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Siem Reap Attractions

Angkor Wat Temple

Angkor Wat which literally means ‘City Temple’ is a Hindu temple complex built to replicate the heavens on earth.  Constructed for King Suryavarman II in the early twelfth century, it is the best-preserved temple and is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation; first Hindu, dedicated to Vishnu, then Buddhist. The temple is the epitome of the high classical style of Khmer architecture.  This magnificent temple combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture; the temple mountain and the later galleried temple, based on early South Indian Hindu architecture. Constructed within a moat and an outer wall 3.6 kilometres (2.2 miles) long with three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next, it is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology

Phnom Bakheng Temple

Phnom Bakheng was constructed more than two centuries before the Angkor Wat. It is a Hindu temple originally built in the form of a temple mountain dedicated to Shiva. Historians believe that Phnom Bakheng was in its heyday, the principal temple of the Angkor region.  It was the architectural centerpiece of a new capital that Yasovarman built when he moved the court from the capital Hariharalaya in the Roluos area located to the southeast. Located atop a hill, this is the most popular tourist spot for sunset views of the much bigger Angkor Wat temple which lies amid the jungle about 1.5 km away.

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom is a very popular tourist spot. It was established in the late twelfth century to early thirteenth century by King Jayavarman VII. This site is situated 1.7 Km north of Angkor Wat, within which are located several monuments from earlier eras as well as those established by Jayavarman and his successors. The fortified city of Angkor Thom, some 9sq km in extent, was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire built by Angkor’s greatest King, Jayavarman VII (ruled 1181-1201). Centered on Baphuon, Angkor Thom is enclosed by a square wall 8m high and 12km in length and encircled by moat 100m wide. The city has five monumental gates, one each in the north, west and south walls and two in the east wall. In front of each gate stand giant statues of 54 gods (to the left of the causeway) and 54 demons (to the right of the causeway), a motif taken from the story of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk illustrated in the famous bas-relief at Angkor Wat. In the center of the walled enclosure are the city’s most important monuments, including the Bayon, the Baphuon, the Royal Enclosure, Phimeanakas and the Terrace of Elephants.

Bayon Temple

Bayon is a richly decorated Khmer temple built in the late twelfth century or early thirteenth century. Built at the centre of King Jayavarman’s capital, Angkor Thom was the last state temple to be built at Angkor, and the only Angkorian state temple to be built primarily as a Mahayana Buddhist shrine dedicated to the Buddha.  Following Jayavarman’s death, it was modified and augmented by later Hindu and Theravada Buddhist kings in accordance to their religious preferences. Bayon’s most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and massive stone faces on the many towers that jut from the upper terrace and cluster around its center peak. The similarity of the 216 gigantic faces to other statues of Jayavarman VII has led many scholars to the hypothesize that the faces are representations of the king himself. Others believe that the faces belong to Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. The temple is also popular for two impressive sets of bas-reliefs, which present an unusual combination of mythological, historical, and mundane scenes.  This is one of the many ‘must visit’ temples.

Ta Prohm Temple

Ta Prohm, a Bayon style temple, is believed to be built in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries.  It was founded by King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm has been left in much the same condition in which it was found where 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. Rajavihara (Royal temple), as it was originally known, was one of the first temples founded pursuant to a massive program of construction and public works after the King’s ascension to the throne in 1811 A.D.. It was built in honor of his family. The temple’s main image, representing Prajnaparamita, the personification of wisdom, was modeled on the king’s mother. The northern and southern satellite temples in the third enclosure were dedicated to the king’s guru and his elder brother respectively. As such, Ta Prohm formed a complementary pair with the temple monastery of Preah Khan, dedicated in 1191 A.D., the main image of which represented Avelokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion and was modeled on the king’s father. The site was home to more than 12,500 people (including 18 high priests and 615 dancers), with an additional 80,000 people in the surrounding villages working to provide services and supplies.

