Angkor Wat
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Angkor Wat, which can be translated to ‘Temple City’, is seen as the biggest religious monument in the world. The original name of the temple is not known, since it is nowhere to be found on inscriptions about the temple. The Angkor Wat temple is the most important touristic attraction of Cambodia and is even represented on the national flag!

 

National flag of Cambodia

 

The temple was built by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century, and was finished a few weeks after he died. Angkor Wat was originally founded as a Hindu capital of the Khmer Empire, but would be slowly transformed to a Buddhist temple by the end of the 12th century. Unlike the temples built by previous kings of the Khmer empire, which were dedicated to Shaiva, Angkor Wat was dedicated to Vishnu. This is also the most likely reason why Angkor Wat is facing the West, instead of the East.

Like most Khmer temples, the main building of Angkor Wat represents Mount Meru – the home of the gods. The five towers represent the five peaks of this sacred mountain. The moat around the temple represents the ocean.

Angkor Wat is located on a ten minute drive from the current capital of Cambodia: Siem Reap. Fun fact: Siem Reap can be translated into ‘Defeat Siam’, which was a mayor enemy of the Khmer Empire.

I visited all temples on close range of Angkor Wat, and underneath you will find out which ones are my personal favourites.

Angkor Wat temple

 

My unpopular opinion about Angkor Wat

Often, I imagine how awesome it must have been to discover Angkor Wat for the first time.

One of the first Western travelers who visited the temple, was a Portuguese monk named Antonio da Madalena. He stated Angkor Wat “is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of.”

 

Angkor Wat wall decoration

 

At this time, of course, there was no mass tourism at the monument. Things are different now.

Angkor Wat still is an incredible construction, although it lost most of its mystique. However, mass tourism (of which I was part of) makes it hard to really enjoy the beauty of this incredible temple. Angkor Wat is mostly seen from LCD screens of the camera, rather than visitors are looking at the temple itself. Especially during sunrise, elbows are used to take the perfect picture.

Although it is the biggest religious monument in the world, there is not much room to discover the temple and its passages. For this reason, Angkor Wat is actually not my favourite temple at Angkor. There are more exciting temples to explore, right around the corner.

 

Beautiful colour difference in Angkor Wat

 

I would call Angkor Wat my fourth favourite temple of Angkor. The temples that excite me more, are listed below. Pay them a visit and let me know what you think!

  • Aesthetics: 7.5/10
  • Exploration fun: 6/10
  • Tourism level: High

 

The many faces of the Bayon Temple

The Bayon temple is my second favourite temple of Angkor, and – specially in the early morning – is a lot less touristic than Angkor Wat. It’s fun to discover its hallways and passages to the top and the center of the temple. The faces on the towers, facing North, West, South and East, add to the temple’s mystique.

I loved the sculptured faces and wall inscriptions – not a stone on the temple seems to be the same shape.

  • Aesthetics: 8/10
  • Exploration fun: 7/10
  • Tourism level: Medium

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The most incredible temple I have ever seen

Tha Prohm, better known as the ‘Tomb Raider’ temple, was a temple unlike all the other temples I had seen at that point. It is a mysterious temple still not fully reconstructed. Part of the temple’s hallways are still collapsed. Nature fought back, and clearly took over the temple at some places. Big tree trunks were growing all over its walls, taking back what was theirs.

To date, the temple is fully open to discover. You can climb the walls and ruins, you can squeeze yourself into half collapsed passages. You can go, where no tour group will ever go.

For me, Ta Prohm was the ultimate temple.

  • Aesthetics: 8/10
  • Exploration fun: 9/10
  • Tourism level: Medium

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Nature takes over at Preah Khan

My third favourite temple at Angkor is Preah Khan. Since Preah Khan is not fully reconstructed yet, there is plenty of room to discover the temple. Just as at Ta Prohm, nature took over big time at some places of the temple. Gigantic trees are covering complete passages. Trees literally grew on the roof, their roots tearing apart the stone walls underneath it.

This temple has plenty of small passages to discover, and plenty of ruins to climb.

  • Aesthetics: 7/10
  • Exploration fun: 8/10
  • Tourism level: Low-Medium

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Honorable mentions

There are plenty of other beautiful things to see near Angkor Wat, so definitely let me know if I’ve missed out on something. Two things I remembered, I want to mention on this article as well.

One of them is Ta Som. Ta Som is one of the smaller temples, but has an remarkable back entrance. Walk all the way through the temple, and you will find a tree over growing the exit on the other side.

 

Overgrown entrance at Ta Som

 

The second mention is the East Medon temple. This temple is much more spectacular than the Elephant terrace at Angkor Thom. As you can see in the picture underneath, it has some majestic elephants on all four corners and I loved it.

 

Elephant at the East Mebon temple

 

Where to go? Map of Angkor.

All places listed above, I circled on the map of Angkor below.

The circle in the bottom indicates Siem Reap. To the West you will find the airport. In the North of Siem Reap, half way towards Angkor Wat, you will find the place where you can buy the Angkor pass. This pass you will need to enter the temples. More information about the Angkor pass you can find further along this article.

