Cambodia

GUIDE to Visiting Angkor Wat Archeological Park, Cambodia

Siem Reap

On the outskirts of Siem Reap, Cambodia, lies Angkor Archeological Park, home to the relics of the Khmer Empire’s once thriving ancient city consisting of hundreds of temples spread across 154 square miles of jungle and farmland.

Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire, which thrived from the 9th to 15th centuries, and may have supported over 1 million people. UNESCO declared the archeological park a World Heritage site in 1992, and considers the remnants of this once great civilization to be one of the most important archeological sites in Southeast Asia.

For many Cambodians and Buddhists, the temples remain sacred places of worship, but no matter your faith, these relics will move you with their undeniable soul.

Here’s what it’s like to visit. (Click on the headers below for a detailed review of each temple.)

RECAP: GETTING THERE, RULES & REGULATIONS, WHAT TO BRING

  • Visa On Arrival – Many foreign travelers will need to obtain a Visa On Arrival when traveling to Cambodia. No prep work or applications needed. Simply fill out the appropriate form at your port of arrival, wait in line, have your passport stamped by an immigrations agent, and carry on your way.

  • USD is the Official Tourist Currency – USD is the expected cash currency at all sites, restaurants, hotels, etc. Only fresh, unmarked and recently issued bills are accepted.

  • Dress Code – The temples are active places of worship, requiring respectful and appropriate garb. Women and men are expected to cover their shoulders, and legs should be concealed past the knee.

  • Get Your Pass – Passes can be obtained at the main archeological museum for 1, 3, and 7 days. Pass purchases are cash only with fresh US notes. Proper attire is required. The pass is a photo ID that you will have to present at each temple entry point, and it will be stamped each day it’s used.

  • Tuk Tuk’s – Hiring a tuk tuk driver to take you to the sites near Siem Reap costs about $20/day. With this fee you are hiring a private driver to wait for you at each site and take you to your next destination. Tuk Tuk’s to further destinations, like Banteay Srei and Kbal Spean, will cost about $40/day. Check with your driver in advance.

  • Biking – You can bike to Angkor Wat from Siem Reap and the surrounding area, but keep in mind the possibility for extreme heat, and that you’ll be required to bike through downtown Siem Reap to get there.

  • What to Bring - Sunscreen, your pass, water, camera, snacks, handkerchief, hat or parasol, US cash (small bills a plus).

  • Tour Guides – Tour guides can be very helpful if you’d like to dive into the history at each site. If you only have the cash to spring for a guide once, we recommend doing so at Angkor Wat or Angkor Thom to get the most bang for your buck. Look for guides from the tourism department. They’ll be in uniform with official tourism patches and badges. A two-hour tour at Angkor Wat costs about  $15, plus tip. 

We purchased a 3-day pass, which was good for 10 days, allowing us to spread our tour over a week, giving us plenty of time to rest up in between our temple days. If you have the time to spare, we recommend this approach. Visiting the sites is incredible, and exhausting. Make sure to hydrate and relax in between! 

DAY 1: ANGKOR WAT AND TA PROHM

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, meaning ‘temple city’ is the main attraction at Angkor Archeological Park. Built in the 12th century by Suryavarman II as the king’s state temple and capital city, Angkor Wat, which was originally dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu, was transformed into a Buddhist temple in the 14th century, and remains an internationally relevant Buddhist site today. When the Khmer Empire left Angkor in the 15th century to build a new capital, Angkor Wat remained one of the only temples that was never fully abandoned. Historians believe this is the reason it has remained so intact. Its large moat added further protection by prohibiting the jungle from reclaiming it. French explorer Henri Mouhot introduced the site to westerners in the mid-1800s.

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm has been left much in the condition in which it was found by westerners in the 1800s, and is one of Angkor’s most famous jungle temples. Overgrown with enormous trees, the temple has largely merged with nature making it a mystical sight to behold. Built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries under King Jayavarman VII as a Buddhist monastery and university, the temple was famously brought back into the spotlight by the 2001 film Tomb Raider.

