All photos © Ruud Leeuw



Angkor temples, Cambodia
This was for me the main event this trip: a visit to the Angkor temples.
Ever since I read about it in a 1980s National Geographic article I wanted to go here.
Three times in the past six years I had planned a trip which included a visit here, this time it was happening!

Angkor temples, Cambodia
In the past 10 years tourism has increased tremendously here, creating a bit of a Disney effect and not without danger for damage to the temples either, but I was determined to make the most of it.
I did struggle with the heat during the three days we visited the various temples and in retrospect I think I should have gone for a sunset here too, but I completely overlooked that possibility.



Angkor temples, Cambodia
Restoration is ongoing and an enormous amount of work has been done since things were picked up again in 1995.

First we were going to visit Angkor Thom, which is built in the Bayon style. This manifests itself in the large scale of the construction, in the widespread use of laterite, in the face-towers at each of the entrances to the city and in the naga-carrying giant figures which accompany each of the towers.

The city lies on the right bank of the Siem Reap River, a tributary of Tonle Sap, about a quarter of a mile from the river. The south gate of Angkor Thom is 7.2 km north of Siem Reap, and 1.7 km north of the entrance to Angkor Wat.
The Bayon is located at the centre of the city.
The south gate is now by far the most often visited, as it is the main entrance to the city for tourists.

Angkor temples, Cambodia
As in Phnom Penh we saw notices of the Japanese as financial benefactors, investing in Cambodian culture. About Koreans we heard different things: they build hotels around Seam Reap, fly tourist down there in their airlines, have them stay and eat in hotels which they build and staff with Koreans; nothing much trickles into the Cambodian economy. No doubt some grants disappear in the pocket of some highly positioned Cambodian government officials.



Angkor temples, Cambodia
The famous stone faces of Angkor!

More than a thousand shrines were erected by the Khmer in the city of Angkor during a building spree whose scale and ambition rivals the pyramids of Egypt. Most, varying in dereliction, are still overgrown; but a considerable amount have been uncovered.

Angkor temples, Cambodia
The fungi on the sandstones make it hard to distinguish the finer detail of decorations.

Angkor Thom (Khmer for 'Great City') was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire. It was established in the late twelfth century by king Jayavarman VII.
It covers an area of 9 km², within which are located several monuments from earlier eras as well as those established by Jayavarman and his successors. At the centre of the city is Jayavarman's state temple, the Bayon, with the other major sites clustered around the Victory Square immediately to the north.

Angkor Thom was established as the capital of Jayavarman VII's empire, and was the centre of his massive building programme.
The name of Angkor Thom — Great City — was in use from the 16th century.
The last temple known to have been constructed in Angkor Thom was Mangalartha, which was dedicated in 1295. Thereafter the existing structures continued to be modified from time to time, but any new creations were in perishable materials and have not survived. In the following centuries Angkor Thom remained the capital of a kingdom in decline until it was abandoned some time prior to 1609.
It is believed to have sustained a population of 80,000-150,000 people.


Angkor temples, Cambodia
This is of course what it is all about.

During Jayavarman's reign, Hindu temples were altered to display images of the Buddha, and Angkor Wat briefly became a Buddhist shrine. Following his death, a Hindu revival included a large-scale campaign of desecrating Buddhist images, until Theravada Buddhism became established as the land's dominant religion from the 14th century.


Angkor temples, Cambodia
Exquisite detail in these statues and the surrounding embellishments.

Angkor temples, Cambodia

Angkor temples, Cambodia
No doubt these stone carvings have been cleaned (in part) with the utmost care: they are irreplacable.

Most of the great Angkor ruins have vast displays of bas-relief depicting the various gods, goddesses, and other-worldly beings from the mythological stories and epic poems of ancient Hinduism (modified by centuries of Buddhism).
Mingled with these images are actual known animals, like elephants, snakes, fish, and monkeys, in addition to dragon-like creatures that look like the stylized, elongated serpents (with feet and claws) found in Chinese art.

Most of the above information was learned from WIKIPEDIA

Angkor temples, Cambodia
Now isn't that exquisite!



Angkor temples, Cambodia
I had a hard time avoiding the stream of tourists in my photos, but with a little patience it worked out ok.