Banteay Srei Temple

Consecrated in 967 A.D, Banteay Srei was speculated to have been known earlier as Banteay Serai, which literally means the Citadel of Victory.  This was the only major temple at Angkor not built by a monarch; its construction is credited to a courtier named Yajnavaraha, who was a scholar and philanthropist and a counselor to king Rajendravarman. He was known to have helped those who suffered from illness, injustice or poverty. Banteay Srei is built primarily in red sandstone, a medium that lends itself to the elaborate decorative wall carvings which are still observable in fine details today.  Measured by the standards of Angkorian construction, the buildings themselves are miniature in scale. These factors have led to its being widely praised as a ‘precious gem’, or the ‘jewel of Khmer art’ and perhaps the temple’s modern name, Banteay Srei or Citadel of Women, is probably related to the intricacy of the bas relief carvings of devatas found on the walls and the tiny dimensions of the buildings themselves.

Banteay Samre Temple

A Large comparatively flat temple displaying distinctively Angkor Wat-style architecture and artistry. The temple underwent extensive restoration this century by archaeologists using the anastylosis method. Banteay Samre was constructed around the same time as Angkor Wat. The style of the towers and balustrades bear strong resemblance to the towers of Angkor Wat and even more so to Khmer temple of Phimai in Thailand. Many of the carvings are in excellent condition. Banteay Samre id a bit off the Grand Circuit, near the southeast corner of the East Baray. The trip there is a nice little 3km road excursion through villages and paddies. Combine a visit to Banteay Srey with a stop at Banteay Samre on the way back.

Kbal Spean Resort

An Angkorian era archaeological site on the southwest slopes of the Kulen Hills to the northeast of Angkor in Siem Reap District, Siem Reap Province, Cambodia. It is situated along a 150m stretch of the Stung Kbal Spean River, 25 kilometres (16 mi) from the main Angkor group of monuments. The site consists of a series of stone carvings in sandstone formations carved in the river bed and banks. It is commonly known as the "Valley of a 1000 Lingas" or "The River of a Thousand Lingas". The motifs for stone carvings are mainly myriads of lingams (phallic symbol of Hindu god Shiva), depicted as neatly arranged bumps that cover the surface of sandstone bed rock, and lingam-yoni designs.

Kulen Mountain National Park

The Kulen Mountain or Phnom Kulen is declared as a National Park. It is an isolated mountain massif located in Svay Leu District and some 48km from Siem Reap. Its highest point is 487 meters. This is widely regarded as the birthplace of the ancient Khmer Empire. During the constructional period of the ancient temples in the nineth century, sand stones were brought from this sacred mountain to Angkor.  It was here at Phnom Kulen that King Jayavarman II proclaimed independence from Java in 802 A.D. The site is known for its carvings representing fertility and its waters hold special significance to the people of Cambodia. Just a few inches under the surface of the water, over 1000 carvings of Yoni and Linga are etched into the sandstone riverbed. The waters are regarded as holy, given the sacred carvings which also include a stone representation of the Hindu god Vishnu lying on his serpent Ananta, with his wife Lakshmi at his feet. A lotus flower protrudes from Vishnu’s navel bearing the god Brahma. The river then ends with a beautiful waterfall.  Phnom Kulen is regarded highly by Cambodian people as a sacred location and has developed into a great tour destination.

Beng Mealea Temple

The remains of Boeng Mealea, which are still partly buried under vegetation, consist of perfectly squared-off sandstone building blocks. The outstanding decoration dates from the first half of the 12th century. In various times, the pediments of some buildings are sculpted with narrative scenes from the Ramayana, and while Hindu iconographic themes are plentiful, Boeng Mealea is clearly a Buddhist sanctuary as Banteay Samre, which is more or less contemporaneous. This is confirmed by the magnificent statue of the Bodhisattva Lokeshvara discovered in the monument and today housed at the Angkor Conservancy.

Koh Ker Temples

is a remote archaeological site in northern Cambodia about 120 kilometers (75 mi) away from Siem Reap and the ancient site of Angkor. It is a very jungle filled region that is sparsely populated. More than 180 sanctuaries were found in a protected area of 81 square kilometres (31 sq mi). Only about two dozen monuments can be visited by tourists because most of the sanctuaries are hidden in the forest and the whole area is not fully demined. Koh Ker is the modern name for an important city of the Khmer empire. In inscriptions the town is mentioned as Lingapua (city of lingams) or Chok Gargyar (sometimes translated as city of glance, sometimes as iron tree forest). Under the reign of the kings Jayavarman IV and Harshavarman II Koh Ker was briefly the capital of the whole empire (928–944 AD).