DAY 2: ANGKOR THOM AND PREAH KHAN

Angkor Thom

After Suryavarman II’s death and the ransacking of Angkor Wat by Khmer enemies, King Jayavarman VII moved the capital to Angkor Thom in the 12th century where under his reign the present day ruins were built on the same site as a former Khmer capital. Angkor Thom houses the famous and widely recognizable Bayon temple, or temple of 1,000 faces, featuring over 200 gigantic blissful faces topping 37 towers. The old city is also home to the royal palace, the temples Baphuon and Phimeanakas, the Elephant Terrace, and the Terrace of the Leper King. This walled city is believed to have supported 80,000 – 150,000 people at its height. 

Preah Khan

Like Ta Prohm, the jungle is steadily re-claiming Preah Khan, and features incredible feats of crumbling temples supporting the growth of enormous trees with roots that have become part of their foundations. Built in the 12th century under King Jayavarman VII to honor his father, the site was a combination of city, temple and Buddhist university serving as a hub for nearly 100,000 officials and servants, including 1,000 teachers and another 1,000 dancers. The temple is built on the site of Jayavarman’s victory against the invading Chams in 1191. It’s modern name, adapted from the original, means ‘holy sword.’

Surrounded by a moat, the temple is built in a flat style with successive rectangular galleries gathering around a central Buddhist sanctuary. Like it’s neighbor, Ta Prohm, it has been largely unrestored, allowing the jungle to slowly overtake it.

DAY 3: BANTEAY SREI, KBAL SPEAN, AND PRE RUP 

Banteay Srei

Built from striking red sandstone and lined with well-preserved intricate and elaborate carvings, Banteay Srei is unlike any other temple in Angkor Wat Archeological Park. Located 16 miles northeast of the main Park, visiting Banteay Srei and its surrounding sites is a worthy commitment.

Known colloquially as The Pink Lady Temple and The Lady Temple, Bateay Srei is a 10th century temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and is the only major Angkorian temple that was not built by a monarch. It is most famous for its color, its small size, and equally miniature yet mightily impressive artwork. 

Kbal Spean

A jungle trek into the Kulen Hills will lead you to Kbal Spean: an archeological site of river carvings leading to a sacred waterfall. The site’s famous reliefs were carved by hermits into the naturally formed sandstone of the riverbed and its banks between the 11th and 12th centuries under the reign of King Suryavarman I, and King Udayadityavarman II. The site is also known as the ‘valley of 1000 lingas,’ and the ‘river of a thousand lingas,’ for the many lingas carved there (lingas are the phallic symbol representing the Hindu god Shiva). The Siem Reap River, which flows over the sacred lingas into Angkor, was believed to bless the city. Many other Hindu gods are also featured in the carvings. When the water table is low, the carvings are visible in a 150-meter section of the river in the middle of which is a naturally formed sandstone bridge. They stretch to a waterfall where visitors can bathe and be blessed beneath its spring.

Pre Rup

Overlooking the countryside and surrounding jungle, Pre Rup glows with a lovely reddish hue in the hours near sunrise and sunset due to its brick, laterite and sandstone construction. Aligned with a north south axis, this temple is dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva. Locally believed to have been a mortuary, Pre Rup was built as a state temple under King Rajendravarman in the 10th century in the temple mountain style that is characteristic of many of the Angkorian sites.

GOOD TO KNOW

  • Handling Solicitation – The moment your tuk tuk arrives at any location expect to be approached by men, women and children looking to sell you anything from pants to guide books, postcards and trinkets before your driver can even park. When inside the sites, you may meet locals asking for donations, and encounter park staff or even police officers that will offer to take your photo in exchange for a ‘tip.’ The best way to handle these situations is a simple, brisk and sometimes repeated no thank you.

