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Exploring Angkor Archaeological Park – Part 2: The Grand Circuit

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Day two of exploring Angkor starts with a visit to Angkor Wat for sunrise. Then it’s on to the Grand Circuit.

To watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, take every advantage of the early 5:00am opening to hike in to the reflecting pool to claim a spot close to the waters edge.  The area will be overwhelmed with tourist fighting for a spot.  Be sure to remember your headlamp!

(Angkor Wat at sunrise) Photo by: John Maurizi

The Grand Circuit

After the sun rises, don’t waste time as there is much to see on the Grand Circuit.  You have to head back out the west gate of Angkor Wat to meet back up with your Tuk Tuk driver.  The Grand Circuit starts back through the South Gate of Angkor Thom.  Make Bayon your first stop.  Today, take some time to explore the outer galleries of Bayon.  They tell an incredible story of Khmer life during the 12th century and before.

(Bas-relief of Khmer army going into battle) Photo by: John Maurizi

(The perils of doing battle from dug-out canoes) Photo by: John Maurizi

After leaving Bayon Temple, the Grand Circuit passes through the Palace area of Angkor Thom.  This is an opportunity to explore the Palace area more closely.  The Tuk Tuk driver can leave you at the causeway to Baphuon Temple.  After walking back to Baphuon, circle to the back and follow a trail to the right as it passes through a wall gate.  This trail will link to another temple, Phimeanakas.

(Phimeanakas) Photo by: John Maurizi

Passing by the back of Phimeanakas, the trail continues to the Royal Pools called Sras Srei.  Take some time to walk around the two pools.  There is a trail and is rather short.  To continue exploring, pass through another wall gate as the trail meanders through the forest until you reach Preah Palilay, another small temple set back off the road.  Turn right and walk back out to the road, just across from the food vendors.

(Sras Srei – the Royal Palace Pools) Photo by: John Maurizi

(Preah Palilay) Photo by: John Maurizi

After a bite to eat, the Grand Circuit continues, this time through the North Gate of Angkor Thom.  The next temple on the tour is Preah Khan.  This is a bigger temple and definitely deserves more time to explore.  It is up there as one of my favorites.  One item not to miss is the “Light of the Stupa.”  Located in a center hallway of the complex, when you are positioned just right, it appears as a flame is coming from the top of the stupa.  Actually, the flame is only openings in the ceiling of the hall but a nice photo opportunity.

(Light of the Stupa) Photo by: John Maurizi

(Preah Khan Library) Photo by: John Maurizi

Throughout the Preah Khan complex you will find wonderful overgrown courtyards and the stone carvings here are in excellent condition. Take particular note to the dancing Apsara’s over doors and walkways.

(one of many Preah Khan courtyards) Photo by: John Maurizi

(Dancing Apsara’s at Preah Khan) Photo by: John Maurizi

There is also an excellent trail around the Preah Khan complex.  I recommend hiking the trail first and then exploring the interior of the temple.  You can return to the road the way you walked in to meet your Tuk Tuk driver.

The next stop on the Grand Circuit is Neak Pean.  This unique location is said to be an ancient healing spa.  There is no temple at the location but has some interesting features.

(Neak Pean) Photo by: John Maurizi

From Neak Pean it’s a short distance to the next temple on the circuit, Ta Som.  Ta Som is an out and back walk with the highlight being the much photographed East Gate of the temple.  It’s deceptive since you approach the gate from the west.  Walk through the gate to see what all the fuss is about!

(East Gate of Ta Som) Photo by: John Maurizi

Next stop is East Mebon.  This temple is of the Mount Meru style in that is has three tiers with a central tower on top at the center.  This central tower is surrounded by four smaller towers but impressive just the same.  Take note of the stone elephants found throughout East Mebon, a rather unique feature from other temples at Angkor.

(Stone Elephant at East Mebon) Photo by: John Maurizi

The Last stop on the Grand Circuit is another Mountain style temple called Pre Rup.  Pre Rup is one of the temples that are popular for either sunrise or sunset.  I’ve experienced both here and prefer sunset.  Late in the day, there are few people around.  Pre Rup is located right on the road so there is not a long walk in.  There is a trail that circles around the temple which I recommend doing first, especially late in the day.  The stone illuminates in the setting sun unlike any other temple at Angkor. There is still enough time to hang out and chill on the top platform and watch an unobstructed view of the sun setting and the end to another amazing day in Angkor.

(Pre Rup) Photo by: John Maurizi

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