Trip to Siem Reap and Angkor Archaeological Park
During one of my last weekends in Cambodia, I traveled to the Siem Reap Province to visit the Angkor Archaeological Park. This park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains magnificent remains from the Khmer Empire. In the park there are many temples, the most famous of which being Angkor Wat.
In order to beat some of the crowds (and the heat), we woke up at 3:30 a.m. to arrive at temples to see the sunrise. Over two days we saw about 15 different temples.
The first day we went to Phnom Bakheng, which is a temple mountain in a seven-level pyramid form representing the seven levels of heaven. Standing on top of this enormous temple watching the sunrise through the early morning mist was breathtaking and magnificent to say the least.
The second morning we went to Angkor Wat and watched the sunrise with thousands of our closest friends. Little food carts with coffee were set up for the crowds at 5 a.m. People from all over the world come to visit the temples, and over two million people visited the temples last year alone. It was eye-opening to walk around and hear so many different languages being spoken in such a small place.
It is difficult for me to even begin to describe what it was like visiting the temples. Pictures do not do them any justice (see gallery below). You can’t possibly capture the essence of the site on film. These incredible structures have such history, and it is amazing they are still intact.
Temple highlights and factoids:
Angkor Wat was originally built as a Hindu temple and slowly transformed into a Buddhist temple. We climbed the stairs all the way to the top of one of the temples. You are not allowed into the higher level if not dressed appropriately. The workers at the bottom of the stairs turned away a woman who was in an off-the-shoulder dress.
- One of the other temples, Bayon, has different gates surrounding the main structure. One gate was only used when the king returned victorious from battle to show victory while another gate was only used when the king was defeated in battle.
- My favorite temple, Banteay Srei, is also known as the Citadel of Women. Made largely of red sandstone, it has the most intricate wall carvings. Per Angkor scholar Maurice Glaize, "the work relates more closely to the art of the goldsmith or to carving in wood than to sculpture in stone."
- I also went to see Ta Prohm, which was the temple used in the “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” movie. This temple was a great example of how the forest has grown in and around many of the temples.
For anyone traveling to Southeast Asia, visiting the Angkor Archaeological Park is a must. For me, seeing the temples was a perfect way to learn more about the Khmer culture and round out my trip to Cambodia. The three months that I spent in country were nothing short of phenomenal.
I want to thank Texas A&M University School of Law, especially Dean Morriss, Dean Alkon, Professor Ku and Professor Eckstein for helping me make this opportunity a reality. This trip pushed me out of my comfort zone and turned what was once a young professional’s dream into reality with many open doors.
Thanks and Gig ’em!