A variety of temple tours and cultural walks are available as part of the guest experience and truly allow you to discover Angkor in Cambodia. Conducted early morning and late afternoon to avoid the sun and crowds, these outings focus on the temples surrounding Angkor Wat and include Ta Prohm, Preah Khan and Bayon as well as excursions to Banteay Srei (the temple of women). Tailor-made, off-the-beaten-path excursions can also be arranged to suit individual interests and pace, taking guests deeper into the countryside beyond the Angkor park. Amansara uses its own fleet of custom-made remorks (moped-powered trishaws) and English-speaking guides who are well informed on both ancient Khmer history and modern Cambodian life. Tours include trips to:
Khmer kings built a profusion of temples to honour various Hindu gods to ensure prosperity in this world and a safe passage on to the next. Angkor Thom is surrounded by a wall and wide moat and contains a royal palace and a series of temples. The centrepiece of Angkor Thom is the magnificent Bayon Temple with its rising mound of gigantic stone heads – surveying all cardinal directions. Other sites in Angkor Thom include ancient Baphuon, completed sometime around 1060 AD, the Terrace of the Elephant named after the elephants that decorate its walls, the Terrace of the Leper King with its hidden passageway lined with underworld nagas and demons meant to symbolise the subterranean slopes of Mount Meru, Phimeanakas within the Royal Palace and Prasats Suor Prat, 12 small towers that stand in a line facing the Royal Palace.
The abandoned monastery of Ta Prohm is visually arresting with its towering silk-cotton trees whose giant roots have invaded and overwhelmed the ruins, ensnaring and toppling vast blocks of stone. This was one of Jayavarman VII’s early building forays and the temple was dedicated to his mother. Here, visitors will get a sense of what confronted French explorers when they stumbled upon Angkor in the late 19th century.
Preah Khan (sacred sword) is another large monastic complex, also partially reclaimed by the jungle. In its heyday this thriving monastery and university engaged over 1,000 monks and served, briefly, as the residence of Jayavarman VII. It was in fact dedicated to the king’s father. Preah Khan is noted for its numerous sanctuaries, each devoted to a particular deity. It is an eclectic mix of tradition embracing Buddha, Shiva, Vishnu and countless local spirits.
A 12th-century monument similar to Preah Khan, Banteay Kdei is located across the Srah Srang reservoir, the ‘Royal Bath’ that is a popular area for children and fishermen to cast their nets. During the dry season, the remains of an ancient temple can be seen in the middle of this artificial lake.
A unique sanctuary in the middle of an artificial lake featuring a motif of two coiled serpents from whence it takes its name. The lake is known for its curative powers.
A modestly-sized Buddhist temple surrounded by a series of concentric moats. Entry is from the east and west outer gates, where four faces of Jayavarman VII as a bodhisattva are carved in stone.
Best viewed at sunset when the surrounding rice fields glow in the setting sun, Pre Rup is a temple mountain of brick, laterite and sandstone erected in 961 AD.
The monuments in this area represent the beginning of Cambodia’s classic art: Bakong was consecrated in 881 AD as the first major temple-mountain in the history of Khmer religious architecture; Lolei was built in 893 AD; and Preah Ko, dedicated in 889 AD to the ancestors of the king, which features particularly refined stucco work on its brick walls.
Built in the middle of the 12th century, Banteay Samre is one of the few fortified temples surrounded by a moat and has well-preserved bas-reliefs of the Vishnu legends. Slightly off the beaten path, its sculpture work is also considered exceptional.
A little farther away, the small but beautiful 10th century Banteay Srei (temple of women) rewards visitors with its delicate filigree and bas-relief wrought out of pink sandstone. Often spoken of as the ‘jewel of Khmer art’ for its exquisite and complex carvings, this miniature temple of pink sandstone has subtle colours best enjoyed in the accommodating light of the early part of the day or very late afternoon.
The journey to Phnom Kulen is for the serious adventure traveller only. The first capital of the Angkorian civilization, the journey takes guests through a thick jungle in search of lost monuments. These include U Paorng, Neak Ta, Thma Dop- all brick and laterite towers that were built between the 7th and 8th century. In addition to these towers, the jungle also possesses an ancient kiln site and a massive stone sculpture of the king-god of elephants.
beng mealea & bamboo forest
One of the most interesting of Angkor’s many monuments, this 12th century temple is enclosed by a moat that is nearly the size of Angkor Wat, but utterly subsumed by the jungle. Beng Mealea lies at the foot of the southern cliff of Phnom Kulen and is the starting point of a canal leading to the great lake, Tonle Sap. After a quick visit to the village of Svay Leo, travellers venture into the bamboo forest. The forest contains a series of Angkorian reliefs carved into the southern cliff of Phnom Kulen.