They said Angkor Wat was large, but I didn’t realise just how massive it was. Also known as the City of Temples, the early structures were built as Hindu temples but went through several changes over time depending on the king in power. During its rapid expansion, many of the temples were built as Buddhist temples by Jayavarman VII. However, his successor Jayavarman VIII returned to Hinduism and systematically defaced each Buddhist image and even cheekily altered some back to hindu. The three main temples in the area are Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Bayon Temple which I visited along with Ta Prohm.
Set over 400 sq/km, it’s hard to believe that you’re amongst the worlds largest religious complex as it’s amongst a forested area. Thousands come here each day to visit the temples which is visibly noticeable with hordes of tourist buses arriving like the plague, consuming every free space available for a photo opportunity.
Over the course of the day, we’d visit four sites: To Prohm, Angkor Thom including Bayon and Angkor Wat. The first site we visited was Ta Prohm. Unlike most of the popular Wats in the area, Ta Prohm has been left in pretty much the same state that it was discovered. There are restoration efforts underway but areas where the trees have consumed the buildings will be left the way they are as previous efforts to remove the trees have caused the structures to collapse. It is because of the integration of nature that makes Ta Prohm a popular site for tourists, as seen by the presence of photograph platforms from where tourists can have their photos taken at in front of the imposing tree roots.
Biking along through a narrow bush path and avoiding running over groups German tourists we reach the Victory Gate which leads to Angkor Thom, the largest site in terms of surface area. We briefly visit the kings palace, complete with two swimming pools and then head over to Bayon. Bayon is a unique location that was built as a hindu temple and then changed to buddhist and then back again. The prominent feature at the temple location are the massive stone faces that feature on each of the 54 temple towers that rise from the terraces and cluster at the centre of the complex. This was by far my favourite location just because wherever I stood, I could see at least one of the faces staring at me and there were slightly less people at this temple at this time of the day.
Angkor Wat is the most known temple within the complex. It’s on the flag and everything else associated with Cambodia. It’s style of architecture influences many modern Khmer buildings to this day. Surrounded by a moat that is 200m wide and over 5km in total length, it is quite an effort to take in everything from the walk across the bridge over the moat and then across another walkway stretching 250 metres before reaching the main complex.
Walking around, you can’t help but notice the level of detail carved into the walls. Some have been restored and others have managed to withstand hundreds of years of wear and tear from the elements. Along the first level, a 2 metre high sandstone carving wraps its way around the entire gallery level. Most impressive is a battle scene depicted in the carving that is incredibly detailed and captures your attention for quite some time.
My original intention on how to see Angkor Wat was to go on a guided tour and then revisit the site in my own time to explore areas that I found to be more interesting as well as see the site at sunrise or sunset. I felt like Angkor Wat was such an important site with so much history not to go unguided. Being relatively flat, I went with Grasshopper adventures on their cycling tour of a few of Angkor Wat’s main temples.
I’m glad I did the tour in the end. There were so many statues, inscriptions, carvings and murals in each temple that made me appreciate the sites even more. Without them I probably would have just wandered around aimlessly and skipping most of the more important sections. I didn’t get to return though due to illness which I was gutted with but in the end, manflu got the better of me.
Other useful information
Getting there:If you want to do a self guided tour then a tuk tuk will set you back around $15-$20 for the full day.
Passes: $20 for a day or $40 for 3 days.
Tours: I did the Grasshopper Adventure bicycle tours. The guide was super friendly and funny and knew his stuff. Cost was $39
Best time: If you’re doing a tour then you’re stuck with the itinerary. If you’re returning for a self guided tour then visit early morning for sunrise at Angkor Wat or past 2pm when the heat is more bearable and then the light is softer for photos.
What to wear: Bring a hat and plenty of sunscreen as the heat and light bounces off the temple walls. Knees, shoulders and your chest should be covered as a sign of respect or you will not be permitted to enter certain areas.
Food and drinks: There are plenty of places that will sell food and drinks so no need to go overboard on the supplies.
Have you been to Angkor Wat? What did you think of it?