Earlier this year when I went to Thailand, we spent approximately three days in Cambodia visiting the sites of Angkor Wat. It is absolutely so worth the expense and hassle of getting there. The flight, for being as short as it was, was rather expensive. Once we got there, we had to buy a $20 visa to enter the country. It costs an extra $1 if you don’t have a passport photo with you. Cambodia has it’s own money, the riel, but it’s so devalued that the country actually uses US dollars for it’s currency. Riel’s are only to give change, as coins are not used.
Once we were through, we went outside to find our transportation. We had pre-arranged to be picked up by our hotel. Little did we know it was a tiny tuk tuk (a three-wheeled vehicle that is in essence, a motorcycle with a cart attached to the back) that was waiting. Fortunately, since it was so hot, we didn’t mind the breeze blowing through our cart. It was a scenic drive through the town of Siem Reap and reminded me much of towns in India. Lots of dirt everywhere and the buildings seemed to have all been built on top of each other.
When we arrived at the hotel, we dropped our things off, then headed straight to the Angkor Wat to see the sunset. Due to the location of the sun at this time, it wasn’t really worth it, light-wise (but sunrise is!). But wow, we couldn’t wait to get back to see the temple again! This place is so cool.
The Angkor monkeys can be found all over the complex. They are so funny!
I was so excited to get to finally see this exact view. It’s the most famous, what you always see when you Google ‘Angkor Wat’, and I got to see it in real life!
Back at the hotel, we hired the driver to take us around the entire Angkor complex the next day. We had thought about renting bikes, but with the distance from our hotels and the heat of the day (much hotter than Thailand!) we decided the tuk tuk was the way to go.
Early the next morning, our driver picked us up with a tour guide and we went straight to Angkor Thom and the Bayon Temple (the temple of faces). We crossed an ancient bridge with demons on one side, gods on the other, each face different from the next.
At the temple, our tour guide showed us how it had been taken over multiple times by Buddhist’s and Hindu’s, each eliminating or redesigning the artwork and inscriptions of the other. We saw impressive reliefs depicting the Khmer empire marching off to war with their elephants and carved female figures with great detail. It was all remarkably well preserved.
This is one of the reliefs that I mentioned above that had once been a Buddha but was re-carved to now be a Hindu monk.
Of course I had to get the obligatory nose touching photo!
After the Bayon Temple, we walked by the Baphuon Temple to the Elephant Terraces.
While this isn’t a magnificent temple or palace, it was one of my favorite places. Elephants everywhere! This used to be the front of the palace (which had been made of wood and is no longer standing), where the King would deliver speeches to his people and where the entire city would be entertained by wild acrobatic performances.
Finally we were able to get back on the tuk tuk to escape the heat while we drove over to Ta Prohm.
This temple has been left in much the state it was found, with trees growing on top of the walls and out of windows. It’s incredibly picturesque and one of the most popular places to visit in the entire Angkor complex. The trees give the place an almost eerie feel, as if you might turn a corner and see the ghosts of the ancient Khmer people at any moment.
Before lunch we saw another Hindu temple (a lot of temples, I know, but they’re really all that remains as all other structures had been made of wood), then finally stopped at an air conditioned place to eat and rest. The food was good, but all we cared about was cooling down. It was ridiculously hot out! But all too quickly we finished and headed over to the main attraction; Angkor Wat. This place is unbelievably cool.
Angkor Wat was originally a Hindu temple, but later was converted to a Buddhist temple and is the largest religious monument in the world. It’s absolutely massive, and I think you could spend days there learning all there is to know. Our tour guide showed us all around the temple, explaining the reliefs, the religious meanings of everything, and the history of the entire temple. We climbed up the central towers, which you have to dress appropriately for. Covered arms and legs. It’s still a working temple, after all.
After taking at least a thousand pictures, we headed to Phnom Bahkeng (a US excavation site, which you could tell by all the new equipment, according to our guide) to watch the sunset. From there you can see Angkor Wat in the distance. It almost looks like a painting, something unreal. Or maybe to my 6 year old self, King Louie’s temple from the Jungle Book.
We also got to see young monks in their brilliant orange robes enjoying the sunset as well. They were a tourist attraction in their own right.
As the sun set, we made our way back down the hill and to our hotel for a much deserved rest. It had been a long, hot day and we were exhausted. Plus we had an early morning ahead of us.
On our last day in Cambodia, we woke up in the dark to make our way back to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise. It was cool (yay!) and the bugs were out en masse (boo!). We weren’t sure this would even be worth it, considering the less than thrilling sunset from the first day, but we had to give it a try. We found a spot and sat down to wait for the sun and eat the breakfast provided for us by the hotel. Slowly, the sky started to get lighter, then oranger, until finally the sun showed itself behind the temple towers.
It was absolutely delightful and worth the early morning! Once the sun was high enough in the sky, the reflection in the pools made for some beautiful pictures and of course I took at least a thousand more. Sunrise was definitely worth it!