  • Temple Fatigue is Real – There is so much to see at Angkor Wat that it could easily take a month to dive into all the details of each of these ruins. Don’t try to do it all. Rest when you need to and call it a day when you’re ready. Though many people begin their tour at Angkor Wat as early as sunrise and trudge through the rest of the day in the heat, we opted to start between 8 and 9AM and wrap up by closing, which was perfect for us. The amount to see can be over-stimulating. We recommend taking time to just sit and be in those spaces, really commune with it. You may see a little less, but you’ll likely feel more. Pro Tip: We visited in March, one of the hottest times of the year, and noticed that the heat of the afternoon drove away much of the masses allowing us to enjoy several temples with very few other visitors. A real treat!

ENJOY YOUR VISIT!

These are the kinds of places that stir the heart and the imagination, that strike us not only with their awesome beauty and gateway to spirituality, but with their undeniable humanity that gives us pause by daring us to look at ourselves, where we’ve come from, where we are, and where we are headed as a global people.

Visiting: Pre Rup, Cambodia

Siem Reap

Pre Rup was the last temple we visited on our epic three-day tour of Angkor Wat Archeological Park. We arrived near sunset after spending the majority of the day in the Kulen Hills touring Banteay Srei and Kbal Spean. The brick, laterite and sandstone construction made this temple glow with a lovely reddish hue as the day neared its end, and we enjoyed the beginnings of a sunset from the top of the temple, overlooking the countryside and surrounding jungle. 

A BRIEF HISTORY OF PRE RUP

Aligned with a north south axis, this temple is dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva. It was built as a state temple under King Rajendravarman in the 10th century – as early as 961 or 962 AD. Pre Rup’s construction is in the temple mountain style that is characteristic of many of the Angkorian sites, consisting of several outer walls leading to towering temples at its core. It was the second temple to be built in Angkor after the Khmer capital was returned to Koh Ker.

The temple’s name is relatively modern and translates to mean, “turn the body.” This is in reference to the common Cambodian belief that the temple was a hosting site for funerals, during which the body’s ashes were ritually turned in several directions throughout the services. 

ENJOY YOUR VISIT!

After a long day of temple touring, visiting Pre Rup was markedly relaxing. There were very few tourists when compared with the other sites we visited, allowing time for us to sit still and be. If you’re looking to capture this temple’s rosy pigment, keep in mind that Pre Rup shines its brightest in the hours near sunrise and sunset, making this site a perfect beginning or ending to your day or tour.

 

SNAPSHOTS

Visiting: Kbal Spean, Cambodia

Siem Reap

About 16 miles northeast of the main Angkorian ruins is Kbal Spean, a jungle trek into the Kulen Hills to an archeological site of river carvings leading to a sacred waterfall. We visited after touring Banteay Srei in the same area, also known as the Pink Lady Temple. Being a bit farther out of town, and costing more to get there, Banteay Srei and Kbal Spean are often paired together as a day trip. Visitors can also take a tour at the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity, which lies at the foot of the trail to Kbal Spean.

A BRIEF HISTORY

Tucked into the jungle, Kbal Spean is famous for its relief carvings made into the naturally formed sandstone of the riverbed and its banks. Carved into the rock by hermits between the 11th and 12th centuries under the reign of King Suryavarman I, and King Udayadityavarman II, this site is also known as the ‘valley of 1000 lingas,’ and the ‘river of a thousand lingas,’ for the many lingas carved there. Lingas are the phallic symbol representing the Hindu god Shiva. The Siem Reap River, which flows over the sacred lingas and into Angkor, was believed to bless the city. 

Yonis representing the Hindu goddess Shakti in the feminine symbol of fertility and genitalia are also represented. Many other Hindu gods are also featured in the carvings, such as Vishnu, Brahma, Lakshmi, Rama and Hanuman.