There is more danger of damage to this unique site than trampling the historic stones: with the increased growth in tourism at Angkor, new hotels and restaurants are being built to accommodate such growth. Each new construction project drills underground to reach the water table, which has a limited storage capacity. This demand on the water table could undermine the stability of the sandy soils under the monuments at Angkor, leading to cracks, fissures and collapses.
Making matters worse, the peak tourist season corresponds with Cambodia's dry season, which leads to excessive pumping of ground water when it is least replenished naturally!


Angkor temples, Cambodia
The temples of the Angkor area number over one thousand, ranging in scale from nondescript piles of brick rubble scattered through rice fields to the magnificent Angkor Wat.
Many of the temples at Angkor have been restored, and together, they comprise the most significant site of Khmer architecture. Visitor numbers approach two million annually, and the entire expanse, including Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom is collectively protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Angkor temples, Cambodia

Angkor temples, Cambodia

Angkor temples, Cambodia
Over the ruins of Yasodharapura, Jayavarman constructed the walled city of Angkor Thom, as well as its geographic and spiritual center, the temple known as the Bayon.
Bas-reliefs at the Bayon depict not only the king's battles with the Cham, but also scenes from the life of Khmer villagers and courtiers.

Angkor temples, Cambodia

Angkor temples, Cambodia
The program: first a visit to the Bayon, the Baphuon, cross the wall and pass Phimeanakas,
to exit on the Terrace of the Leper King. After lunch, also shown on this page, visits
to Tomb Raider's Ta Prohm and Angkor Wat.



Angkor temples, Cambodia
Work resumed after the end of the Cambodian Civil War but and, since 1993, has been jointly co-ordinated by the Indian, German, Japanese and UNESCO through the International Co-ordinating Committee on the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor (ICC), while Cambodian work is carried out by the Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap (APSARA), created in 1995.

Initial stages of restoration had proven that sometimes it was to take drastic and rigorous measures: to take it all apart, stone by stone. All the stones were unique and had to be fitted in the same place again. During Pol Pot's regime all documentation was destroyed in 1975., creating a puzzle in three dimensions!
Around 300.000 sculpted stones laid scattered on 10 hectares of forest around the monument. When the site reopened in Feb.1995, the project faced a major difficulty: how to come up with a method to find the unique position of each stone of the monument. A daunting challenge indeed.
The west façade was the only part still intact and a plan was created thus. Following symmetry and of homothety, characteristics of the Angkorian architecture, the recording of decorations observed on each of the 3 levels of this temple, led to determine which decorations were to be searched for the different levels of the other 3 façades.

A database of all the existing decorations was then put together and served as a reference to the search and identification of the stones scatterd in the forest, based on bringing them together according to the level.

The logical next step was to locate the positioning of each stone on each isolated level in order to find the only possible order on how this masonry could be restored.


Angkor temples, Cambodia
The Baphuon temple restored but quite a few stones left..

The Baphuon temple is located a short distance northwest of Angkor Thom. If you look down that elevated walkway and would turn right at the end, you'd be at Angokor Thom. At least that is the way I remember it.
This temple was built around 1150 A.D. and it is a three-tiered temple mountain.
King Udayadityavarman II dedicated this temple to Hindu god Shiva.
In the 20th century a large part of the temple had collapsed. In 1960 a first attempt to restore it was undertaken, but the Khmer-regime put a stop to this.
In 1996 a second attempt was made. I have written elsewhere about the difficulties encountered.

Most of the temple has been restored, but archeologists were unable to establish the exact location of a considerable amount of stones (no mortar is used, each stone has its own unique place; you won't find 2 blocks that have the same dimensions!) and those 'orphaned' remain in view around the temple; so parts of the temple were impossible to restore fully.
Translated from:


Angkor temples, Cambodia
Indeed very steep steps were to be climbed to get to the top.
There were two types of Angkor temples: those of the pyramid kind (temple mountain) and those that were to be walked through on ground level. I rather preferred the latter!

Angkor temples, Cambodia
Grand view from high up.

Within the city was a system of canals, through which water flowed from the northeast to the southwest. The bulk of the land enclosed by the walls would have been occupied by the secular buildings of the city, of which nothing remains. This area is now covered by forest.

BBC News Asia-Pacific has a nice and informative page dedicated to the opening in July 2011.

