Our second day visiting Angkor Wat Archeological Park started out much like the first. We met our tuk tuk driver in front of our hotel and rode the six kilometers from Siem Reap to the park. When researching which temples to visit, it can become overwhelming simply because there are so many and they are often spread far apart from one another. Luckily, maps of the park have been made that group temples together making four visitor routes. The Little Circuit, which includes major temples to the east of Angkor Thom and the Big Circuit, which includes major temples north and further out east, are the most popular. The Roluos Group includes temples 15 kilometers east of Siem Reap and the Outlying Temple Group defines temples located over 20 kilometers kilometers from Angkor Wat.
Our first day was spent touring the Little Circuit temples and our day ended at Ta Prohm. We were pretty hot and tired by that point, but we loved walking around searching for strangler fig and silk-cotton tree roots playing hide and seek through the ruins. Refreshed by a good night’s sleep and the cool morning air, we headed back to Ta Prohm to explore the ruins in more detail before heading out to visit the Big Circuit temples.
Our first stop on the Big Circuit was to Pre Rup, a temple built in the 10th century. The temple was built out of laterite, sandstone, and brick, giving the temple a beautiful reddish hue.
The beauty of hiring a personal tuk tuk driver is that you can mix and match temples. We deviated from the Big Circuit and headed 37 kilometers north of Angkor Wat to Banteay Srei. Unlike other major sites at Angkor, Banteay Srei was not built as a royal temple. It was instead built by one of the king’s counsellors in the 10th century.
A comparably small temple, Banteay Srei is commonly refered to as the “Jewel of Khmer Art,” since nearly all of its surfaces are decorated with highly-detailed and remarkably preserved sandstone relief carvings. The pink sandstone is relatively hard and has weathered only slightly, retaining the intricate details of the original carvings.
We headed back to the temples of the Big Circuit with a stop at East Mebon, built in the 10th century. East Mebon temple is best known for its elephant statues set at the corners on each of the three tiers of the temple.
The next stop was to Ta Som, which is a smaller temple built in the 12th century. Ta Som, like Ta Prohm, was left in a semi-ruined state and the jungle has taken over. Our favorite part of this temple was the gate (picture below) that has been swallowed by a strangler fig.
One of our favorite temples on the Big Circuit was Preah Khan, built in the 12th century. Preah Khan was not only a temple, but also appears to have been a considerable city that even housed a Buddhist university for over 1,000 teachers. The site is largely unrestored with rubble strewn about and strangler figs crawling up the walls.
We ended our second day watching the sunset (through the clouds) at Angkor Wat. Our tuk tuk driver drove us the six kilometers back to Siem Reap so we could rest up for our final day of exploring.