Cambodia – Exploring Angkor Wat

Posted by on April 12, 2015 in A Day in My Life, Advice + Tips, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Excursions | 0 comments


Angkor Wat. If it brings up visions of a long-ago faraway place, something you might have seen in a dream, this is an accurate picture.


It is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Cambodia, built in the 12th century, and the complex covers miles of ground. It is the largest religious monument in the world! A wat is a temple, and the famous Angkor that you see in a lot of the photos is but one of many temples here, the best preserved of them all. Originally, Angkor Wat was a place of Hindu worship, however that changed to Buddhism long ago.


The nearby town is Siem Reap, and to get to Angkor Wat, you hire a tuk tuk driver, who shuttles you from temple to temple and waits in between. If you want to see something really special, you go at sunrise, which means meeting your driver at 5am, but it’s totally worth it. I rode through the dark, cool morning in my tuk tuk, accompanied by others on the road doing the same thing, and arrived at the entrance gate to purchase my ticket (you can buy a one or three day pass).


It turns out that just because you’re willing to get up at 4am, doesn’t mean you’re the only one. I could show you just my photos with nobody in them, but I think it best to give you the full picture…



I waited with my feet sinking into the mud of the pond in front of the temple with all  of the other tourists for that magic moment when the sun appears, and ooh’d and aah’d along with everyone else when it did. Sokha, the guide that I hired, had approached me the minute I set foot on the steps, and I reasoned that the place was huge and I was alone, and it was truly worth the $15 to be guided to the best viewing spot and told some of the history of the place. He told me that this was the best day of the year to view the sunrise over the temple, and I’d read that before so I believed him. And he also told me that Michelle Obama was here 2 days ago!


It wasn’t a brilliant orange sky, it was overcast and pearly gray, but the sun stood out big and bright and bold, although it’s one of the few things my iPhone camera isn’t good at, for some reason it washes out the most brilliant sun. But it was still stunningly beautiful.




Sokha took me all over the temple, told me some of it’s history, and he described the stories the bas reliefs told, what kinds of stone (mostly sandstone), how they’re preserving it, and showed me pictures on his iPhone of what illustrators think it looked like when it was new. It’s an amazing place, even better than i’d imagined.




Towards the back of the temple, my guide turned me loose to go climb to the top of the tower on my own. I had to get over my fear of heights, which I sort of did – I climbed more stairs in this one day than I have in years! And it was worth it – the views from the top were great, and all of the carvings and buildings you see up high were even greater.


If you think you can get away without souvenir shopping, think again. There are booths set up everywhere, with people peddling books, clothes, jewelry and carvings, for giveaway prices. But alas, I’m not only on a shoestring budget, I only have my backpack and it’s full. When I pointed this out to a particularly insistent saleswoman, she offered to carry my souvenirs back to the States for me, lol.


Next, Mr. Yen, my driver, who’d been waiting in his tuk tuk across the street, drove me to Angkor Thom, the temple of the giant faces, and once again dropped me off. I just happened to walk in behind a group of saffron robed monks – apparently the monks get to be tourists sometimes too. And they were tech savvy monks, taking pictures of each other with their iPads and phones. Apparently there was at least one who disapproved of me…




It was a super hot day, and the temple was full of tourists, but an amazing experience nonetheless. It was almost as much fun people watching as it was seeing the buildings.



And there were many, many photo ops! Here I’m at Angkor Thom, trying to blend…


Across the street was Ta Keo, where once again I got to test my acrophobia. (Note the thin rope for a guardrail!)




The grounds around the temple were beautiful as well, lush and green, with some incredibly tall trees.



And I wondered what exactly I was in danger of here…


There were lovely carvings everywhere you looked, like this walkway full of figures…


Getting up so early, I hadn’t eaten breakfast, and when I got back to the tuk tuk, Mr. Yen had bought me a fresh mango! It tasted so sweet and cool and delicious. I offered to pay him for it, but he refused, and said if I wanted to buy anything to tell him and he’d go purchase it for me, as he gets much better prices being local, that they really overcharge the tourists.


Next up was Ta Prohm, the temple where they filmed some scenes in Tomb Raider. Several of the temples had giant trees growing out of them. No sign of Angelina Jolie, though.



The day went on like this, temple after temple. He’d suggested we go to the tomb raider temple before lunch, as it would be less crowded while everyone else was out eating. When we got to a lovely open air restaurant overlooking a lake, I asked him to  join me. He agreed, and said no one’s ever done that before. It was really nice, we shared stories about our families and countries. It turns out he’s only been doing this job at the hotel for a month. I will share some of our conversation in a later post, The Magical Tale of Mr. Yen. Suffice it to say that my treating him to a $6 lunch isn’t something he’d normally spend the money on himself, since he makes about $2 a day…


A few more temples followed, but by now I’d lost track of the names and the details…


Restoration is in progress on many of the temples…



…and local artists sell their wares.


By the time we left the last temple, I’d gone through my phone battery and all but a few percent of my backup battery taking so many pictures. The last couple of temples, I was restraining myself, so as to save a little juice in case something special appeared that I’d want to shoot, and that’s exactly what happened. We were whizzing along on our way back to the hotel, still within the temple complex, when I spied several monkeys frolicking on the side of the road, so Mr. Yen kindly pulled over for me. I bought a bag of bananas for a buck, and we both got laughs feeding the monkeys, including a baby! They took them right out of our hands, and gobbled them up.



It was an amazing day at an amazing place, and I highly recommend Siem Reap and Cambodia for your future travel adventure plans!



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