The Temples of Angkor
The Temples of Angkor
The temples of Angkor are truly an outstanding trip back in time to an ancient Kingdom. If you are thinking you only have one day to spare on your trip and is it worth it? Yes, it’s worth it! Ideally you’d opt for a bit more time, but don’t miss out.
If you only have one day, maximize your time by getting up early and watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat, followed by a morning surrounding this massive temple before moving onto the slightly smaller but still impressive temples of the Angkor Thom city complex. If you have enough time, get a quick ride to Ta Prohm, a temple largely ruined but smothered in the roots of trees due to years of neglect and used in the Tomb Raider movie.
If you have 3 days to explore, then you can follow in our footsteps (and many others like us Im sure!) and explore the circuits available.
Tickets and Transport
Tickets are available from the ticket office on the main road from Siem Reap to the Angkor Wat complex. Leave a bit of time to join the queue and get you photo taken for your pass. Our tickets cost 60USD (2015) for a 3 day pass. If you are pushed for time and only have one day, try and get your ticket the night before, or try and get your ticket in the morning (opens 5am). Sunset tickets are also (apparently) valid for use the next day.
The most picturesque way to see the temple complex is by bicycle. We rented bicycles easily from a couple of places in Siem Reap for 2 – 5 USD per day including bike locks. Be sure to do a quick ride to test the brakes, make sure the tires are pumped up and and adjust the seat etc before leaving the bike shop. Take your time in the traffic getting to the temple complex – there are plenty of other cyclists and scooters so just go with the flow! Once you get into the complex and onto the smaller road it becomes a very peaceful and enjoyable ride. Be sure to take water, but there are plenty of rest areas with stalls to purchase drinks and refreshments all the way around. Taxi drivers will probably tell you it is too muddy for cycling so you should hire them instead! Have no fear, the roads are fully paved and are easy riding.
There are many tuk-tuk and taxi drivers willing to take you around the temples if you don’t want to cycle or are pushed for time. Negotiate and agree on a price before getting in one and be clear on how long you want to rent them for and where you want to go. We rented one for 25 USD for two people which took us to the main complex and then onto the Banteay Srei, 34km away, and then back to Siem Reap.
We decided to do the Grand Circuit on the first day, travelling anti-clockwise. There are many temples to see along the way, so just follow your map and explore at your leisure. Some temples are very similar to one and other, and some very different indeed! We hired our bikes then set off!
Diary – “The first temple we passed was very small but was in good condition (Prasat Kravan). Next we pulled up at the gates to Banteay Kdei which was bigger and seemed older. There were big faces above the gates looking in four directions. The temple was quite ruined and engulfed by the jungle. The corridors were narrow and there were some good carvings on the less weathered stones. Afterwards we went across from the temple to the view a man-made lake, and then cycled around the side of the lake to a string of restaurants and had lunch.”
“The heat of the day was on us but all around the circuit there are areas which had souvenir stalls and also refreshments, so plenty of opportunity to rehydrate. The next temple we came across was on a corner and was made mainly out of different stone to the previous one (Pre Rup). It was a pyramid in shape and had very steep steps. The temple after that was similar but also had statues of elephants on the corners as well as warriors standing guard (Eastern Mebon). As we got around the grand circuit there was another large man-made lake with a temple in the middle which was a kind of water garden (Preah Neak Poan). This was followed by another large temple which was largely ruined but had bridges and moats surrounding it (Preah Khan). The bridges had lines of gods pulling a tug of war either side of the bridge. The temple was quite large and very long in design with two corridors forming a + shape.”
“When we left Preah Khan there was obviously a storm coming as it felt very humid and the wind got up. We put on our ponchos and road out bicycles around the rest of the circuit in the pouring rain and wind! There were a few small branches falling off trees. We road through the Angkor Thom and caught our first glimpse of Angkor Wat but didn’t pay much attention. We rode down a slightly different route back into town that brought us straight back to our hotel.”
