Angkor … What? If you haven’t heard of Angkor Wat, it is one of the most iconic temples in the Angkor complex located in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It is by far one of the most famous places to visit if you are every in Cambodia. As a bit of a back story, Angkor is a complex of over 50 temples spanning a region of 400km2. For some of these temples, barely a wall remains; but others are structural masterpieces that are still intact after 1000 years. It is without a doubt, a must see if you are are travelling through Cambodia. In my mind there are the ‘Big 3’ that are the most popular, awe-inspiring, instagram-worthy temples to visit. The ‘Big 3’ include:
Angkor Wat is impossible to miss. It is the largest religious monument worldwide. It is so iconic to the Khmer people that it features on their national flag. If you can be so inclined to wake up at crazy-o’clock, Angkor Wat is the most spectacular at sunrise. You can watch the sunrise from across the lake around Angkor Wat. As the sun rises, it illuminates the temple and it’s perfect mirror reflection in the lake. But its not just sunrise that will take your breath away with Angkor Wat, the Temple itself is a whole new experience. It is the most preserved and maintained Temple so as you walk through the rooms and halls you can instantly imagine what life 1000 years ago what have been like here. There is also the option to get a tour guide, if you’re interested, to talk you through the exceptionally vivid history of the Temples.
Angkor Wat at sunrise
Ta Prohm is mostly known for its part in Tomb Raiders. Its partially overgrown with ancient strangler figs. It is hands down my favourite temple, with strangler vines cascading down the collapsing stone walls. Exploring nature reclaim this massive temple is an experience you cannot pass up! Plus its great fun pretending you’re hunting a lost ancient treasure, because that is the exact vibe you’ll get as you explore Ta Prohm.
Ta Prohm: The Jungle Temple
Bayon is famous for its 216 faces over its 54 towers. Try and see if you can keep track and count them all! It is a stunning location to finish your day and watch the sun set. Its also good to note that an all-day ticket will get into the park from 5pm the day beforehand so if you want you can squeeze two sunsets into one all-day pass. What value?!
Road Less Travelled Tips
I love travelling not for the big tourist sites and even bigger tourist crowds, but rather to fully immerse myself into their culture and to learn & grow from that experience. So if you are anything like me and want something a little more off the beaten track (or are lucky enough to have seen Angkor before), here are my tips:
Skip the Sunrise Photo
It is absolutely spectacular catching the perfect mirrored reflection of Angkor Wat in its moot as the sun rises. Honestly, there is something truly ethereal about it. But there is nothing spiritual about the crowds and the selfie-sticks that unfortunately come part of the parcel with phenomenal tourist spots. So if you’ve already experienced the sunrise photo or you just can’t deal with the tourists, still wake up at the butt-crack of dawn but skip the photo op. Instead, go explore the most stunning example of ancient architectures there is Angkor Wat. Being the most famous of all the Angkor temples, its guaranteed to be packed throughout the day … except when everyone is waiting by the moot for their sunrise photo. This is the perfect chances to meander through the hallways and realises how small you are as you stand by yourself in this awe-inspiring temple. I am not a particularly religious person, but I have never felt so at peace with myself than as I explored Angkor Wat with barely another soul around.
Go off the beaten track … literally
There are over 50 temples, all in varying states of intact, throughout the complex. So if you have done the ‘Big 3’ as I call them, I would highly recommend hiring a bike or a personal tuk tuk for the day and exploring the lesser known, but equally impressive, temples. Canby Publications has an excellent Angkor Temple Guide, which I used to map out the temples that I wanted to visit. They give you a great idea of the condition each of the Temples are in. So if ruins are your thing then go nuts, but if you prefer a more structurally-sound temple then you’ve also got your pick. However, I would recommend packing your own food for the day as you’re less likely to find a food vendor out at these Temples.
Have a chat to a Monk
Buddhist monks from all across Cambodia undertake a pilgrimage to the Angkor Temples. They are incredible friendly and approachable (with remarkable skill at English), so say hello. They can provide an exceptional insight into the religious aspects of the temple and are more than happy to talk to you about it. So if you have the courage to introduce yourself to a Monk, I promise you won’t regret it! I’m still PenPals with the Monk I met on my last trip!
Pro-Tip: don’t trust the monkeys. They look cute and they are mostly harmless, but just don’t get too close for a selfie with them. Trust me!