Visiting the Temples of Angkor
Angkor Wat is an awe-inspiring place to visit. There are so many temple complexes to check out, that you’ll need at least three days to explore. And the great thing is that kids will have no problem enjoying the sights as much as you will. They will spot the most amazing creatures and faces cut out in the walls of the complexes, while you admire the temples themselves.
When we visited Angkor we had three days and when you really take the time to admire the complexes you can roam through approximately three big complexes and two or three small ones. We choose to visit three big ones and one small one, because we also wanted time to chill in our beautiful AirBnB villa named Meru in a quieter area of Siem Reap. We also spend some time in Siem Reap and went zip lining.
But back to where this blog post is about: the temples of Angkor! I’ve been wanting to see Angkor Wat ever since I laid eyes on pictures accompanying an article about this majestic temple complex in an old National Geographic at the doctor?s office, when I was about 12 years old. Many years later I saw Tomb Raider and learned that Angkor Wat wasn’t the only temple complex in Cambodia that I just had to see. And I started to read more about the many temples that are located in the Siem Reap Province. At the time Cambodia wasn’t an easy place to visit (lack of public transportation and unsafe areas), especially with a small child. But a few years later (with a little help from the original Lara Croft, Angelina Jolie, who acted like a travel agent when talking about the country) that changed. Every year more backpackers found their way to Cambodia and that’s when the charming little city Siem Reap, with it’s many French Colonial Houses, was slowly taken over by hostels and hotels.
Facts about the Temples of Angkor
The temples of Angkor in Cambodia are a perfect combination of spirituality and creativity. The Angkorian period lasted for more than 600 years (802 – 1432 AD) and during this time the Khmer built all the temples of Angkor. They built them as an earthly representation of Mt. Meru. In total there were over 1.000 temples but many of them didn’t stand the test of time and others were visited by looters who excavated parts and sold them. There are hundreds of surviving temples to be found and you would have to stay for weeks to visit them all.
We went there in December 2015 and it was packed with locals, monks, travelers and tourists. So if you really want to make the most of your time without being swarmed by people, then go to the larger complexes early morning and then visit the smaller ones in the afternoon.
We decided that we would make the most of our trip by mostly using the mountain bikes made available to us. This way we were more flexible and we could enjoy the beautiful surroundings more. This is actually the best tip I could give you: rent a bike! You don’t have to wait for an available remorque or taxi, you don’t have to haggle, you get to know the area and it’s a nice exercise!
So what do you need when buying a ticket? Yes, you need a ticket! You have to bring your passport and your best duckface, because when you fork over the fee they take your pic and print it out on your ticket. We bought a three-day visit ticket with a one week validity. When we went there that ticket cost us $40 dollars (they accept US dollars all over Cambodia). But since January 2017 the fee increased in a big way and the same ticket now costs $62 dollars. The good news is they also prolonged the period of validity from a week to ten days. If you’re planning to visit the temples for one day it will set you back $37 dollars. Children under 12 are free, just show their passports (and bring it along with you when visiting the temples). You can buy your tickets at the Angkor Enterprise. Every tuk tuk driver (or remorque as tuk tuk’s are called in Cambodia) knows where this ticket office is.
I will share our schedule with you and hopefully help you with your planning of your trip through Angkor.
First stop is the place I’ve been waiting to visit for 25 years: Angkor Wat. Not exactly wise to visit at 12am, but I couldn’t wait and I was surprised that it wasn’t more crowded. Yes, it was busy, but not like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Royal Palace in Bangkok at noon. Forget what it looks like in a magazine or a documentary, the real thing is much more impressive. It exceeded my expectations and we hadn’t even entered the complex yet. When we did I was mesmerized; the details were amazing. Unbelievable that people made this all these years ago without all the tools we have today. We easily spent 2,5 hours in the complex and loved every minute of it! It’s also an amazing place for kids to visit. Our son was 10 at the time and you’re allowed to climb onto everything. So it really made him feel like he was Indiana Jones.
When we left this complex we biked to another big one, named Angkor Thom, to check out the famous Bayon with numerous smiling stone faces everywhere you look. It’s a somewhat bizarre place with a mystical vibe. Because it was peak season (we were there in December) this place was also very crowded, but when we were done exploring around 5pm most of the people had already left to see the sunset at Angkor Wat. So, my advice is to go to Bayon around 4.30pm and stay for an hour, then you will have to place practically to yourselves.
This day we combined a lazy morning and late afternoon ziplining with just two temple visits. If you’ve seen Tomb Raider (2001) then you’ll immediately recognize Ta Prohm from this movie. This is the temple they filmed most of the Angkor footage at. Others are Bayon and a small nameless one on a hill overlooking Angkor Wat. This temple is taken over by nature. Tree branches have overgrown large parts of the complex, which makes this visit really worthwhile. You don’t visit this complex for the amazing details that are carved out, but to see for yourself that nothing can stop the force of nature. We felt so small while strolling through this place. It really makes you realize that anything made by man can be unmade by nature.
After visiting this temple we went ziplining (and saw a family of gibbons!) and when we were done playing Tarzan we were just in time to check out the sunset at a small temple: Ta Keo. We got the tip to watch the sun go down at this place, because at Angkor Wat it’s always overcrowded at this time of day and at Ta Keo you can watch the sunset while only hearing the sounds of nature. Birds, monkeys and otherwise complete silence while sitting at the top of this small temple and admiring the view. It was a beautiful and serene moment. You can find this temple at just a five minute bike ride from Ta Prohm while following directions to Bayon.
Sieam Reap & Angkor Wat
No visits to new temples today. We visited Siem Reap centre during the day, but we couldn’t leave this city without a last glimpse of Angkor Wat. Around 4pm we cycled to this majestic temple just one last time, bought some ice cream and sat down at the waterfront (along with 100s of other people) to experience the sunset. Yes, it was overcrowded and everyone advised against it, but we were glad we did it anyway. The people watching was a very interesting part of this experience. Groups of monks admired the same view, Cambodian families paid their respects and in their midst were all the travelers and tourists who aren’t as lucky as they are. Travelers and tourists can’t pay their respects to this temple on a daily or weekly basis, but eventually have to move along to other places or home.
Just like us. We had a flight to catch that same night. But we will definitely come back someday. The temples of Angkor are one of the highlights of my travels and even now, 4 years later, I still remember every second of it.