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Siem Reap in Cambodia: In the temple of a thousand faces

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Siem Reap in Cambodia fuses creative genius with spiritual history. A look at some of its iconic and hidden treasures

Siem Reap in Cambodia: In the temple of a thousand faces

History oozes from every corner of Siem Reap, a resort town located in northwestern Cambodia. It is the gateway to the famous archaeological ruins of Angkor, the seat of the Khmer kingdom from the 9th to 15th centuries. Angkor, named a World Heritage Site in 1992, has hundreds of complexes, intricate stone temples and structures that include the main temple which is depicted on the Cambodian flag. While the ruins draw more than a million travellers every year, you can sink into the charm of other experiences that Siem Reap has to offer. Here is a list of five places to visit:

Angkor Wat

This 12th-Century structure was originally built as a temple dedicated to Vishnu. In the 14th Century Angkor Wat was converted into a Buddhist temple and statues of Buddha were added to its already-rich artwork. The temple’s walls tell tales of Cambodian history and legend. Today, scientists are struggling to preserve it. The aerial view of the site makes it appear like a floating island. This is because of a 650-ft-wide moat that surrounds it. Interestingly, Angkor Wat’s main entrance is to the West — a direction associated with Vishnu. From a distance, it appears to be a massive stone structure, but step closer and you find a series of elevated towers, chambers, porches and courtyards at different levels linked by stairways. Along the exterior is an 800-metre-long series of intricate bas reliefs depicting historical events and mythology. At the heart of the temple is the central tower, where one can enter by climbing a steep staircase. Also known as Bakan Sanctuary, the summit of Angkor Wat’s central tower that offers a spectacular view is open to a limited number of visitors every day. Give yourself four hours and a bottle of water to keep you hydrated during the visit.

Bayon Temple

Giant, mysterious faces stare from the rocks carved in the 12th-Century Bayon Temple, situated to the north of Angkor Wat. Known as the ‘face temple’, these massive heads can hold you in thrall with their huge visages, lined at every level. Known to have been built by Jayavarman VII — a king of the Khmer Empire — its origin was, however, a mystery for many years.

Banteay Srei Temple

Siem Reap in Cambodia: In the temple of a thousand faces

In Khmer, ‘Banteay Srei’ means the ‘City of Women’. Although small, it is one of the jewels of Khmer art due to its sculpted décor, carved from red sandstone. Decorative carvings of many female deities grace its walls. This single-storey structure was a place of worship. It was built under the reign of two Angkorian kings in the late 10th Century. Here, the intricacy of the carvings demonstrate the wealth of the gods, rather than their enormity.

Lunch at Malis

When you are templed out, savour a delicious Cambodian feast at Malis. Started in 2004, the restaurant endeavours to restore Cambodian cuisine to its former glory. It’s known for its fresh seasonal produce, delicate flavours and generous hospitality. Its signature dish is the prahok ktis made with fermented fish, kroeung (spice and herbs paste), minced pork, pea eggplant, chilli and coconut milk. This dish is served with fresh crispy vegetables and rice crackers.

Raffles through time

Siem Reap in Cambodia: In the temple of a thousand faces

A visit to Raffles Grand Hotel transports you to when Siem Reap welcomed the first wave of travellers in the 1930s. It is set in over 15 acres of French gardens and built around its iconic swimming pools. The hotel opened its door in 1932 as Grand Hotel d’Angkor. The four-storey building, also the first hotel in Siem Reap, instantly became an icon. It reopened in 1997 after extensive restoration by Raffles, but even today offers the splendour of a bygone era. An antique timber elevator takes guests to the upper floors. Each of its spacious rooms, suites and villas reflect an old-world charm in their décor. Some of its famous guests have been Charlie Chaplin, Charles de Gaulle, Jacqueline Kennedy and Richard Moore.

(The writer was in Siem Reap at the invitation of Accor Hotels, Tourism Authority of Thailand and Bangkok Airways)

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 1:13:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/siem-reap-in-cambodia-in-the-temple-of-a-thousand-faces/article25443138.ece

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