THE INS AND OUTS OF ANGKOR WAT
With so many visitors coming to Siem Reap specifically to marvel at the wonders of Angkor Wat, there has to be more than one reason why it’s one of the most visited places in the world. We, not unlike nearly every other traveler, had sworn to ticking it off the bucket list before we left Cambodia and we were glad that we did.
Let’s start out with the basics. Angkor Wat is the Khmer translation for “City of Temples”. Located around six kilometers from Siem Reap, it’s a must see attraction for your visit to Cambodia as well as the other temples in the surrounding areas. It was built in the early 12th century, is the largest religious monument built to date and the most well-preserved temple in Angkor Archaeological Park. Cambodian people are so proud of their impressive temple that Angkor Wat appears on the Cambodian National Flag, a strong reminder of what it means to its people. It is also an UNESCO World Heritage site, meaning it is universally agreed that it is one kick ass place to see.
Waking up at 4.15am and meeting our Tuk Tuk driver out the front of our guest house at 5am was the start of an impressive journey. IMPORTANT NOTE: Waking up at this time can make one forget to wear runners instead of flip flops. DO NOT make the same mistake I did, you’ll thank me later!
We had organised this tour the day before with our driver, Mr Ho, who had agreed to drive us around Angkor Park for the day for around $16. In retrospect it was our wisest decision, as we were exhausted by the end of our day and could not imagine how tired those riding or walking around the park would be. It’s easiest to bring a small day pack and fill it with a big bottle of water, some sunscreen, snacks if you’re on a tight budget and anything else you think will make your day a bit easier. Wear comfortable, light clothing and good shoes. Not everyone follows the dress code and we saw plenty of booty-shorts and cleavage however consider what type of traveler you’d like to be perceived as. It is a place of worship after all and respect should be shown at all times. If it’s too hot for sleeved tops bring a light silk scarf to cover up.
Twenty minutes drive from Siem Riep we arrived at the gate. Fellow travelers and tour groups abound, all lining up to get a ticket to enter the park. It cost us $20USD each for one day in the park, including a personalized ticket with your mug shot to ensure you can’t pass back your ticket! Don’t lose your ticket because you will be asked for it several times during the day. You can also purchase a 3 day pass for $40USD and a 7 day pass for $60USD.
A quick five minute drive from the gate brought us to the entrance of Angkor Wat. We crossed a small bridge and saw the beautiful building’s silhouette in the distance. With the sun still down and hundreds of other keen temple goers waiting to see the sun rise behind the temple, we secured a spot to the left hand side by the pond. As the sun slowly rose over the temple and cast its reflection in the lake in front of us, it was a most spiritual way to start the day. A lot of travelers decide to do sunrise at Angkor Wat and it is impressive. However if you’re looking for a more serene view, consider a different option. Once the hysteria dies down you will be in search of breakfast. With several extremely overpriced options you won’t go hungry. Budget travelers should opt to bringing some bread, fruit or snacks instead.
With our bellies full and ready to get our strut on for the day, we walked up to the entrance of the temple. Originally the stairs were all made of stone, wooden stairs have since been built over the original structure for safety reasons. The outer wall of the temple is filled with beautiful artwork and design carvings. These carvings tell different stories of religious tales, battles and romances. When you finally make it to the center of the temple, the only thing to do is look up and admire the tall structures that you see from the distance. It is overwhelming to think that this was built so long ago and without the aid of modern building machines. Unfortunately, and much to our dismay, you cannot climb to the top. Allow yourself at least an hour and a half to explore this temple, but don’t wear yourself out too much, there’s still a lot to see!
Over the course of the day we saw about 6-7 temples, each as impressive and challenging as the last, however several stood out to us including the impressive Bayon and Ta Phrom . Bearing in mind that everyone has different tastes, not all the temples are as fun or impressive as the main ones so we’d recommend doing your research before getting there.
Bayon Temple was a short 5 minute drive from Angkor Wat and is known for the stone faces on each of its towers. With some restorations still occurring when we went there, it didn’t stop us from exploring. Walking through the lower level we navigated its passageways, like children playing hide and seek. We then climbed case after case of stairs trying to discover all its layers and find any secrets we hadn’t yet discovered. Being directly in the sun, it was a good place to explore early before the temperature started rising.
For all you Tomb Raider and Angelina Jolie fans out there, Ta Phrom is where it’s at! This was by far our favorite temple and last leg of the day. This temple's distinguishing features are the Bayon trees that have grown around the temple walls, making it a very impressive place to be. At every turn prepare to see jaw dropping tree roots fused with the walls of the temple, an almost surreal sight. We spent so much energy running about, hopping through little waterways and vowing to leave no stone unturned. It was amazing, beautiful and peaceful, although the hoards of tourist groups became a bit frustrating. There is something so innocent and moving about these temples that tapped into our inner curiosity. With our legs ready to give way and Conno's flip flops about to break, we decided to call it a day, not opting to stay the extra few hours to see the sunset. Nine hours of exploring, climbing, sweating and discovering and we were beat.
For those with the time and money, consider getting the three day pass and doing two half days incorporating sunrise and sunset into the itinerary, leaving the last day for temples further out. For us one full day was more than enough and we couldn’t justify spending another $40 to go back just for a sunset journey. Keep your fluids up and consider grabbing a massage afterwards as it took us both a few days to physically recover from all the climbing and walking.
ARM & A LEG: WHAT IT COST US
TRANSPORT FOR 9 HOURS $16USD
Considering what you get, transportation for Angkor Wat is good value. We didn't negotiate too hard and have heard of some travelers receiving a whole day of transportation for $10USD. Price includes pick up from your hotel/hostel, driving you to as many temples as you like and drop off. Drivers will sit and wait while you do temple runs and miraculously find you when you're done. We made sure to grab our driver some cold drinks along the way as the heat is ridiculous.
ANGKOR PARK ADMISSION $20USD
There are several park options available to those wanting to explore Angkor Wat. We opted for the 1 Day pass for $20 USD and that gave us 9 hours of fun. If you're keen on exploring as much as possible, and want to go at slower pace or do a sunrise/sunset combo over two days, consider buying a 2 or 3 day pass.
FOOD AND DRINKS $10 ALL UP
Angkor Wat can be a total tourist trap when food and drink are concerned. Breakfast at sunrise was around $6 at most places and not overly impressive. Opt for eating before you go and packing snacks if you're budget conscious. Top up on cool soft drink and water for a small price around $1 for two. If you ask drivers where to eat, the choose to take you to overpriced restaurants so consider packing lunch too..