Exploring Angkor Wat
One of our main reasons for visiting Cambodia was to see the spectacular ruins of Angkor Wat. This ancient city, almost forgotten for centuries and swallowed by the jungle, is one of the most unique and fascinating historical sites in the world. If you’ve come to Cambodia and not gone to Angkor Wat you’ve really missed out!
About Angkor Wat
Angkor dates from the early 12th Century, the Khmer empire was predominantly Hindu at this time and this is reflected in the architecture with thousands of intricate carvings depicting figures and tales from Hindu mythology. There is an excellent museum in Siem Reap which provides lots of information on the history and religious aspects of Angkor, this is well worth a visit before you see the temples to have a better understanding of them.
Visiting Angkor Wat
The temple of Angkor Wat itself is just one of many temples and ruins within the huge city, other highlights are Angkor Thom, Bayon and Ta Prohm. The best way to visit is to hire a tuk tuk for the day (we paid $20 from our guesthouse but you can probably get this cheaper by haggling in Siem Reap). There is a ‘small circuit’ which takes in the main temples (Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Phrom as well as a few smaller temples) and a ‘large circuit’ which goes further North to the temples on the outskirts of the complex. We did the small circuit but this still takes around 6 hours!
You’ll need to get up very early to get the most from your visit, it takes around 20 – minutes to reach Angkor from Sieam Reap so we left our guesthouse at 5am to catch the sunrise over Angkor Wat (sadly it was a bit of an overcast morning so this wasn’t as spectacular as we’d hoped). We were visiting during the wet season so whilst the weather wasn’t perfect – we had a few showers – the jungle and the temples were a lush green and the complex itself was relatively quiet so it was great for taking photos and feeling more like you were really exploring the place for yourself.
Entrance to Angkor is $20 per person for a one day pass, you can also pay $40 for a three day or $60 for a seven day pass. We just picked up our pass on the day, our tuk tuk driver stopped at the entrance while we picked it up. Your photo is taken and printed onto your ticket so you can’t pass it on to anyone else and they are checked at various places throughout the complex so make sure you don’t lose it!
There are various routes around Angkor and it can be a bit overwhelming when you first arrive to work out where you want to go and what order to do things in. Having a tuk tuk driver certainly helped with this as he dropped us off at each area pointing out where to go and where he would meet us again once we were done. If you’re using your own transport you will definitely want to plan your route beforehand so you don’t get lost. There is a lot of walking involved even with a tuk tuk and some of the temples are very steep if you want to climb them, bring plenty of water with you too as it’s very hot and humid in the jungle (even in rainy season when we were there).
Exploring Angkor Wat
We started our visit at Angkor Wat for sunrise, it took around 2 hours to see everything here as it’s the largest temple and there are plenty of great places to take photos and soak up the atmosphere. We then moved on to Angkor Thom which is a complex of several temples and terraces. We started at the Bayon temple here then followed the terraces to Phimeanakas temple which you can climb for a great views over the Bauphon temple nearby. The route here can be bit tricky so taking a map would be a good idea to help find your way around. Finally we went Ta Phrom which was my favourite temple and one you might recognise from Tomb Raider! Trees have grown up, over and through many of the walls and towers and it’s an amazing place to take photos and feel like you’re in an Indiana Jones movie. Altogether this took 6 hours and we were pretty tired when we climbed back onto our tuk tuk and headed back to Siem Reap, Lisa even dozed off, not an easy task on a tuk tuk bumping along a dirt track!
There are a few places to buy drinks, food and souvenirs dotted around and you’ll likely get hassled by people selling guide books, postcards and other things. The guide books are actually quite good and with some haggling you can get one for as little as $1. Watch out for scammers selling incense near the Buddha’s though, once you’ve put one down they’ll want as much as $25 off you! I watched an American woman do this just in front of me at Angkor Wat, needless to say she wasn’t impressed when she heard how much money they wanted…
A visit to Angkor is essential if you’re in Cambodia, and is well worth travelling to Cambodia for! We really enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it to anyone who has considered making the trip. Cambodia has a lot to offer besides Angkor Wat too which we’ll discuss more later.