With the tuctuc it takes approximately 10 minutes to go from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat. If you have to stop over to buy a Angkor pass, this takes a bit longer of course (should take not more than an extra 15 minutes).

Click on the map to enlarge.

map-of-angkor

 

Was Angkor Wat ‘bucket list worthy’?

My god, YES!

Angkor Wat itself might have been less spectacular than I expected (I had very high expectations though). However, the other temples of Angkor made well up for it. I loved Ta Prohm, Bayon and Preah Khan. It was an incredible experience to explore the half collapsed passages and ruins. It was amazing to see how nature fought back, tearing some of the structures apart with incredible force.

Angkor Wat should be on everybody’s bucket list.

 

 

EXTRA: Inside information for visiting Angkor Wat

 

The best time to visit Angkor Wat

The best time to visit Angkor Wat is November to March, the days are relatively cool and dry. Unfortunately, most other tourists know this as well, which makes this the peak season of Angkor Wat. June to October it gets more quiet, but also hot with some rainfall here and there. April, apparently, is the month you should avoid Angkor Wat at all costs.

I was there at the end of April myself. During the day, temperatures would get as high as 40 degrees Celsius. You do not want to climb hundreds of stairs, when it is 40 degrees Celsius. This is the reason why I would get up at 4.30 AM every morning, so I had a good 8 hours to explore the temples before it got too hot. Once returned, I would take a swim in the pool of the hostel to cool down, after which I’d take a nap in the hostel.

Staying at a hostel with a swimming pool is highly recommended in the warmer period of Angkor Wat. I stayed at the Downtown hostel and I enjoyed every minute of it. Lot’s of young travelers, the vibe is incredible and so is the staff!

 

Getting there

I shared a tuctuc from the airport to the hostel with a German guy named Tobias, which I met on the spot. Since everybody needs to go the same direction (Siem Reap), find someone you can share the costs of the tuctuc with.

Once in the hostel, arrange a tuctuc driver at the reception, for the following morning (leave 4.30 am for the sunset). Some tuctuc drivers will fuck you over, so it is better to make use of one of the tuctuc drivers in the hostel’s network. The hostel will also check whether other guests go at the same day, in which case you can share the costs of the tuctuc.

The tuctuc driver will bring you where ever you want to go – the whole day. They will stop over at a restaurant when you are hungry for breakfast (in return the restaurant will pay the tuctuc driver’s meal). It is not possible for foreigners to rent motorbikes.

The first time you visit Angkor, the driver will stop over at the ticket shop. There you can buy the following Angkor passes to visit Angkor. There will be checks at the entrance of Angkor and of most temples. Keep the Angkor pass somewhere in your pocket. You have a choise between the following options:

 

1. One day pass – 20 USD

One day is too short to see Angkor. However, if you only have one day, try to visit Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Prohm and Preah Khan.

2. Three days visit per one week validity – 40 USD (most popular)

I would say, three days is just right to see all temples in Angkor. However, there are some temples a bit further away, which are also worth the visit. You can enter Angkor on three days of your choice. The pass is valid for one week after purchase.

3. Seven days visit per one month validity – 60 USD

I would only recommend seven day passes if you are a professional photographer, journalist or making an extensive travel guide. For regular backpackers, the three day pass will do. With the seven day pass you can enter Angkor on seven days of your choice. The pass is valid one month after purchase.

 

Angkor Wat pass 2015

 

For all Angkor passes, a photograph will be taken. They will make it on the spot and it is included in the price.

 

Paying in Cambodia: US Dollars or Riels?

In Cambodia it is perfectly fine to pay with US Dollars (you will get your change in Riels though). Since the Riels is not an internationally accepted currency, make sure to spend every Riel you have before leaving the country. In the big cities (such as Siem Reap and Phnom Phnen) it is possible to withdrawal both Dollars and Riels with your Maestro card at some machines. I highly recommend to bring an envelope of US Dollars with you though, not all machines accept Maestro and you do not want to waste your time looking for one that does. Unlike Myanmar, your US Dollar bills do not have to be spotless anymore. Like a German friend of me stated in Bagan:

“In Cambodia you can put your Dollar bill in your mouth, chew on it, and poop it out – it doesn’t matter. Dollars, no matter in what state, are accepted everywhere.”

Credit cards are accepted in some shops and hotels, but not everywhere.

 

Party in Siem Reap

Nightlife in Siem Reap is awesome. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday a Pub crawl is organized, starting from 7 pm until midnight. Since normally you would get up at 4.30 am to visit the temples, take into account you are not likely to visit Angkor the following day. You will find promoters of the Pub Crawl in Pub street, but you can also go to X-bar to subscribe.

The most popular places are the Temple Bar and Angkor What?. Both are located in Pub street.

 

Playing pool during the day at Temple bar

Temple bar Siem Reap

The Angkor What bar with their glow in the dark grafity

Angkor What bar

 

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