1) Banteay Srei:
This 10th century temple dedicated to Shiva and called the “temple of woman” because the carvings are so delicate and intricate, that supposedly only a woman could do it. The rock was a special pink sandstone and looked beautiful. It was very well preserved and smaller allowing a better chance to see everything. It was such a great place to end, after seeing the big ones, this was a nice change. Recommended for the carvings and the amazing 40 minute tuk-tuk ride through Cambodian countryside.
Approaching this ancient pyramid also dedicated to Shiva, moving down the pillared walkway, a thought struck me. People’s faces would have been right at my feet if I were the king going home. I walked taller and felt regal after noticing this. There are three steep levels of stairs here finally culminating in a dazzling view of the dense jungle around. It was fully renovated in 2011. This place was BIG, and the original capital of Angkor Thom. Recommended for pictures under the stone walkway among the pillars, and for a hard climb to the top!
This was for me the biggest highlight of the three days’ tour. Bayon was the central post of the immense Angkor Thom area. It has 56 towers with four faces on each, adding up to 216 faces, some better preserved than others. They all look peacefully stoked on life while presenting the calm features of the Buddha, for whom it was dedicated. It is the youngest temple as well, having been built almost 100 years after Angkor Wat. Recommended for silly face pictures contrasted with the solemnity of the stone visages.
Honorable Mention: Angkor Wat at Sunrise–because being present in such a simple moment in such incomprehensible beauty makes for a powerful memory.
Ta Prohm: Tomb Raider was filmed here, trees overtook the rocks, surreal atmosphere and cool to see nature will always win.
Do not do less than 3 days at the temples. Some of the people bail because of the heat, or hangovers, or repetition. But, the repetition is the point. They cared so much they even carved the stones they walked on. I’ll bet the toilets were carved from only the softest sandstone and adorned with the satisfied faces of those with functional bowels.
For me, it was a never-ending buzz of temples appearing out of nowhere, touching rocks from a different millennium, imagination, exercise in the sun, eavesdropping on tour groups, and plenty of photo opportunities! A big check on my list of must-visit places. Awesome!