prohm can also be photographed when the sun is directly overhead.
- The whole complex is enormous, so taking a Tuk Tuk to travel from temple to temple might be a wise choice. The cost is affordable (around 10-15$ for the whole day).
- Foreign currencies like US Dollar is widely used in Cambodia, so it is unnecessary to change currency.
- If you travel from the airport to the city by taxi, the driver will surely “invited” you to take a tour to Angkor after he dropped you at the hotel. It will cost you an extra 35$ for that trip. I am not against those taxi drivers, but the way they “invite” is really annoying.
- Another activity that I highly recommend is watching the show of Phare – the Cambodian circus. The performance is great. There are subtitles in French and English so don’t worry if you cannot speak Cambodian language. Furthermore, the ticket sale is donated to orphanages, from which the artists come.
- There are buses and flights to Siem Reap from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The flight could be expensive but take around 45 to 60 minutes, while the bus might take up to 12 hours (6 hours to Phnom Penh and another 6 hours to Siem Reap).
Angkor – Dấu ấn của một vương triều vĩ đại
Trong suốt nhiều thế kỉ, Angkor là trung tâm văn hóa và chính trị của đế chế Khmer hùng mạnh. Với vô số những đền đài, những hào nước khổng lồ và những bức tượng, hoa văn được trạm trổ tinh xảo, Angkor thể hiện một nền văn minh cực kì phát triển. Ngày nay, nó đã trở thành một di sản văn hóa thế giới và là niềm tự hào của đất nước Campuchia.
Theo người Campuchia, Angkor (ប្រាសាទអង្គរ) là hiện thân cuả núi Meru, ngọn núi linh thiêng trong đạo Hindu và là nơi sinh sống của các vị thần cổ đại. Do đó, Angkor mang một ý nghĩa tôn giáo đặc biệt quan trọng, thu hút hàng chục ngàn người hành hương mỗi năm. Không những thế, Angkor còn mang một ý nghĩa to lớn về mặt kiến trúc và khảo cổ học. Đáng chú ý là ngôi đền Bayon với hàng trăm gương mặt Phật, ngôi đền Ta Prohm bị xâm lấn bởi thiên nhiên với những rễ cây to dài hàng chục mét, hay Angkor Wat – vua của những ngôi đền và đồng thời là biểu tượng của vương quốc Campuchia.
Một số thông tin cần biết
- Bạn cần Angkor Pass để tham quan các ngôi đền và các khu vực trong khu công viên khảo cổ Angkor. Giá vé: 37$ (1 ngày), 62$ (3 ngày), 72$ (7 ngày).
- Lưu ý là các tờ tiền phải phẳng, không nhàu nát. Bạn nên mua vé trước một ngày để tránh việc xếp hàng vào sáng sớm.
- Luôn giữ Angkor Pass bên mình khi tham quan. Pass sẽ được check tại tất cả các ngôi đền chính. Bạn sẽ bị phạt tiền, nếu bị kiểm tra mà không xuất trình được vé.
- Angkor rất rộng, bạn nên sử dụng Tuk Tuk để di chuyển giữa những ngôi đền. Giá tầm 10-15$ cho một xe trong vòng một ngày.
- Angkor Air có đường bay thẳng đến Siem Reap từ HCMC. Giờ bay: 45-60 phút.
- Bus từ HCMC đến Phnom Penh mất khoảng 6 tiếng. Từ Phnom Penh đến Siem Reap cũng mất từ 6 đến 8 tiếng.
- Cẩn thận với taxi ở Siem Reap, đặc biệt khi đi từ sân bay vào thành phố. Họ sẽ tìm cách dụ bạn tham quan Angkor bằng taxi, với giá khoảng 35$/ lượt.