The second day we did the smaller circuit and the Angkor Thom city, again, on bicycles. Even thought the distance was shorter, there was still loads to see!
Diary – “We past the first two temples from the first day and got to Ta Prohm which was used in the Tomb Raider movies. This temple again mostly ruined but has been carefully reconstructed from the rubble by a university in parts. It was quite similar to Preah Khan and Banteay Kdei in layout and stone work. It is most famous for the trees that have since grown on the collapsing walls, completely dwarfing the temple and is an absolute must see if you visit Angkor.”
“We then visited another pyramid like temple (Ta Keo) and a couple of smaller ones (Chau Say Tevoda and Thommanon) before heading into Angkor Thom or the Bayon city. This was a large walled ancient city with gates on each side which had the four faced heads on top of each one and the warriors and gods on the bridges on the surrounding moats doing their tug of war. Within the city walls there were numerous temples to visit along with a long terrace covered in elephants. Some temples were pyramids that you could not walk up.”
“Two main temples stuck out from the rest. The first being the Bayon which sat in the centre of the city. This temple was absolutely covered in faces facing in four directions. Within the temple there were tunnels going all over the place. A women was collecting water from a well within the temple and said it had “healing” powers! So I tried a bit, and it tasted of bat shit. “This is how outbreaks like SARS happen Sam. Ground zero, right here!” I told myself as I walked away wiping my lips. Lucky I didn’t get ill.”
“There were some really good reflections surrounding the Bayon made particularly south east asian by people passing by riding elephants. The second temple we really liked, called Baphuon, was another pyramid structure which had multiple levels to get to the top. This temple was deconstructed by archaeologists before the civil war, but during the Khmer Rouge era the records were lost, making reconstructing the temple the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle! “
“After another ride around the ancient city we headed back to Siem Reap, where we arranged a tuktuk for the next day.”
On day three we did the sunrise at Angkor Wat followed by an exploration of this iconic temple. We then took our tuk-tuk to the “Lady Temple” to see some of the best preserved carvings. There are other temple complexes to see around Siem Reap, such as the Roluos temples (an excuse for us to go back), or you could spend a more relaxed afternoon ambling around the ancient city of Angkor Thom.
Diary – “The sunrise at Angkor Wat was very nice and clear, but it was just a sunrise, and it seemed to take forever! After the sun was up we had some breakfast at some stalls nearby, which were also part of a new functioning temple. We took a walk around the outside of the lower level which had a big carving describing a story. There was a guide giving a tour which looked pretty good so I recommend trying to get on a tour if you’re interested in getting into the history of it. We went up through the levels to the top. The very top level was controlled which a queue and you could only spend about 15 minutes looking at it. The view from the top was impressive though. I seem to remember they had built some treasure into the top or something like that.”
“In the afternoon we went to Banteay Srei which was another group of temples which had well preserved carvings. Unfortunately we got there at the same time as a group of tour buses. So when you actually got close enough to see a carving, you were elbowed away by a tourist trying to take a selfie! The carvings were very good though, and if you followed them around doorways it seemed to be telling some kind of story. We had a look around some of the souvenir stands and had a coconut to refresh us then headed back to Siem Reap.”
In summary, the temples of Angkor were incredible and I would definitely recommend seeing them. We really enjoyed exploring them on bicycle as you could stop off when you liked and explore at your own pace. If you wanted more information though as you went around then getting a guide is a good idea. Many guides hang around outside each temple with ID cards. One dark side to temples we noticed is the kids who run around the refreshment areas trying to sell postcards or cans of coke. Apparently they do have schools to go to, so they shouldn’t be there and should be in school. Also, if when you arrive at a temple and three tour buses do at the same time, just take a break. The tour groups will rush around getting selfies, then jump back on their buses and leave, leaving it all to yourself (till the next bus arrives!).
Photos copyright by Sam
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