After the monsoon season when the water level begins to drop, the carvings are visible in a 150-meter section of the river in the middle of which is a naturally formed sandstone bridge. They stretch to a waterfall where visitors can bathe and be blessed. The site was ‘discovered’ by westerners in 1969, but exploration was halted by the Cambodian civil war. The site reopened for safe visits beginning in 1989.

WHAT IT’S LIKE TO VISIT

We found ourselves at the trailhead to Kbal Spean after a 20-minute tuk tuk ride from Banteay Srei and eagerly headed in. We walked leisurely through the jungle, taking about an hour to reach the falls, stopping now and again to watch a troops of ants, and linger in a grove of tall trees where monkeys shrouded by leaf cover high above ate fruit and spit pits down to the ground. We trekked barefoot on the soft red earth over roots and rocks, a path tread for centuries, watching a rainbow of butterflies float by in singles and pairs while listening to monkeys hoot and tropical birds call until we reached the lingas at the rock bridge. Two dogs – a three-legged puppy and its mother – greeted us.

We were lucky that it had rained heavily the night before, uncommon for March leading up to the rainy season, making the falls full and cleansing, and carrying the rush through the forest. Hot and sticky from a jungle hike in jeans, it was both exhilarating and joyous to cleanse beneath the clean and powerful falls that had been blessed by the age-old lingas. Vines draped over the falls trickling droplets of water. It truly felt like a hidden oasis.

Good to Know: Throughout our time at Angkor Wat we quickly discovered that pretty much anyone who offers to take your photo for you expects to be paid in return. At Kbal Spean, a park staff member accompanied by a young boy followed us the whole way from the lingas to the waterfall continually offering to take our picture, and encouraging us to take off our clothes and get into the waterfall. Though we repeatedly declined, the ranger hung around for quite a while. It was a bit uncomfortable to feel like we were being watched, but he eventually left allowing us some peaceful moments alone at the falls. 

ENJOY YOUR VISIT!

Kbal Spean is a unique site at Angkor Wat Archeological Park taking visitors out of the city to enjoy the Cambodian countryside and its abundant nature. After several stiflingly hot days of touring the park’s busy temples, it was wonderful to get away from the crowds and play in the falls!

 

SNAPSHOTS

Visiting: Banteay Srei, Cambodia

Siem Reap

Built from striking red sandstone and lined with intricate and elaborate carvings, Banteay Srei is unlike any other temple in Angkor Wat Archeological Park. Located 16 miles northeast of the main park, visiting Banteay Srei and its surrounding sites is a worthwhile commitment. Beginning at 8AM, the hour long drive on the back of a tuk tuk through the Cambodian countryside was both beautiful and eye opening, revealing at once the country’s picturesque pastoral landscape, and its poverty.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF BANTEAY SREI

Banteay Srei, known colloquially as The Pink Lady Temple, and more simply, The Lady Temple, is a 10th century temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. It is the only major Angkorian temple that was not built by a monarch. The site was ‘rediscovered’ in 1914, and first restored in the 1930’s.

When compared with the rest of the Angkorian sites, which are very large in scale, Banteay Srei’s construction seems miniature; making for a relatively quick visit.

Though widely known as ‘The Lady Temple’, and fabled to have been built by women, the translation of Banteay Srei means ‘citadel of the women’ or ‘citadel of beauty’ likely referring to the delightfully complex carvings and devatas, or female deities, they portray.

Sadly, the temple has suffered a great amount of theft and vandalism since the early 1900s targeted mostly at its statues, causing the Cambodian government to remove some of the statues and replace them with concrete replicas.

BEYOND THE TEMPLE

Being a smaller complex than the other major temples we visited, Banteay Srei felt the most crowded. It’s good to know that tour groups quite literally arrive by the busload at all of the historical sites. Having patience with the crowds is critical, and is how we got many of these shots!

We enjoyed perusing the pink temple and marveling at the incredibly detailed and very well preserved works of art that still line its walls today.

