Angkor Wat in Detail

The Angkor temple complex is massive. To be exact, it is the largest religious complex in the world. When we first thought of Angkor, we only thought of the quintessential image of Angkor Wat, but to our surprise, there was so much more. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the largest religious monument in the world and easily provides 2-3 days of exploring!

We wanted to share some of our favorite spots from our couple of days exploring the Ancient City of Angkor.

1. Angkor Wat

This is the quintessential image when you think of Angkor Wat, which makes sense because this is the temple named Angkor. We got up at 4am in order to get the the temple for the sunrise. We were so excited to get a front row seat to see such a wonderful site. 

 Angkor at sunrise was picturesque.
Angkor at sunrise was picturesque.
 A lot of people show up to sunrise! We were so glad we got there early.
A lot of people show up to sunrise! We were so glad we got there early.
 We came back later in the afternoon. It was the perfect selfie lighting in front of the lake. 
We came back later in the afternoon. It was the perfect selfie lighting in front of the lake. 
 Beautiful details. 
Beautiful details. 
 We could look at the bas reliefs for hours.
We could look at the bas reliefs for hours.

2. Bayon

We call this the temple of faces. There are 54 towers around this temple, all with  4-sided bodhisattva faces as the tower top, representing the divine observation of Cambodia’s four directions. It was for sure a temple that got even more interesting as we took a closer look.

 From afar it's hard to tell there are 216 bodhisattva faces. 
From afar it’s hard to tell there are 216 bodhisattva faces. 
 Up close bodhisattva
Up close bodhisattva
 No matter where you stand, someone is looking at you.
No matter where you stand, someone is looking at you.

3. Ta Prohm

The ruins of Ta Prohm was one of our favorites. It is known as the “tree temple” because it is covered in Knia trees which have overtaken the temple ruins. This is what was so attractive to us. Everywhere we looked was a photo op we did not want to miss. We can see why parts of Tomb Raider was filmed here. 

 Knia tree growing over the temple.
Knia tree growing over the temple.
 Kevin between the Knia tree roots.
Kevin between the Knia tree roots.
 Is this a stegosaurus?  
Is this a stegosaurus?  
 This Knia tree was insane! 
This Knia tree was insane! 

4. East Mebon

Our tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Chee, called this the Elephant Temple. We loved it because #elephants! This temple is not very big, but the guardian elephants scattered throughout the temple are impressive and make it worth a look. Additionally, we noticed the stairs were huge and found out this is because ceremonies with elephants would happen here and elephants have a big step. 

 Khmer style symmetrical architecture.
Khmer style symmetrical architecture.
 Very large steps!
Very large steps!
 One of the guardian elephants.
One of the guardian elephants.

5. Neak Poan

Neak Poan was fascinating! First, we took a stroll across a huge lake to get to the Buddhist temple. The mirror lake was perfectly still and you could see every reflection. The clouds felt like there were all around us. Once you get across the lake, you get to see a quaint Buddhist temple sitting in the middle of a smaller mirror lake. Scerene indeed.

 Kevin in front of the mirror lake.
Kevin in front of the mirror lake.
 Stump and cloud reflections.
Stump and cloud reflections.
 Buddhist temple in the central pond.
Buddhist temple in the central pond.

6. Preah Khan

Because Preah Khan is located at the far end of the Angkor complex there were almost no tourists when we were there. This nearly forgotten temple is tucked away in the jungle and reminded us a lot of Ta Prohm. We took our time and got up close and personal with this temple.

 Overgrown knia tree
Overgrown knia tree
 Brad through the window.
Brad through the window.
 Kevin exploring the small corridors. 
Kevin exploring the small corridors. 

7. Terrace of the Elephants & Leper King

When the Khmer armies came back from battle victorious, the terrace of the elephants was where the celebration would happen. The large scale carvings of elephants were unreal. Just past the elephant terrace we came to the Terrace of the Leper King. It is said this is where the king’s concubines lived. What was impressive to us was the entire structure, both inside and out, donned intricate carvings, mostly of women. 

 Terrace of the Elephants.
Terrace of the Elephants.
 Terrace of the Leper King
Terrace of the Leper King
 Terrace of the Leper King carvings.
Terrace of the Leper King carvings.

8. Ta Som

The far end of Ta Som was the East gate. From the front it looks like a normal ruined gate, but one we passed through to the other side, we noticed it was completely covered in a knia tree. Tucked underneath the tree roots was such a wonderful carving. 

 Run-down looking gate.
Run-down looking gate.
 Carvings hiding under the knia tree.
Carvings hiding under the knia tree.
 Knia covering the entire gate. 
Knia covering the entire gate. 

9. Royal Palace of Phimeanakas

The Royal Palace was another part of Angkor that seems to be overlooked by most tourists. It was the perfect spot for a rest. The palace is not overly impressive compared to many of the other more notable spots in Angkor, but once we made it to the top and looked down, we appreciated what the Royal Palace was in its hay-day. 

 The doorways at the top.
The doorways at the top.
 Column remnants.
Column remnants.
 Corridors around the Royal Palace.
Corridors around the Royal Palace.

There were so many more structures, temples, and ruins around the Angkor temple complex than shown in this post. It would be nearly impossible to write one post covering every nook and cranny. Angkor was full of surprises at every turn and we are so happy to have encountered this ancient Khmer civilization up close. 

We are two en route for more detailed travel encounters.

 At the end of days of exploring, our feet were rightfully filthy! 
At the end of days of exploring, our feet were rightfully filthy! 

