Temple Day in Siem Reap
Have you ever had one of those days when you’ve seen so many amazing things that your mind can hardly comprehend it and it gets totally blown? Well, that’s what our day was like visiting amazing temples in Siem Reap.
Only ten minutes from our hotel puts us at Angkor Thom, the “Great City”, where a wall two miles square contains a national park and over 200 temple ruins. You will go crazy trying to see all that. We concentrated on three.
Ta Phrom temple was originally built in the 12th century by the King as a Hindu temple but was eventually turned into a Buddhist monastery. After the fall of the Khmer empire in the 17th century, the temple was abandoned. It remained that way until the French came in to begin a program to restore and preserve, with renewed efforts beginning again in 2013. It is characterized by the giant tree roots which have grown over many of the temples. It looks like it’s the perfect setting for an Indiana Jones movie! It is the most visited temple complex within Angkor Thom.
The Bayon temple was much different…52 towers with four sided peaceful, serene faces of Buddha. All of the walls are carved in vivid detail showing scenes from everyday life.
Angkor Wat, the third temple, holds the world’s record in the Guiness Book as the largest religious monument in the world, and also holds the record for the longest continuous carved murals. It took 33 years and 100,000 workers to build, and it was never finished. It was originally built for one of the kings, as a mausoleum for his ashes. Every inch of stone of temple wall, stairs, and hallways is carved.
Cambodia has a rough history of transition between Hindu and Buddhism. At difference times in their history, when various Kings came to power, temples were converted from one religion to another. In the process, thousands of beautiful stone carvings of Buddhas were struck from the walls when Hinduism came in, and vice versa. Third eyes and multiple arms were added when they became Hindu. So much of their history was destroyed. Nowadays, close to 90% of the population is Buddhist.
Over two million Cambodians were killed during the civil war by the Khmer Rouge. After the war, people were very poor and did anything to survive. Unfortunately, raiding the temples became a way to survive, and many of the stone Buddha heads were stolen, which is why so many statue ruins have no heads. Their country has tried to rebuild with a new generation…over 50% of the Cambodian population is under age 25.