When people imagine Southern Asia, they tend to picture turquoise waters gently lapping at sandy white beaches, emerald jungle thickets embracing ancient ruins, and overcrowded markets with sellers crying their wares.
The adventurers who travel here will have a variety of options for daily entertainment, but for those with a love of history, nothing could compare to visiting to the following shrines and temples stretched out across Thailand and Cambodia.
1. Ayutthaya Historical Park
The ruins and remnants of intricate spires, monasteries and palaces tower over the surroundings of grass and bricks, which are all that remain of this 13th century city. Ayutthaya was the second seat of power for the Siamese Empire, but this city was destroyed in the 18th century by the Burmese. Today, visitors can travel to central Thailand to view the ancient remains of temples, and see statuettes and figurines -many of which still have paint flecks that yield a glimpse of the bright colors they were once adorned with. The park opens at 07:30am daily, and requires a pass to enter.
2. Phanom Rung Historical Park
Within the Khmer region of Buriram, in Tambon Ta Pek, is a Khmer temple complex that was built over an extinct volcano, and is the largest of its kind in Thailand. The light-red sandstone structures rise above the grass-covered surroundings and contrast nicely in photographs. Most of the buildings are intact, due to intensive restoration work by the government. You can cycle around the area on a rented bicycle, and walk through sanctuaries and sanctums which have friezes depicting Hindu gods and goddess’. The temple is open from 6am – 6pm daily, and requires a pass for entry.
Angkor Archaeological Park
For the following temples and complexes, you can purchase an Angkor Pass, which will allow you entry into each of the historic sites within the park. In 2012 you can choose from a one day pass ($20), a three-day pass ($40), and a seven-day pass ($60) – though these prices do increase yearly. The temples are quite spaced out, so renting a bicycle or tuk-tuk from Siem Reap is advised.
3. Ta Prohm
Vine covered bricks and trees guard the remains of Ta Pohm, which looks like something out of a fairytale. This Buddhist temple is surrounded by the jungle that envelopes a little more ground with each passing year. Here, you can watch the sunbeams arch through the treetop canopy, and gently illuminate the moss covered steps of the 11th century temple and university, as it highlight the roots and tree trunks that weave through the structure. Keep an eye out for stone reliefs which depict monks going about their daily life, minor female deities, and protectors of the temple. The temple is open from 5am – 6pm daily.
4. Angkor Wat
Considered to be a jewel of Cambodia, this temple compound is surrounded by a moat, and the main temple, from a distance, appears to be crowned with five lotus-styled peaks. A sunrise visit is recommended for photographers, as nothing compares to your first glimpse of the imposing shadow slowly taking form, and revealing the intricate carvings it’s adorned with as it’s bathed in warm hues. For the non-photographers, a visit after midday is perfect for those who wish to wander through the stonework and view the numerous figures and bas-reliefs. It is open from 5am – 6pm daily.
5. Angkor Thom
Though not as well-known as Angkor Wat, Angkor Tom has its fair share of architectural beauty, and was created in the late 12th century, encompassing several pre-existing structures. The burnt orange surrounding wall has five gates, representing the four cardinal points. The fifth gate leads to the palace and is known as the victory gate. Each gate has four colossal faces carved into it, which overlooks the cardinal points. You’ll find more stonework heads at Bayon, which stands at the centre of Angkor Tom, along with 37 carved spires. At Bayon you’ll see some of the best-preserved bas-reliefs, with those on the southern side detailing daily life, and depicting a battle which took place in the past. It is open from 5am – 6pm daily.