Angkor temples, Cambodia

Although there is evidence to the contrary (Leonowens, 1870), many scholars believe the great city and temples remained largely cloaked by the forest until the late 19th century, when French archaeologists began a long restoration process.
From 1907 to 1970, work was under the direction of the École Française d'Extrême-Orient, which cleared away the forest, repaired foundations, and installed drains to protect the buildings from water damage.
The civil war, started by Pol Pot's regime in the 1970s, haulted the restoration process for some 20 years.

Angkor temples, Cambodia

Angkor temples, Cambodia


Angkor temples, Cambodia
I have tried to make the 'Reclining Buddha' visible in this photo.
This website, has a 2012 photo where it is totally overgrown and very invisible!

A 9 meter tall by 70 meter long statue of a reclining Buddha was built on the west side's second level, which probably required the demolition of the 8 meter tower above, thus explaining its current absence. The temple was built on land filled with sand, and due to its immense size the site was unstable throughout its history. Large portions had probably already collapsed by the time the Buddha was added.




Angkor temples, Cambodia
From the Baphuon temple we walked through a bit of jungle, passed over a wall
which was in a stranglehold by a tree. Fascinating and amazing; those words keep coming back.

Angkor temples, Cambodia
We passed Phimeanakas temple.

Trampling through a 30° Celsius heat with a high humidity (we had left home while it was 4° C and I was still adjusting) and gone up on Angkor Thom's Bayon as well as Baphuon temple, I felt no urge to climb another mountain temple. So Alexander and I just followed our guide in his dusty trail, no questions asked.

This first day of our visit was an excursion booked through from home, to get our bearings.
The use of a guide is not required really. It facilitated transport, but every taxi-, tuk-tuk driver or 'moto' knows where to take you. Get in line for a pass (we took a 3-day pass) and thus equipped you can point out to your driver, if you come prepared with a book or map, the temples you want to visit.

Our guide, Lo Mhong (what it sounded like), was very active in streaming names and dates, which I failed to remember entirely. For me he failed to bring it alive; he could have told me interesting bits about the process of restoration and present day circumstance. Still, he had a 1 year old kid to feed and he did everything to show us around the way he'd been instructed I guess.
One thing I held against him, was dropping us at some highly travelled tourist market, a real tourist trap. Could have done without that.
Advise: buy some of that delicious pineapple the streetsellers offer, really refreshing!

Angkor temples, Cambodia

Phimeanakas (Khmer: Prasat Phimean Akas, 'celestial temple') or Vimeanakas (Khmer: Prasat Vimean Akas) at Angkor, is a Hindu temple in the Khleang style; it was built at the end of the 10th century, during the reign of Rajendravarman (from 941-968), then rebuilt by Suryavarman II in the shape of a three-tier pyramid as a Hindu temple.
On top of the pyramid there was a tower.

According to legend, the king spent the first watch of every night with a woman thought to represent a Nāga in the tower; during that time, not even the queen was permitted to intrude...
Only in the second watch the king returned to his palace and the queen.
If the Nāga, who was the supreme land owner of Khmer land, did not show up for a night, the king's day would be numbered; if the king did not show up, calamity would strike his land.
Not exactly a win-win setup!


Angkor temples, Cambodia
Terrace of the Leper King [Wikipedia]
The busses and tuk-tuks show this as a major drop-off and pick-up. Further on the right are a series of
towers, Prasats Suor Prat, their use obscure; it would have been nice to wonder over but it was hot
and our guide was in the lead for the program, heading for lunch. One image on Day 3, while driving past.
Our tight schedule did not allow for a closer look at this terrace either; it is a big place..


The route we walked. From a sign showing an aerial photo taken not too long ago?


Angkor temples, Cambodia
Mother Nature took Men's finest creation in a devastating stranglehold!

We drove away for lunch somewhere and returned for the marvelous and stupendous Ta Prohm.


map angkor temples visited
Depicted here are some of the temples visited, not all; you'll find them on this and two other pages, links at bottom page.

Angkor temples, Cambodia
Ta Prohm has a classic setup, but that is not why this temple stands out...


Angkor temples, Cambodia
Brother teaches sister the finer points of begging; with those smiles I am sure it worked.


Angkor temples, Cambodia


Angkor temples, Cambodia
TA PROHM was founded by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university.
It is located approximately one kilometre east of Angkor Thom and on the southern edge of the East Baray.

