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#975 Angkor, Cambodia

If I had to pick the historical site with the most ambiance, the most picturesque vistas, the most fascinating historical stories, the most amazingly unique architecture, Angkor in Cambodia would be it. I lost count of how many amazing individual sites that I visited there that would each have been worthy of World Heritage status in their own right, Angkor Wat itself actually only being one of a complex of many. At times Hindu and Buddhist, it is the most famous of all Khymer architecture, and was built between the 9th and 15th centuries. Other important and memorable structures include the Angkor Thom (the capital area itself), the Terrace of the Elephants, the Ta Prohm, Preah Khan and the similar Prasat Banteay Kdei, and many smaller temples interspersed with Baray (large water pools) including the massive Srah Srang as big as a small lake, Phnom (hills), and naga-bridges with stone guards lining either side. Kbal Spean had amazing carved rocks on the creek bed, and there were even pyramids like Phimeanakas.

The Angkor Wat temple itself is the one most often seen in the sunset pictures (see above) -- those reflections always interest me now because when I was there, there really wasn't that much water! A massive palace structure, with walls after walls of spectacular bas-reliefs of stories, kings, religious figures and other images. The decoration is incredible, but the views from the second floor structures show a landscape of other beautiful vistas.
Another famously photographed feature are the trees that grow out of Ta Prohm, made famous by the Lara Kroft/Tomb Raider film where Angelina Jolie runs through the ruins which are engulfed and overgrown by large trees. Interestingly, there are many different types of trees that have overrun the various Angkor ruins, including the silk cotton tree, the thitpok, the gold apple, and the strangler fig.


I think my favorite complex was the Prasat Bayon, which has 216 stone heads around 2 meters high each, peering eerily down at you, seeming to follow your movement from all angles. Sometimes mistaken as pure representations of Buddha, they were actually modeled on one conceited king (Jayavarman VII) as the Buddha Bodhisattva Lokesvara. 

A great map of the whole complex can be found here.

Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor_Wat
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor
"The area of Angkor has many significant archaeological sites, including the following: Angkor ThomAngkor WatBaksei ChamkrongBanteay KdeiBanteay Samr√©Banteay SreiBaphuon, the BayonChau Say TevodaEast BarayEast MebonKbal Spean, the KhleangsKrol KoLoleiNeak Pean,PhimeanakasPhnom BakhengPhnom KromPrasat Ak YumPrasat KravanPreah KhanPreah KoPreah PalilayPreah PithuPre RupSpean Thma,Srah SrangTa NeiTa ProhmTa SomTa KeoTerrace of the ElephantsTerrace of the Leper KingThommanonWest BarayWest Mebon."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayon

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