After our tour, we sat down to listen to The Landmine Victims Band (a common sight in tourist sections of Siem Reap), which played traditional tunes. One man even used a leaf as a kazoo!

We then strolled the grounds surrounding the temple, which led to a broad and secluded open field. On our way back, we encountered two young girls attempting to sell us various items. When we politely refused, one tried to snatch something out of Chadley’s pocket. Though this was the first and only time we faced potential theft along our travels, it is a cautionary tale. As a general rule, visitors are discouraged from buying wares from children, as this practice perpetuates systemic poverty.

Good to Know: While renting a tuk tuk and driver to motor us around the main Archeological Park was only $20 a day, trekking out to Banteay Srei and the surrounding area cost double. Though $40 for such a day trip is pretty standard (you can always try to negotiate for a lesser rate), we did not have the foresight to discuss the day’s cost with our driver in advance. Nor did our driver reveal the steep price hike until the morning of, when he approached us with a few other drivers to inform us of the price increase. Blindsided, we reluctantly agreed, which put a damper on the morning and our relationship with the driver, to say the least. Though we felt initially swindled, our research later revealed that this wasn't such a bad deal. Regardless, we highly recommend negotiating such things in advance to avoid any confusion.

ENJOY YOUR VISIT!

Banteay Srei’s rosy relics offer something different from the rest of Angkor Wat, revealing a side of Khmer art and culture that cannot be seen anywhere else.

 

SNAPSHOTS

Visiting: Preah Khan, Cambodia

Siem Reap

When exploring Preah Khan you are immediately struck by the majesty of trees, for they are just as impressive and monolithic as the structures that root them, creating a mystical atmosphere that is this temple’s very own.

Like the Angkorian temple Ta Prohm, the jungle has steadily re-claimed Preah Khan. Yet there appears to be a symbiotic relationship in how the trees embrace the ruins, their roots growing around columns that would otherwise be crushed by their mammoth weight, and instead of crashing through the roofs they stretch around corridors, becoming an integral part of these incredible relics.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF PREAH KHAN

Preah Khan was built in the 12th century under King Jayavarman VII’s rule to honor his father. Once a hub of nearly 100,000 officials and servants, the temple is built on the site of Jayavarman’s victory against the invading Chams in 1191. It’s modern name, adapted from the original, means ‘holy sword.’

At its height, the site was a combination of city, temple and Buddhist university housing 1,000 teachers and another 1,000 dancers.

Surrounded by a moat, the temple is built in a flat style with successive rectangular galleries gathered around a central Buddhist sanctuary. The temple has been largely unrestored, allowing the jungle to slowly overtake it. Clearing of brush and other vegetation was undertaken from 1927 – 1932, and The World Monuments Fund has maintained the site since 1991.

The largest of all the trees rooted amongst the temples are of the spung variety, with roots resembling elephant trunks. They’re even hollow! Their appearance throughout the ruins is quite magical.

We visited Preah Khan in the late afternoon in March, which proved to be a quiet time with very few crowds.

ENJOY YOUR VISIT!

At Preah Khan, visitors get the sense the jungle is not simply engulfing, but honoring this treasured temple. It is a place where ancient history lives both in defiance and harmony with the nature.

 

SNAPSHOTS

Visiting: Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Bayon Angkor Thom

Siem Reap

Angkor Thom is the largest and one of the most historically important sites to visit at Angkor Wat Archeological Park. With its name translating to “Great City,” it’s easy to see why. Established in the 12th century as the capital of King Jayavarman VII’s Khmer Empire, this 9 square KM relic is believed to have supported a population of 80,000 – 150,000 people at its height! It’s home to the former king’s royal palace, the famous state temple, Bayon, also known as the Temple of a Thousand Faces, and many other important Khmer monuments from King Jayavarman VII’s reign, his successors, and predecessors.

