Cambodia is a country that is full of contradictions. It is scenically gorgeous and the people are hospitable, but it is also visibly in extreme poverty. The smell of fire is constantly in the air as burning wood is the primary source of fuel for most inhabitants. When visiting tourist areas such as Angkor Wat, is it not uncommon to be approached by a throng of colorfully-dressed women, plying you with their “$1 coffee” or their stack of postcards (10 for USD1). But the beauty of the temples, walking in awe and wonder at structures that were created thousands of years ago by man and no machines, you can’t help but be amazed at the power and determination of man. It’s almost like you are in this fantasy, dream-like world because the structures you see are so different from anything else you would find in a city or in the country. Through this photo diary, I show you why you should visit Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia in addition to what you can expect from the rest of the Angkor Temple Complex.
We woke up at 5:00 am in order to be able to see the sunrise. After hearing it touted by locals and tourists alike, we knew that it was something worth doing, even for someone like me who is not a morning person.
Here I am, dressed in all my temple running glory. To enter Angkor Wat, your shoulders and your legs must be covered, especially for women. It seemed like the restrictions were more lax for men as I saw them walking around in shorts. They will turn you away if you are not properly covered but some of the nearby temples are more lax with their regulations.
Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world and was originally created as a Hindu temple for the Khmer empire. Angkor Wat has since become a symbol of Cambodia and even appears on Cambodia’s national flag. As you tour around the complex, you are a witness to not just the religious values of the Khmer empire, but the cultural and symbolic values as well.
A marriage between the old and the new
After spending a couple of hours at Angkor Wat, we headed over to Angkor Thom with our tut-tut driver in the early afternoon. Angkor Thom is another temple in the Angkor complex and was the last city of the Khmer empire. King Jayavarman VII created Angkor Thom and it was the center of his city. Although the city was referred to as the King’s bride, it was later attacked by King Borommarachathirat II of the Ayutthaya Kingdom. By the 17th century, Angkor Thom was abandoned.
Taking in the view and admiring the rear of this statue at the entrance of Angkor Thom
Angkor Thom’s entrance is lined with statues
When I visited Angkor Thom there were tourists milling around but it was noticeably less crowded than Angkor Wat.
These omnipotent heads are located everywhere throughout the temple
The magnificent Angkor Thom
Changed back into shorts the first chance I got!
My beautiful friend Tess soaking in the view and incredible structures within Angkor Thom
Tried so hard to get a picture without anyone else but it’s good because it gives you a sense of the scale of the place!
Standing in front of the entrance to Phimeanakas
Phimeanakas is a Hindu temple located within the Angkor Thom complex. There is a tower and galleries located within the temple. There are temple guards who check for proper attire at the entrance of this temple. If you don’t plan on wearing pants, sarongs are another popular option.
The Terrace of the Elephants at Angkor Thom
Another view of The Terrace of the Elephants
After walking around for hours in 90+ degree weather, all my friend and I wanted was ice cream. We took a chance and bought three (one for the tut-tut driver, the other two for ourselves) from a vendor selling it out of an ice box. Unfortunately, the ice cream tasted sour…but when we gave it to the tut-tut driver he scarfed his down in seconds. Maybe it’s a local favorite?
The trees are crazy here!
The temples are amazing and I highly recommend every single person to go. While I hate making promises I can’t keep, I can almost 99% promise it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before and being there in person will only make you feel proud to be a part of the species that was able to craft something so magnificent.
After spending all day exploring temples, my friend and I winded down the night by swimming at our hotel’s pool underneath the stars. It was fun to point out the Big Dipper and see the North Star so far away from our Californian home. I think that’s something I’ve discovered while traveling, the more you travel, the more you realize how we are all interconnected and how we are more similar than we think. Compared to the size of the universe, we are all so small.
Things to remember:
- It is HOT. Bring sunscreen and plenty of water.
- Get a pass to see the temples. The price of the pass will depend on how many days you plan on spending at the temples. One day will be USD20, three days will be USD60. The fee can be paid in USD, Cambodian Riel, Thai Baht, or Euro.
- You must wear clothes that cover your entire body. Generally, this rule applies to both females and males. You can do what I did and bring a spare pair of pants (these are also commonly sold in stalls near the more touristy temples like Angkor Wat) and change when you get to more tightly regulated temples. Some temple officers do not care and will merely check that you have a ticket.
- Hire a tut-tut driver. We got ours through our hotel and paid $50 each (including tip) for 3 days of traveling. This is invaluable as it will allow you to make the most of your day and transport easily between the different, scattered temples.
- The sunrise is worth it. We got there by 5:45 am and it was beautiful.
- Make sure your camera is fully charged, some of these sights are unlike anything else on the Earth and you don’t want to miss out on creating these memories and being able to look back on them months later.
The first day of visiting the Angkor complex was inspiring and unlike anything I ever had the privilege of experiencing. I don’t think I’ve ever uttered “omg” so many times in one day until I came here, due to the sheer engineering magnificence, scale, and beauty of the temples. If you need any further convincing to go to Cambodia, it was voted the #1 travel destination by Lonely Planet. The wonder only increased on day two of exploring the Angkor complex.
“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” – Unknown