The majestic Angkor Wat.

Photo credit: Roberto.Trombetta / Foter / CC BY-NC

Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is a temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world. It was originally founded as a Hindu temple for the Khmer Empire, gradually transforming into a Buddhist temple toward the end of the 12th century.

It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in Yasodharapura, present-day Angkor), the capital of the Khmer Empire, as his state temple and eventual mausoleum. Breaking from the Shavia tradition of previous kings, Angkor Wat was instead dedicated to Vishnu. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious center since its foundation. The temple is at the top of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. It has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag, and it is the country’s prime attraction for visitors.

Bayon Temple
Built by Kings, the Ancient Bayon Temple of Cambodia Mixes Spirituality, History and Symbolism. The Bayon Temple was built in the late 12th or early 13th century A.D. by Jayavarman VII, one of the Khmer Empire’s greatest kings.

The Bayon Temple served as the state temple of Jayavarman’s new capital, Angkor Thom. Given the centrality of Buddhism in the Khmer Empire, the Bayon Temple stood at the center of Angkor Thom. Unlike the other temples built by the Khmer, Bayon Temple is unique in that it was the only state temple built primarily as a Mahayana Buddhist shrine dedicated to the Buddha. After the death of Jayavarman, the features of the Bayon Temple were altered according to the religious belief of his successors, thus containing Hindu and Theravada Buddhist elements that were not part of the temple’s original plans.

Of all the original features of the Bayon Temple, it is the over 200 gigantic stone faces that probably stand out the most. These faces, dubbed the ‘Mona Lisa of South East Asia’ came in sets of four, each identical, and pointing to a cardinal direction. The location of the faces – on the 50 odd towers of the Bayon Temple, symbolizes the omnipresence of the person whose face is being depicted.

The Bayon Temple is part of the Angkor Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site included in educational tours to Cambodia. When considered along with the other temples in this park, including the famous Angkor Wat, Preah Khan and Ta Prohm, the Bayon Temple offers a unique insight into a once mighty civilization and its religious, political and cultural history.
Bokor Hill Station
Bokor Hill Station is a French ghost town in Preah Monivong National Park, southern Cambodia. It is abandoned, historic and open to the public for Cambodia tours.

Construction started in 1921 on Dâmrei Mountains, about 20 km west of Kampot. It was used as the location for the final showdown of the movie City of Ghosts (2002) and the 2004 film R-Point.

The town was built as a resort by colonial French settlers to offer an escape from the heat, humidity and general insalubrity of Phnom Penh. During construction of the resort, nine hundred lives were lost in nine months in the remote mountain location.

Bokor Hill was abandoned first by the French in late 1940s, during the First Indochina War, because of local insurrections guided by the Khmer Issarak, and then for good in 1972, as Khmer Rouge took over the area. During the Vietnamese invasion in 1979, Khmer Rouge entrenched themselves and held on tightly for months. In the early 1990s Bokor Hill was still one of the last strongholds of Khmer Rouge.

Now abandoned, with the exception of the old post office, most of the buildings are still standing. The strategic importance of the location is underlined by the fact that the Cambodian authorities maintain a ranger station on the site. The only other historic building currently in use on the site is a small temple.

Tonle Sap
The Tonlé sap, “Large Fresh water River”, but more commonly translated as “Great Lake”, is a combined lake and river system of major importance to Cambodia.

The Tonlé sap is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and is an ecological hot spot that was designated as a UNESCO biosphere in 1997.

The Tonlé sap is unusual for two reasons: its flow changes direction twice a year, and the portion that forms the lake expands and shrinks dramatically with the seasons. From November to May, Cambodia’s dry season, the Tonlé sap drains into the Mekong River at Phnom Penh. However, when the year’s heavy rains begin in June, the Tonlé sap backs up to form an enormous lake.

When the Tonlé sap floods, the surrounding areas become a prime breeding ground for fish. During this time, fishermen are scarce; fishing during this time is actually illegal, so as to prevent disruption of mating. At the end of the rainy season, when the water levels go down, fishing is allowed again. The Lake is also an important commercial resource, providing more than half of the fish consumed in Cambodia and fishermen install floating houses along one half of the river, and the other half is left open for navigation.

Silver Pagoda

Silver Pagoda) is located in the southern portion of the Royal Palace complex. The pagoda was formerly known as Wat Uborsoth Rotannaram because it is where the King worshiped, prayed and practiced every Buddhist Silas Day.

It was built between 1892 and 1902, during the region of King Norodom, but at that time it was constructed of wood and brick. Its design is base on Cambodian architectural style. After the temple was damaged, the old temple was dismantled and reconstructed in 1962 on the same site with reinforced concrete. The floor was laid with silver tiles, and the columns were covered with glass stone imported from Italy. The architecture, however, remained the same.

The floor of the Silver Pagoda is covered with five tons of gleaming silver. Visitors on tours to Cambodia can sneak a peek at some of the 5000 tiles near the entrance – most are covered to protect them. Rivaling the floor, an extraordinary Baccarat-crystal Buddha sits atop an impressive gilded pedestal. Adding to the lavish mix is a life-sized solid-gold Buddha, which weighs 90kg and is adorned with 2086 diamonds, the largest weighing in at 25 carats. The staircase leading to the Silver Pagoda is made of Italian marble.

Today, the Silver Pagoda is more a museum for cultural and religious treasures than a functioning temple, and the most famous artifact is the “Emerald Buddha of Cambodia” from the 17th century. Most of the Palace grounds and Silver Pagoda are open to the public and Cambodia travel tours.