In search of the Sahara

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Prior to coming to Marrakech, we hadn’t even thought about going to the Sahara Desert. Since we decided to spend two weeks here to “rest and relax” from three months of travel we had plenty of time to slow down and take it all in. A great side effect from settling in for a couple of weeks is the unexpected opportunities that have presented themselves.

After doing a little research and a little haggling we ended up booking a 3-day/2-night excursion from Marrakech to the Sahara Desert for only 600 MAD a person, around $60 American. After spending a lot of time together with other people that booked the trip, we learned most people paid around 900 MAD ($90) per person; we got a great deal for sure! 

DAY 1

It was an early morning the day of departure, up at 5:45, breakfast at 6:30, out the door by 7:00. When we arrived at the Jamaâ el Fna, we were put on a van and we waited. Quickly we learned we were on Moroccan time, which means, no time schedule. Finally, the large van was filled with 19 people and we were on our way!

From the beginning the entire eclectic group clicked. We made friends fast and the laughing began. We were a van filled with like-minded, well-traveled people from all over the world. Countries represented were America (us), Canada, Sweden, Spain, Sicily, England, and Australia.

On the way to our first destination we stopped a few times for photo-ops, bathrooms, refreshments and to just stretch our legs. This was much needed because there would be a lot of driving during this trip. The Sahara is on the other side of Morocco. We noticed that everyone was selling geodes on the side of the road for next to nothing! Kevin knows a lot of designers and clients would fill a suitcase full of them.

After stopping for lunch we headed to Aït Ben Haddou, a Berber city 235km east of Marrakech. Berbers are the tribal people of Morocco. The homes that you see will hold up to 20+ people form a single family. We then took a moment to soak in the sun and enjoy the signs of the city from afar before crossing the “Berber Bridge” to make our way into the city and explore her many winding streets.

Inside the city there were many local families that owned shops and markets. We were invited into a man’s home to watch him demonstrate making sugar art.  He painted sugar with pigments on paper and then cooked it over and open flame to reveal the art.

Back in the van and on the road to Taourirt Kasbah, our next destination. Taourirt Kasbah is a UNESCO world heritage site and is mostly in ruins. We did not go inside, however, after reading many reviews about the place, it’s probably best we did not waste our time. The highlight of this stop was we a local street musician stopped by our group and began to play a song for us. “How are you, how are you,” the title we gave the made up song, became our theme song the rest of the trip, we could not stop laughing with joy.

Our final pit stop was in the Valley of the Roses. It was not the time of year to see anything bloom, however, we were greeted by a beautiful sunset. By this time, we were all a little worn out from a long day of driving. We enjoyed the super moon rising as we made our way to the final stop of the day.

Our accommodation for the evening was a hotel nestled in the Gorges du Dadés. There was almost no light, and you could see the starts very clear. We settled into our chilly room and headed to the bar, time to relax! At the bar and during dinner we began to get past the introductory small talk and have more in depth conversations. As one of our van mates put it, “The universe knew what it was doing when it put us all on the van together.”

DAY 2

Today we got to sleep in until 6:30am, a real treat from the day before (we got jokes). After eating breakfast and enjoying the views from the rooftop of the hotel we headed out for another day of adventure.

Our first stop of the day was in the village of Tingher. Here we toured through a four-family community farm to get an understanding of how they work the land and make a living. Community farms are normal throughout Morocco.

After strolling though the farm, we made our way into the town. While in the town we were invited into a local rug makers home to share tea and learn how his Berber family have been hand making rugs on a vertical loom for generations. Each rug can take up to 6 months to make by hand. The quality and craftsmanship was unreal. Kevin was in designer heaven!

Following this, we decided to purchase a few Keffiyehs, a headdress Berber people use to protect themselves from the sun. This would be needed for the Sahara Desert later. We learned how to properly wrap around our heads and headed to enjoy a fantastic lunch on a great patio with the best of company.

Now that our bellies were full we drove to the Gorges Toudra and took a short hike between the towering walls of rock. The driver said this was like their Grand Canyon of Morocco. It was beautiful.

With the Gorges Toudra in the rearview mirror, we journeyed on to the much anticipated Sahara Desert. You could visibly see the landscape changing with every kilometer we drove closer. When we arrived, the mood was nothing short of ecstatic. We put on our backpacks, hopped on our camels and rode off into the sunset over the Sahara Desert. An incredible experience.

An hour and a half passed before we made it to our camp site for the evening. We unloaded into the tents and explored around before dinner. Dinner was a family style traditional Berber dinner with chicken tajine, bread, rice and after dinner fruit.

After dinner we decided to hike up the tallest dune next to the camp to see the desert at night. The dine was a lot taller then it looked and the hike was hard because of the unstable sand but euphoric when reached the top. Because of the light form the super moon, we were able to see the desert go for what seemed like forever. This was one of those moments to never forget.

The hike back down was a lot easier with the momentum of gravity. We gathered with the rest of the group around the fire and listened to the two Berber men playing songs for us. We were all having such a great time, we even got up and dance around the fire while clapping our hands to the beat. The perfect ending to a fantastic day.

DAY 3

We woke up to see the sunrise. We decided to hike back up the tall dune to get the best view of the sun showing its face for the first time today. It was so peaceful and picturesque.

With the sun in the sky it was time to gear up, hop back on the camels, and head to breakfast.

On the 12-hour journey back to Marrakech we retraced our path that lead us to the Sahara. We made a few stops along the way through the twisty and mountain roads, but all-in-all we hunkered down and powered through to get back to Marrakech.

Our journey to the Sahara was long and it was full of all sorts of wonderful sights along the way. This was a journey we will never forget.

We are two en route to search for more journeys