Angkor Wat – Part 1

 The Temple of Angkor Wat

The five days I spent in Siem Reap, Cambodia, touring the temples of Angkor were so grand I simply can’t cover it all in one article. So here is part 1 of 2 covering the tour options and the great Angkor Wat!

Welcome to Angkor!
Welcome to Angkor!

I arrived in Siem Reap on February 7th at a lovely 4:30am. I made the 1km walk through town to Hak’s Hostel where I met up with my friend Jenna. Sadly even at $3/night for a fan dorm, It was so bad. The sewer was backed up on the road which attracted mosquitos, the neighbours played awful band music all day and the service was terrible. My worst hostel to date. Thankfully, I wasn’t there to relax at my hostel, I had ancient temples to visit!

The rear temple guarding the other moat entrance to Angkor Wat
The temple guarding the Rear moat entrance to Angkor Wat

Options for Touring Angkor

First off, understand that the tourism from Angkor is a massive part of the Cambodian Economy and still growing. So to enter the temple area, I had to buy a ticket from the official government run Angkor park. The options were a 1 day pass for $20 or a 3 day pass for $40. I chose the later and still felt rushed because there is simply so much to see.

Cam on the Tuk-Tuk. On my way to Angkor
Cam on the Tuk-Tuk. On my way to Angkor

Second, there are three options getting around the massive park:

  1. Full Day (8-9hour) Tuk Tuk ride $12-$15/day
  2. Chartered bus tour with guide (All Day) $40-$75/day
  3. Bicycle rental (All Day) $1-$2/day
  4. Elephant Rides (short trip) $Forced Animal Labour
Poor elephants are forced to work all day. Please don't ever ride one
Poor elephants are forced to work all day. Please don’t ever ride one

Third, Angkor Guides are world class, trained at an official tourism school in Phnom Penh, they specialize in foreign languages and are certified by the government. English, French, German, Mandarin, Japanese…. Fluent guides can be hired for a full day tour ($35-$50) or at each major temple ($20) at the front entrance.

I didn’t do my research prior to my first two days in Angkor, nor did I hire a guide or buy a book despite being offered one. I felt like I was missing out. Or more accurately, I was reminded constantly I was missing out.

Inside the temple area relics: Reliefs depicting historic battles, Apsara Dancers and religious statues.
Inside the temple area relics: Reliefs depicting historic battles, Apsara Dancers and religious statues.

Looking back, my advice would be this: Watch a few documentaries before touring Angkor, especially BBC’s ‘Land of The Gods’ part 1 and 2 available on YouTube (https://youtu.be/qCeTha4C5m8). Then hire a guide for Angkor Thom. The capital city compound is huge and there is a lot to know. Self-Tour through Angkor Wat at Sunrise to feel the history and have that special moment to let it all sink in.

Ankor Wat

The Rear of Angkor Wat, with a tourist group
The Rear of Angkor Wat

The crowning jewel of the over 1200 temples of Angkor, Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world and the pride of Cambodia. The legendary temple built in the early12th century over 37 years, it even graces Cambodia’s national flag! My journey to Angkor Wat started at 5am with a Tuk Tuk ride in the dark in order to see the amazing sunrise that silhouettes the great temple.

Looking out the front of Angkor, tourists still camped by the pond
Looking out the front of Angkor, tourists still camped by the pond

Thousands of tourists made the early morning pilgrimage to the temple, however they all huddled at the end of one of two ponds to see the temple and sun reflected off its surface. Yes its beautiful and quite the shot, but Jenna and I figured we could just buy a postcard with that shot. So while the ruck waited for their perfect shot, we snuck down the side of the temple and made our way inside as soon as it opened, at roughly 6am. What a great decision!

All alone watching the sun rise on the back steps of Angkor Wat
All alone watching the sun rise on the back steps of Angkor Wat

There we stood, alone in this ancient temple. It was eerie quiet; only the sound of our footsteps on the rough ancient stone resonated off the walls. We made our way along the outer gallery of reliefs depicting the history of the Khmer empire to the back steps to await the wonderful sunrise! For 20mins we sat uninterrupted absorbing the sunlight as it shone down on us as it once did for King Suryavarman II. 

Imagine the grand decor that once was Angkor Wat
Imagine the grand decor that once was Angkor Wat
The massive inner palace. There was once a guard posted at each platform up the stairs!
The massive inner palace. There was once a guard posted at each platform up the stairs!

King Suryavarman II took control of the Khmer Empire at age 17 and pacified the other disputing tribes so that by the age of 23 he was the absolute ruler of the kingdom. I turn 23 this April and am unable to rent a bicycle without getting a flat tire. But hey, at least I was able to travel and see the ancient palace of a long lost empire. It’s something right?

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