It’s easy to get lost, literally and figuratively, in the majesty of these ruins as you walk the path of the many before you who lived, worked, played and prayed behind the walls of this once great empire. 

Bayon Faces

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ANGKOR THOM

Though originating in its present form in the 12th century under King Jayavarman VII, the city dates back three centuries earlier when another Khmer capital stood there. A few temples remain from that time, including Baphuon and Phimeanakas, which was later included in the royal palace site.

In order to enter Angkor Thom, visitors must pass beneath its impressive gates adorned with the famously serene Bayon-style heads, which face each of the cardinal directions.

One of the city gates to enter Angkor Thom.

One of the city gates to enter Angkor Thom.

The city is surrounded by a moat and 8 meter high wall, with many roads entering and exiting crossing over bridges decorated with balustrades depicting larger than life human figures carrying the body of the Naga, a seven-headed snake guardian.

Angkor Thom also features a multitude of pristinely intact limestone bas reliefs. These incredible works of art line the walls at Bayon, the Elephant Terrace, and the Terrace of the Leper King, depicting stories and poems of ancient Hinduism, as mixed over the centuries with Buddhism, historical events, day-to-day scenes, and the region’s local flora and fauna.

Bayon

BAYON

The most famous and widely recognized temple at Angkor Thom is Bayon. Here, visitors walk amongst and beneath towers topped with more than 200 gigantic blissful faces, argued to have been designed either to resemble King Jayavarman VII himself, or the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokitesvara. Where there were once 49 towers, today, 37 remain.

Angkor Thom’s main gates at each of the cardinal points all lead to Bayon at the center of the city. Like Angkor Wat, Bayon is built to resemble Mount Meru, with the city’s walls and moat interpreted to represent the outer lying mountains and ocean. The temple is primarily maintained by the conservation organization JSA (Japanese Government Team Safeguarding of Angkor).

Bayon

Bayon is one of Angkor Wat’s most visited temples, and the number of people at this site can be overwhelming. Featuring out-of-this-world photo opportunities, we felt at times that it was difficult to linger and simply marvel at the temple’s beauty without sensing that someone else was waiting for us to hurry up and move out of their shot. This feeling was strongest on the upper level where visitors can come eye to eye with Bayon’s majestic faces. Eventually, we found a quiet place above the crowd where we weren’t in anyone’s way and could truly enjoy the serenity the space has to offer.

The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace

THE ROYAL PALACE

After our visit to Bayon, we headed to the Royal Palace, and from there intended to go to the Terraces. We trekked up and down the incredibly steep and narrow steps spanning four levels of the Royal Palace, at the top of which we enjoyed some truly fabulous views. At the back of the palace a reclining Buddha has been reconstructed from stones.

Somehow after this, we got lost, and ended up taking a detour down an unmarked path through the jungle that we thought was a short cut…It ended up at a field of cows. Oops!

“Hidden” bas reliefs at the Terrace of the Leper King

“Hidden” bas reliefs at the Terrace of the Leper King

TERRACE OF THE LEPER KING

Eventually we found our way back to the Terraces and first visited the Terrace of the Leper King, or Leper King Terrace. The site is named after a statue found there in the 15th century depicting Yama, the Hindu god of death. The statue was later dubbed the Leper King because of its discoloration, and it’s growing of moss, resembling someone with leprosy. This new name also fit with a Cambodian legend about a king with leprosy. Hence, the Terrace of the Leper King.

While it might seem like the statue is the main attraction here, we discovered a small labyrinth of incredible bas reliefs on either side of the stairs leading to the terrace’s platform. Don’t miss the hidden walls! This was one of the coolest parts of this terrace, featuring gorgeous and well-preserved artwork. It was also quite literally the coolest part: you can hide away from the sun and heat behind the walls!

The Elephant Terrace

The Elephant Terrace

ELEPHANT TERRACE

Onward, we continued to the Elephant Terrace, which as aptly named, features several walls held up by carvings of elephants. Though these carvings are well worn today, they still resemble pachyderms. 