Angkor temples, Cambodia
Ta Prohm is a find for photographers, one huge photo opportunity!

Angkor temples, Cambodia

Angkor temples, Cambodia

Unlike most Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm has been left in much the same condition in which it was found: the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor's most popular temples with visitors.
UNESCO inscribed Ta Prohm on the World Heritage List in 1992. Today, it is one of the most visited complexes in Cambodia’s Angkor region.


Angkor temples, Cambodia
It seems that this entire wall was decorated with exquisite detail.

Jayavarman II constructed the well-known temples of Ta Prohm and Preah Khan, dedicating them to his parents.
This massive program of construction coincided with a transition in the state religion from Hinduism to Mahayana Buddhism, since Jayavarman himself had adopted the latter as his personal faith.

Angkor temples, Cambodia
The design of Ta Prohm is that of a typical 'flat' Khmer temple (as opposed to a temple-pyramid or temple-mountain, the inner levels of which are higher than the outer).
Five rectangular enclosing walls surround a central sanctuary.

The temple of Ta Prohm was used as a location in the film Tomb Raider. Although the film took visual liberties with other Angkorian temples, its scenes of Ta Prohm were quite faithful to the temple's actual appearance, and made use of its eerie qualities.

Most of the above on Ta Prohm was learned from WIKIPEDIA

And here is more on the subject:

Angkor temples, Cambodia
Before and after.


Angkor temples, Cambodia
And now we proceed to... ANGKOR WAT!

Angkor temples, Cambodia
Angkor Wat, the most famous temple of Angkor and deserted? No. not quite. But all the large groups (Koreans! Chinese! Americans!) retire to the hotel for lunch, take a rest, and come back later in the afternoon.
We took advantage of this routine.

Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture:
the temple-mountain and the later galleried-temple.

Angkor temples, Cambodia
Angkor temples, Cambodia
Angkor Wat (Khmer:'is the largest') Hindu at first, then Buddhist temple complex and the largest religious monument in the world. The temple was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and eventual mausoleum.

Angkor temples, Cambodia
Probably taking a break from the larger crowds, waiting for the Koreans to return. The kids make the most of it.

Angkor temples, Cambodia
Yes, quite a climb! Angkor Wat is designed to represent Mount Meru, a sacred mountain in Hindu mythology.

Angkor temples, Cambodia
The ruins of Angkor are located amid forests and farmland to the north of the Great Lake (Tonlé Sap) and
south of the Kulen Hills.

Angkor temples, Cambodia
The temple is admired for the grandeur and harmony of the architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs, and for the numerous devatas adorning its walls. The central figure here is King Suryavarman II, the founder of Angkor Wat.

Angkor temples, Cambodia
Central place of worship.

Angkor temples, Cambodia
Dedicated to Vishnu, Angkor Wat was built as the King's state temple and capital city. In the late 13th century, it was gradually moved from Hindu to Theravada Buddhist use, which continues to the present day.

Angkor temples, Cambodia
Angkor Wat required considerable restoration in the 20th century, mainly the removal of accumulated earth and vegetation. Work was interrupted by the civil war and Khmer Rouge control of the country during the 1970s and 1980s, but relatively little damage was done during this period other than the theft and destruction of mostly post-Angkorian statues.

Angkor temples, Cambodia

The increasing number of tourists, around two million per year, exerts pressure on the archaeological sites at Angkor by walking and climbing on the (mostly) sandstone monuments at Angkor. This direct pressure created by unchecked tourism is expected to cause significant damage to the monuments in the future.
The sandstone monuments and Angkor are not made for this type of heightened tourism. Ever since Tomb Raider was released, the site has quickly decayed.


Angkor temples, Cambodia
This concluded our first day and visit to Angkor, we say 'Akun' (thank you) to our guide, and look forward to Day 2



External links:
Angkor Thom on Wikipedia
2009 article in National Geographic




BANGKOK 3-2013, a start
Angkor - map
The ruins of Angkor are located amid forests and farmland to the north of the Great Lake (Tonlé Sap)
and south of the Kulen Hills, near modern-day Siem Reap city. Some people cycled from Seam Reap, but
I found the heat and dust quite discouraging so we opted for transportation by tuk-tuk.





Page compiled/updated: 04-May-2013 / 04-Sep-2017