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Angkor Wat Temples, Cambodia
Visiting the Temples of Angkor
The historic temples of Angkor are a genuine world-class tourist attraction. The temple of Angkor Wat is a truly international site, receiving hundreds of visitors from all over the world on a daily basis. Without these temples of the Khmer Empire, I suspect that only a tiny percentage of these visitors would still make the trip to Cambodia. Anyway, I’ve barely started the article and straight away I’m deviating from my intended content. This article is about visiting the historic temples of Angkor.
The temple complex is located a few kilometres outside of the city of Siem Reap. There’s no accommodation at the site so you’ll inevitably be based in Siem Reap. There are a number of ways in which you can visit the complex.
Have you ever been to Angkor Wat?
By Organised Tour:
Generally, this option is more targeted towards people visiting the complex from elsewhere. Tours are operated from Thailand and Vietnam, as well as from Phomn Penh capital. The tour will likely include transportation, guide, accommodation, meals and entry to the complex. Be prepared for a large group and long travelling times. Most of the organised tours don’t arrive on site until well into the day, by which time the crowds can be huge.
By Tuk Tuk:
If you’re already in Siem reap then a popular option is to hire a Tuk Tuk driver for the day. You can either do this independently by negotiating with a driver on the street or you can do it through your hotel. Annoyingly they have a per person price of around $15US so unfortunately, unlike in a normal taxi, getting more people on board doesn’t bring down the price. The Driver will pick you up from your accommodation before dawn and will drive to the complex and drive you around all the temples all day before returning you back to your hotel. It’s worth doing some pre-trip planning to identify which temples you want to visit. If you turn up unprepared the driver will likely just give you the bare minimum.
This is the cheapest way to visit the temples and also the one that gives you most freedom to do what you want when you get there. Many hotels and hostels rent bicycles for as little as $1US a day (although the quality varies). Hire a bicycle and be sure to double check the directions and then set off before dawn. The route is really easy; it’s just a single straight road heading out of town, just be sure to stop at the check-point located a couple of kilometres before the complex (you’ll need to purchase your entrance ticket here). Make sure that the lock works as you’ll be locking it up several times during the day whilst you go and explore the temples. You should make it just in time to see the sunrise, which is pretty much the same time all year. Most people will head straight to Angkor Wat for sunrise so you can pretty much have all the other temples to yourself if you like. Angkor Wat is most convenient however, as it’s near the main entrance point.
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I hope you appreciate my photo's but they're nothing compared to the amazing photo's in this fantastic photo book from Richard Sobol.
There are loads of temples at the Angkor complex. There are also some temples scattered around the region that you need to travel outside of Siem Reap to. You can decide what type of ticket you want to get. You can get a ticket that covers a single day, three days or seven days if I remember correctly. Seven days of temples is just a little too hard core for me so I was happy with the one day ticket. I have listed below the temples that most appealed to me during my trip.
Angkor Wat Temple
Of course you have to explore this temple when visiting here. It’s very busy at sunrise but as soon as the sun comes up the crowds disperse and there’s a much quieter period until the bus tours start to arrive later in the morning. The temple is huge and can take a while to walk around. You can’t help but be blown away by its vast size and imposing quality – especially when you think about how it was built in the 12th century. Guides will hang around the walkway up to Angkor Wat but its your call whether you want one or not. Personally, I didn’t have one and was quite happy. We saw some people who looked bored to death as they listened to how tiny carvings were made or countless unsubstantiated ‘legends’.
The Temple of Ta Prohm
This is the ‘Tomb-Raider temple’ as it was featured in the Lara Croft movies. Although not many people will know the name of this temple many people will recognise images of it. Think trees twisting their long roots around doorways and vines hanging down over walls. This one is my favourite temple of all. Possibly because it’s so much more photogenic than Angkor Wat or the others. You get a real sense of a battle taking place between the man-made stone structures and the trees who are seemingly intent on reclaiming their space. Unfortunately the trees are causing serious damage, and although the authorities don’t want to remove any trees there are some major problems to be resolved in order to preserve the structures.
There’s also a really cool spot in this temple where there’s a decorative carving in the stone façade. It looks like a dinosaur but there are no records to indicate that these people could have any knowledge of dinosaurs. The existence of dinosaurs was not known until much more recently. Or was it?
Angkor Thom Temple
This is another huge temple, although not as big as Angkor Wat. There are many intricate carvings within the site of this temple and some interesting faces which are remarkably well preserved.
The Angkor complex is huge. You can buy a pass for up to 7 days entry if you have the time. But if you don't have the budget for a guide this book is excellent value as it gives you insight into all the temples in the complex.
This temple is a fair distance outside of Siem Reap, away from the main Angkor complex. You pay a separate entrance fee here as its not covered by the temple complex ticket. The price is only around $5US if my memory serves me correctly. You need to get here by either hiring a scooter or taking a tuk tuk. $30US for 2 people is a decent price for a tuk tuk. I recommend visiting this tie. Chances are you’ll be the only visitors there and you can therefore really absorb the feel of the place. It’s more lush too, making you feel like the surrounding vegetation is slowly turning the site back into jungle.
This book from the Lonely Planet is excellent value as you have 4 countries all in one condensed volume. Not a lot changes in these countries so the book remains useful for years.
After visiting Cambodia I had to pause and ask myself, ‘Would Cambodia still exist if there was no Angkor Wat?’ If it did it would undoubtedly be in an even worse state than it is today. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world. It’s way down there in the league tables, and it’s not hard to see why, when you pass through the country. It’s a very interesting country to visit and a very rewarding place to travel, but it is very poor.
If you're planning a visit, or would like to visit, this is an excellent book to get you excited and to help you understand some of the history of the temple complex.