This terrace is a platform from which King Jayavarman VII would view his victorious army returning home. It was also used during public ceremonies, and as the king’s grand audience hall.

The top of the Royal Palace

The top of the Royal Palace

ENJOY YOUR VISIT!

There is plenty more to see at Angkor Thom than the four sites we explored, which took us nearly an entire day beginning at 9 AM! So plan for your visit to be lengthy, and savor every moment in this surreal and historical space!

 

SNAPSHOTS

Visiting: Ta Prohm, Cambodia

Siem Reap

Roaming the temple complex of Ta Prohm makes you feel like an old world explorer whose come upon this ancient site while trekking through the jungle. Around every corner, through every doorway and down every hall you find the duality of growth and decay. Enormous silk cotton ceiba trees emerge from the walls and roofs of temples, wrapping their roots around something that once was. Piles of rubble decorated with intricate carvings lay beside edifices both destroyed and reconstructed, withstanding the test of time.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF TA PROHM

On the outskirts of modern day Siem Reap, Ta Prohm was built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries under King Jayavarman VII as a Buddhist monastery and university dedicated to his mother. Though many of the temples of Angkor were built in the ‘temple pyramid’ or ‘temple mountain’ style, such as Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Pre Rup, Ta Prohm was built in a flat style: a series of five rectangular nesting walls enclose a central inner sanctuary.

Also unlike most of the temples of Angkor, Ta Prohm has been left much in the condition in which it was found by westerners in the 1800s due to the magic of how it has merged with the jungle over time. The site has been conserved and restored by both the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient, and the Archaeological Survey of India. The temple was famously used in the film Tomb Raider in 2001, returning it to the international spotlight and cultivating mass appeal.

Consequently, it is one of the most visited temples of Angkor due to its awe-inspiring setting. Surrounded by jungle, the crumbling temples have literally grown trees, giving visitors the feeling they are discovering a hidden treasure.

Like all of the popular Angkorian archeological sites, expect to see many other tourists, but know there are also plenty of opportunities to find yourself alone as you wander these magnificent ruins.

ENJOY YOUR VISIT!

Ta Prohm evoked something deep in our core. It reminded us of the simultaneous transience and timelessness of life, to enjoy what we have, to be present and grateful for the ability to travel across the world and stand in the heart of such a potent site, a place that one day, like all things, will return to its source.

 

SNAPSHOTS

Visiting: Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Siem Reap 

One of the great things about travel is getting outside yourself and everything you know by becoming immersed in all things foreign – language, culture, food, landscape, people, religion, and so on. It’s about becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable, shaking up our routines and throwing ourselves into the unfamiliar. And what better way to do that, to reconnect with our deepest selves, our history, and humanity than by visiting some of the most impressive ruins this world has to offer: Angkor Wat?

On the outskirts of what is now known as Siem Reap in Cambodia, the relics of the Khmer Empire’s once thriving ancient city and temple complex attract thousands of visitors daily, making it Cambodia’s top tourist attraction.

For many Cambodians and traveling Buddhists, the temples remain sacred places of worship, but no matter your religion, Angkor Wat and its accompanying archeological sites will move you with their incredible history, artistry, presence and soul. To stand in Angkor Wat you are at once humbled by thoughtful, living architecture surviving the Khmer Empire, and elate with wonder like a fascinated child yearning to learn more. 

GETTING THERE

  • USD is the Official Tourist Currency – Having some US cash on arrival is a plus, but if you don’t, there are plenty of ATMs and banks where USD can be easily obtained. It’s important to note that only fresh bills are accepted (they must be unmarked and recently issued). So save those crumpled and ripped dollars in your wallet for another destination.

  • Dress Code – The temples remain places of worship for many, and you can be denied entry for wearing inappropriate garb. Women and men are expected to cover their shoulders and their legs past the knee.

