The Largest Religious Monument In The World

We spent last week in Cambodia visiting Ankor Wat, the "Machu Picchu" of Southeast Asia. This enormous Buddhist/Hindu temple complex takes days (or multiple trips) to explore, so we only saw a fraction. Here are the highlights:

Timing is important to avoid big crowds, so we went to Bayon first instead of the main Angkor Wat temple

Timing is important to avoid big crowds, so we went to Bayon first instead of the main Angkor Wat temple

One of our favorites, this relatively modest structure was built from a beautiful red brick instead of the typical gray stone

One of our favorites, this relatively modest structure was built from a beautiful red brick instead of the typical gray stone

The jungle has spent roughly 7 centuries trying to reclaim these buildings, with striking effect. This is the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed.

The jungle has spent roughly 7 centuries trying to reclaim these buildings, with striking effect. This is the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed.

Teams from all over the world have spent the past 100 years restoring parts of the temple buildings, so despite the authentic appearance this structure actually had a bit of a facelift in the '70s.

Teams from all over the world have spent the past 100 years restoring parts of the temple buildings, so despite the authentic appearance this structure actually had a bit of a facelift in the '70s.

One hallmark of Angor Wat temples is the incredibly intricate stone carvings on virtual every surface of the solid stone structures

One hallmark of Angor Wat temples is the incredibly intricate stone carvings on virtual every surface of the solid stone structures

Angkor Wat has been an active place of worship since the original planning/construction in the 12th century. This little girl is the latest in a long line of generations to live in and around the temple complex.

Angkor Wat has been an active place of worship since the original planning/construction in the 12th century. This little girl is the latest in a long line of generations to live in and around the temple complex.

This is an outer wall of the main Angkor Wat temple depicting a battle between the Khmers (the builders/residents of the temple) and Chams, their traditional enemies. Bows and arrows, spears, chariots, horses, elephants, foot soldiers, squadron leaders/chiefs and mercenary support groups are all depicted in great detail.

This is an outer wall of the main Angkor Wat temple depicting a battle between the Khmers (the builders/residents of the temple) and Chams, their traditional enemies. Bows and arrows, spears, chariots, horses, elephants, foot soldiers, squadron leaders/chiefs and mercenary support groups are all depicted in great detail.

All depictions include fantastic or religious imagery, frequently representing leaders or deities that have been reincarnated as other forms

All depictions include fantastic or religious imagery, frequently representing leaders or deities that have been reincarnated as other forms

Humans aren't the only denizens of Angkor Wat. These little guys are just now making a comeback after local near-extinction during famine-driven hunting under the Khmer Rouge.

Humans aren't the only denizens of Angkor Wat. These little guys are just now making a comeback after local near-extinction during famine-driven hunting under the Khmer Rouge.

Michelle in front of a depiction of the Hindu story of Diwali, which was celebrated by Michelle's class the week prior to our trip

Michelle in front of a depiction of the Hindu story of Diwali, which was celebrated by Michelle's class the week prior to our trip

This is the walkway leading from the outer wall and across the massive moat around Ankor's primary wat (temple)

This is the walkway leading from the outer wall and across the massive moat around Ankor's primary wat (temple)

Locals and tourists alike swarm the temples by day. We learned that Americans (North and South together) make up only 9% of the annual tourists to Cambodia.

Locals and tourists alike swarm the temples by day. We learned that Americans (North and South together) make up only 9% of the annual tourists to Cambodia.

Us in front of the outer wall of the main temple. That's right, this is just the wall.

Us in front of the outer wall of the main temple. That's right, this is just the wall.

This is Mr. Rom, aka Mr. 007, our tok tok driver for the duration of our trip. He would study Chinese and nap while waiting for us during temple visits

This is Mr. Rom, aka Mr. 007, our tok tok driver for the duration of our trip. He would study Chinese and nap while waiting for us during temple visits

Tok Toks and bikes are the primary mode of transportation around the temple complex, so scores of them wait in designated areas a short walk from each site.

Tok Toks and bikes are the primary mode of transportation around the temple complex, so scores of them wait in designated areas a short walk from each site.

Small but well-paved roads get you from one temple site to the next within the massive Angkor Wat complex. Rides between temples range from 5-45 minutes depending on which one you want to see next.

Small but well-paved roads get you from one temple site to the next within the massive Angkor Wat complex. Rides between temples range from 5-45 minutes depending on which one you want to see next.

This was a cute little building outside one of the big temples

This was a cute little building outside one of the big temples

Paul's best "explorer" pose part 1

Paul's best "explorer" pose part 1

Paul's best "explorer" pose part 2

Paul's best "explorer" pose part 2

During renovations the archeologists take apart sections of the temple, label and stack stones by location, then model the original intent and reconstruct. During the wars of the 70s and 80s the teams got kicked out before they could put some of them back (see piles on the right). It is a work in process.

During renovations the archeologists take apart sections of the temple, label and stack stones by location, then model the original intent and reconstruct. During the wars of the 70s and 80s the teams got kicked out before they could put some of them back (see piles on the right). It is a work in process.

This incredible temple (actually a ritual cleansing pool) is on a small island, requiring a 100 meter walk across a slender bridge

This incredible temple (actually a ritual cleansing pool) is on a small island, requiring a 100 meter walk across a slender bridge

No AC needed at this temple; the locals have alternative means of refreshment

No AC needed at this temple; the locals have alternative means of refreshment

During the war soldiers placed millions of landlines throughout Cambodia, most of which were never detonated or removed and remain waiting for unsuspecting civilians (these days, usually remote villagers and farmers). CNN has sponsored a museum dedicated to the awareness of landmines/other unexploded ordinance and active removal campaigns

During the war soldiers placed millions of landlines throughout Cambodia, most of which were never detonated or removed and remain waiting for unsuspecting civilians (these days, usually remote villagers and farmers). CNN has sponsored a museum dedicated to the awareness of landmines/other unexploded ordinance and active removal campaigns

This is the entrance to a woman's temple, a bit outside of the main Ankor Wat complex.

This is the entrance to a woman's temple, a bit outside of the main Ankor Wat complex.

An odd circular rainbow, like a halo over the temple (not to mix religions).

An odd circular rainbow, like a halo over the temple (not to mix religions).

The woman's temple is known for its carvings, which are even more intricate than those found in the other temples

The woman's temple is known for its carvings, which are even more intricate than those found in the other temples

The doors were made purposefully short, forcing the inhabitants to bow before entering a room

The doors were made purposefully short, forcing the inhabitants to bow before entering a room

This was probably our favorite of Ankor's temples, so here are a few more pictures of this incredibly detailed and beautiful structure

This was probably our favorite of Ankor's temples, so here are a few more pictures of this incredibly detailed and beautiful structure

Walking around exploring temples in 90 degree weather for three days in a row was taxing work, but somebody has to do it. Hope you enjoyed the pictures!