Jayavarman IV forced an ambitious building program. An enormous water-tank and about forty temples were constructed under his rule. The most significant temple complex, a double sanctuary (Prasat Thom/Prang), follows a linear plan and not a concentric one like most of the temples of the Khmer kings. Unparalleled is the seven tiered and 36-metre (118 ft) high pyramid, which most probably served as state temple of Jayavarman IV. Really impressive too are the shrines with the two meter 6 ft 7 in high lingas. Under Jayavarman IV the style of Koh Ker was developed and the art of sculpture reached a pinnacle. A great variety of wonderful statues were chiselled. Because of its remoteness the site of Koh Ker was plundered many times by looters. Sculptures of Koh Ker can be found not only in different museums but also in private collections. Masterpieces of Koh Ker are offered occasionally at auctions. These pieces in present times are considered stolen art. The site is about two and half hours away from Siem Reap, and basic visitors' facilities are now being built. This makes Koh Ker very attractive for anyone who would like to experience lonely temples partly overgrown by the forest. Since 1992 the site of Koh Ker is on the UNESCO tentative world heritage list.

Kampong Khleang floating Village

is located on the northern lake-edge about 35 km east of Siem Reap. It is more remote and less touristed than Kam-pong Phluk. Visitors during the dry season are universally awestruck by the forest of stilted houses rising up to 10 meters in the air. In the wet season the waters rise to within one or two meters of the buildings. Kampong Khleang is a permanent community within the floodplain of the Lake, with an economy based in fishing and surrounded by flooded forest. But Kampong Khleang is significantly larger with near 10 times the population of Kampong Phluk, making it the largest community on the Lake. The area can be reached by boat from the Chong Khneas docks or by a combination of road to Domdek on Route #6 and then boat to the village, the best method depending on the time of year. During the dry season, boats cannot get all of the way to the main villages. Consult your guesthouse or tour operator about current conditions. Many tour operators have very little experience in this area so it is best to consult with adventure tour operators and guesthouses that specialize in this area. To get there you, either charters a boat from Chong Khneas or take car or moto to Domdek village on Route #6 east of Siem Reap, turn south and continue to the water's edge where boats wait to ferry passengers into the village. During the dry season the road is clear and you can take a car or moto all of the way to the village.

Kampong Phluk

is a cluster of three villages of stilted houses built within the floodplain about 16 km southeast of Siem Reap. The villages are primarily Khmer and have about 3000 inhabitants between them. Flooded mangrove forest surrounds the area and is home to a variety of wildlife including crab-eating macaques. During the dry season when the lake is low, the buildings in the villages seem to soar atop their 6-meter stilts exposed by the lack of water. At this time of year many of the villagers move out onto the lake and build temporary houses. In the wet season when water level rises, the villagers move back to their permanent houses on the floodplain, the stilts now hidden under the water. Kampong Phluk's economy is, as one might expect, based in fishing, primary in shrimp harvesting. Kampong Phluk sees comparatively few foreign visitors and offers a close look at the submerged forest and lakeside village life. The area can be reached by boat from the Chong Khneas or by road. It’s easiest to make arrangements through a tour operator, or if you are good at bargaining charter a boat at the Chong Khneas docks. During the wet season, drive to Roluos village just off Route #6 east of Siem Reap and then take a boat through the flooded forest the rest of the way. During the dry season the road is clear, making the boat unnecessary.

Chong Khneas

is the floating village at the edge of the lake closest and most accessible to Siem Reap. If you want a relatively quick and easy look at the Tonle Sap, boat tours of Chong Khneas are available, departing from the Chong Khneas boat docks all day long. Take a tuk-tuk or taxi the 11-15km from Siem Reap to the docks where there are always boats waiting for passengers. Boat pricing is variable, traditionally by the boat, but they’ll charge up to $20/pax. The boatman will probably point out the differing Khmer and Vietnamese floating households and the floating markets, clinics, schools and other boatloads of tourists. Chong Khneas, while interesting, is over-touristed and is not as picturesque as floating villages further afield. The trip usually includes a couple of stops - usually one a touristy floating 'fish and bird exhibition' with a souvenir and snack shop. Sometimes they will also try to get you to agree to stop at a school or orphanage, which we do not recommend. Ask the operator to skip this part of the tour.

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