  • Get Your Pass – Passes can be obtained at the main archeological museum for 1, 3, and 7 days. Pass purchases are cash only with fresh US notes. Proper attire is required, and visitors can be turned away for improper dress. The pass is a photo ID that you will have to present at each temple entry point. It will be stamped each day it’s used.

  • Tuk Tuk’s – Hiring a tuk tuk driver to take you to the sites within the main archeological park (ie - near Siem Reap) costs about $20/day. With this fee you are hiring a private driver (picture a motorbike pulling a cart) who will wait for you at each site and take you to your next destination. Alternatively, you can bike to Angkor Wat and the surrounding area, but do keep in mind the possibility for extreme heat.

  • What to Bring - Sunscreen, your pass, water, camera, snacks, handkerchief, hat or parasol, USD (small bills a plus).

TOUR GUIDES

As soon as you arrive, you are likely to be greeted by would-be tour guides. If you’re interested in hiring a guide for any of your temple visits, Angkor Wat should be first on the list, as it is considered the most important temple complex of the ancient empire, and therefore will set the stage for most of what you’ll see afterward, providing some context. Our guide, Thomason, was from the tourism department. Look for the guides in uniform with official tourism patches and badges. A two-hour tour with lots of precious photos taken by our guide was only $15 plus a well-deserved tip. In our opinion, it was more than worth it.

We were in awe to sit on the steps of the King’s Library

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ANGKOR WAT

Angkor Wat, meaning ‘temple city’ is the main attraction at Angkor Archeological Park, consisting of hundreds of temples spread over 154 square miles of jungle and farmland. Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire, which thrived from the 9th to 15th centuries, and may have supported over 1 million people!

The entirety of Angkor was a hydraulic city with a complex water management system used not only for irrigation, but also to stabilize its architectural foundations by preventing groundwater from getting too high or low. UNESCO declared the archeological park a World Heritage site in 1992, and considers the remnants of this once great civilization to be one of the most important archeological sites in Southeast Asia. Angkor Wat is such an important symbol to Cambodians it even appears on the national flag.

Built in the 12th century by Suryavarman II as the king’s state temple and capital city, Angkor Wat, which was originally dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu, was transformed into a Buddhist temple in the 14th century, and remains an internationally relevant Buddhist site today. The complex is unlike most other Khmer temples in that it is oriented west instead of east, likely in reverence to Vishnu, who is associated with the west. The temple features five towers in the image of Mount Meru, the legendary home of the Hindu gods, along with a series of enclosing walls and moats representing mountain chains and the ocean. The temple is aligned with the spring equinox, during which the sun rises directly over the central tower. Throughout the rest of the year the sun travels up and down the western entrance gate. The temple incorporates many other examples of advanced mathematics, astrology, astronomy, and numerology – all evidence of the Khmer Empire’s expansive knowledge.

After Suryavarman II’s death and the ransacking of the area by the Khmer’s enemies, King Jayavarman VII, moved the capital to Angkor Thom and restored Angkor Wat. When the Khmer Empire left Angkor in the 15th century to build a new capital, Phnom Penh, near the coast, Angkor Wat remained one of the only temples that, while neglected, was never fully abandoned. Historians believe it has remained much intact for this reason, and because of its large moat, which stopped the jungle from reclaiming it.

In the mid-1800s French explorer Henri Mouhot successfully exposed Angkor to westerners, drawing comparisons to the pyramids of Egypt, thereby popularizing the now internationally treasured archeological site. 

ENJOY YOUR VISIT!

We humans are explorers at heart. Visiting Angkor Wat and the surrounding archeological sites awakens this part in us, stirring a place in the soul that craves exploration and a deeper connection to the earth and our ancestry. It is a reminder that our world, our existence, and our history are at once mysterious and mystical, opening our eyes, as travel often does, to new ways of seeing.

 

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