We’ve been wanting to visit Angkor Wat and it’s surrounding temples for years. It’s one of the largest structures that the Khmer people built and bizarrely only became a Unesco world heritage site in 1993. The sheer size of the Angkor Wat temple complex is enough to take anyone’s breath away, after all, when it was built it was the largest Hindu temple in the world and even today, its the largest temple complex in the world. It’s now a very important national symbol for Cambodia (they even have a picture of it on their flag). Most tourists who visit Cambodia and Siem Reap, hire a Tuk Tuk and driver for the day ($15 -$20) and make a beeline for the Wat. Our driver commented that the daily average number of tourists is 6,000!
Back when it was built in the 12th century by King Suryvarman II, Angkor Wat (literal meaning is city of temples) and it’s surrounding region was home to over 1 million people (this is at a time when London had less than 50,000 residents) and the area was the real powerhouse of South East Asia.
Taking over 30 years to build, it’s thought that the temple represents the Hindu universe with the large moat around the temple representing the primordial cosmic ocean, the temple walls represent the mountain ridge of the sacred Mount Meru, and the central tower represents the summit of the mountain.
Some time after it was completed, Angkor Wat was transformed into a Buddhist temple.
Angkor Wat is about 5 miles outside Siem Reap and can be visited very easily. To maintain and upgrade the temple complexes, there is a site fee of $20 for one day (per person) or $40 for a 3 day pass (which can be used on any 3 days over a 7 day period. You get your personalised ticket from the main booth (your tuk tuk driver will stop here first) and they take a quick picture of you and print out your ticket (takes 20 secs) and your ticket will be checked at the entry of each temple. Most people on tours carry their ticket around there neck in a clear pouch – we just carried them in our pocket and showed then on entry – they dont check in the temples, they just do it at the entrances.
Most people visit Angkor Wat first and then head over to Angkor Thom which hosts the very pretty and enigmatic Bayon temple with all its large smiling faces. The temples are all different and what is amazing is that pretty much every block of stone has been carved with pictures or figurines – it must have looked absolutely beautiful when it was first completed (the Khmer people must have been so proud of their beautiful temple city).
Around Angkor Wat are loads of other temple complexes, each different in size and style. It’s great fun wandering around them and as they are all made of stone, you get to walk through them and climb up into them (it’s a really great interactive experience – not like other building visits where you can look but don’t touch!). One temple which most head to is the TA Prohm Temple (now nicknamed Tomb Raider Temple due to it’s screen debut with a certain Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie)). This temple complex has huge banyan trees growing all over it and really gives you a brilliant perspective on how old the complex is. We thought it was stunning.
Some of the temples have lakes around them – notable Neak Poan which is a curiously small tower set in a small lake surrounded by four other ponds and is now accessible by walking along a long wooden walkway over a bigger lake. We liked this one as it was very picturesque.
Most people wander around the complexes at there own pace and move from temple to temple with their Tuk Tuk drivers or organised tours. We took a Tuk Tuk as it was cheaper and we could come and go as we pleased without having to wait for anyone else. We did Angkor Wat and Angkor Tom) on one day and then another 6 temples the following day. At a push, you could do the main temple complexes within a day (but that would be a full-on day and in 90 degree+ heat, that’s not going to be easy.
Inside the temples things are a bit cooler and at all the entrances, lots of locals are quite happy to try and sell you their wares (2 waters for a $1 or some fruit / ice cream). If you don’t want anything, just say no and they soon move onto someone else – there’s lots of other potential customers for them! The locals are fun, smiley and friendly so we liked them a lot.
If you are a woman, then make sure you dress appropriately (covered shoulders / over the knee trousers etc) as we heard a story last night of a Dutch woman who had gone to watch the sun set be turned away at the last moment as she was in appropriately dressed.
Also worth noting is that a lot of people want to do a sunrise or sunset trip to Angkor Wat. Just be mindful that a lot of the time, the sky is overcast in the morning and later in the afternoon so that dream view may continue to remain so!
Overall, we loved our couple of days visiting the temples and the highlights for us were probably the Banyon Temple, Preah Khan and Ta Prohm probably because they were somewhat prettier than the massive Angkor Wat (which we thought impresses purely on size / scale) – please note that there is still some renovation work going on so the front of Angkor Wat has some scaffolding up around it which makes taking a full width ‘picture prefect’ shot without a ‘touch of photoshop’ impossible!