China / Life

Angkor temples of Cambodia beckon

By Liu Zhihua (China Daily Europe) Updated: 2017-02-19 15:24

China has become the second-largest source of tourists, behind neighboring Vietnam

Cambodia, a small country with a long history and world-famous cultural relics, has become more appealing to Chinese travelers.

China has become the second-largest source of tourists to the Southeast Asian country, following Vietnam, accounting for 16.7 percent of the total foreigners visiting the country, according to the China National Tourism Administration.

For first-timers, the ruins of the Angkor temples are a must-see - and sometimes the sole reason for visiting the country. Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor in northern Cambodia, often serves as the first stage of the journey.

 Angkor temples of Cambodia beckon

Chinese travelers accounted for 16.7 percent of the total foreigners visiting Cambodia during the first 10 months of 2016.

The temples, which were built between the 9th and 14th centuries and revealed to the West by the French, are visually, architecturally and artistically breathtaking.

Because the Angkor ruins, hidden and spread through forests and farmland, taking up an area too large to be covered in a short time, planning a visit to the temples always involves making choices, especially if the trip is short.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, which was built in the early 12th century as a state temple dedicated to Vishnu - a member of the Hindu trinity and the preserver of the universe - is among the most popular destinations.

The complex, among the world's largest religious monuments, occupies a rectangular area of 1.5 kilometers by 1.3 kilometers. The central massif of the grandiose structures of brick and stone is a miniature of the Hindu universe, with a giant three-tiered pyramid crowned by five lotus-like towers rising 65 meters from ground level.

Angkor Wat faces west, and like other Khmer architecture, has elegant bas-reliefs on the walls, both inside and outside.

There are nearly 2,000 distinctively rendered carvings of apsaras, female divinities in Hindu mythology, and some of the carvings feature the finest and best-preserved examples of such art in the Angkor period.

It is a wonderful experience to see the carvings while listening to a tour guide explain the bas-reliefs, which often depict legends and characters from Hindu mythology.

Bayon Temple

Another must-see is Bayon temple at Angkor Thom, built during the late 12th and early 13th centuries.

Contrasting with the grand sprawl of Angkor Wat, the Bayon temple is compact. Iconic giant smiling stone faces carved onto the towers of the temple are distinct from other temples in the country and are awe-inspiring.

There were once about 200 smiling stone faces carved into about 50 towers, but now there are only 37 towers remaining and, unfortunately, some of the smiling faces have faded.

The bas-reliefs of Bayon are also distinct, depicting scenes of daily life and religious mythology in Angkorian Cambodia.

Visitors are advised to enter the complex through the east gate, and tour in a clockwise direction so the carvings present themselves in order of the storylines, with vivid scenes and details.

Banteay Srei, or the "Citadel of the Women", is a small square temple, but is also a must-visit, thanks to its high-quality carvings on pinkish sandstone. The carvings, covering almost every available inch of the sandstone, are beautiful and intricate.

City pulse

Apart from temples, Siem Reap has much to offer.

For a start, there's a diverse environment rich in wildlife, and in the downtown, despite the absence of skyscrapers, bustling markets and street food vendors show the energy of the country.

The local circus troupe Phare - a Cambodian circus - is also worth seeing.

Performers use theater, music, dance and modern circus arts to tell Cambodian stories. Their shows are inspired by real-life experiences and deal with themes such as war, discrimination, relationships, poverty and the supernatural.

Proceeds from the circus are used to educate the children of poor families in the performing arts and other crafts at Phare Ponleu Selpak, an NGO-run school in Battambang. Many of the graduates from the school work for the circus.

The country's capital city, Phnom Penh, has hidden treasures such as the old town area with Chinese shop houses, French colonial buildings and the so-called new Khmer architecture of the late 1950s and 1960s.

The central market, known as Psah Thmey, is a large structure in the shape of a dome with four branches. It was one of the largest markets in Asia when it opened in 1937.

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