A lot has been written about the temples of Angkor. No wonder, it is probably the most famous place in South-east Asia. Angkor is a huge historic urban complex of one thousand square kilometers, which means that it’s not only the most popular temple, Angkor Wat, but also many other temples and water reservoirs spread in the jungle. Why from the whole city there are only temples left? Were all the citizens monks? No. Houses and public buildings were made of wood, as only gods deserved proper stone interiors. For hundreds of years the city was abandoned, so the wooden houses disappeared. Angkor was being constructed between IX and XV century in time of the Angkor empire. In those times the city had around one million inhabitants, making it the most populated city in the world. Since the end of the empire in XV century until the time when French researchers started conservation works, Angkor was practically deserted and highly neglected. Thanks to maintenance works in the mid 20th century Angkor became one of the most popular attraction in the world. The regime of Red Khmers cut Cambodia off the whole world for a couple of years, but after their fall, Angkor regained its position on the list of top attractions of the world.
When we arrived to Siem Reap, the gateway city for Angkor, we knew that we would spend the first day in the city, getting ready for visiting Angkor. We wanted to check what is the best way to get there, how many days should we allocate to see most of the temples and at the same time not get bored. Eventually, we decided to buy a 3 day ticket and to take a tuk-tuk to visit the “big circuit” the first day, next day to see “small circuit” also with a tuk-tuk, the third day make a break, and the forth just wander around the temples on bikes.
And so we did. We agreed that we would not wake up at 5 am to see the sunset, as many tourist would do, because, first, we are sleepyheads and second, we heard that it’s the busiest part of the day, when everybody gets glued to their cameras trying to take a photo of the temples in the best light. We woke up at normal time and we ordered a tuk-tuk from our hotel. It’s a pity we didn’t ask the driver about the end of our trip, as we didn’t have a problem with not seeing sunrise, but we did want to see the sunset. As it turned up later, the driver wasn’t willing to wait with us for that long.
When we left the center of Siem Reap it was already a bit late and we had the whole big circuit ahead of us. When we crossed the ticket office and drove along Angkor Wat, shivers went through my spine. I couldn’t believe I’m finally here!
We started a bit nervously, without bigger breaks. We quickly went through the first temple, then a bit of fresh air in tuk-tuk and the next temple. Somewhere before the one but least temple we realized it’s only 2pm and we were already finishing our route. We asked our driver what are we going to do until sunset (around 5.30pm), to which he said “What sunset? No Sunset today, we will finish too early”. We got a bit mad, because we paid 20 dollars for a whole day trip and we were finishing it after 4 hours… Well, it was a bit of our fault that we rushed visiting the first temples. We sat in a shadow to rest and drink something cold, we even wanted to eat something to kill some time but in this heat you are not hungry at all… I wonder what time do the people who went for the sunrise end their visit. In the end we gave up, visited the last temple and went back to our hotel. At least, in the evening we ate a delicious dinner and had time to work on the blog.
The second day we decided to skip the sunrise again and around 10 we called a tuk-tuk driver we had met the day before in a restaurant. That day we were supposed to see the “small circuit”, so Angkor Wat and other most famous temples were waiting for us. Around 11 we were on the bridge leading to one of the most popular temple in the world. Cheu, our driver, said we would see each other in three hours. Three hours? How come? Yesterday we saw 5 temples is 4 hours! Eventually, I don’t even know when these 3 hours passed.
Angkor Wat is as amazing as they say. A huge terrain surrounded by a wide moat, a temple with three levels, beautiful sculptures and reliefs. We walked around the temple and got to the back side. For a moment we were completely alone. We sat on the grass and stared in front of us. We couldn’t believe how in those times they were able to build something so big and massive.
That day, each and every temple really impressed us. After Angkor Wat we entered Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom, which means the Great City, was the last capital of the Khmer empire. In its center there is a send impressive temple, Bayon. I knew I should see the famous stone faces. We stopped but from far nothing caught my attention, so I thought I must have confused something. Only after a while I saw them. Carver on four sides of the towers, same colour as the stone, merging into the whole temple. It sent shivers up my spine again.
As soon as we entered the temple, it began to rain. We got stuck in one of the towers. We were alone, but there were more than 2 faces…
Next we saw Baphuon temple from XI century and went along a 300 meter wall called the Terrace of The Elephants, called like this due to natural sized carved elephants and next along the Lepper King Terrace. That’s where we took a break for lunch to which we invited Cheu and started asking about his family and working as a tuk-tuk driver.
The next temple on our route was Ta Keo, also from 11th century. Another high temple that you enter through narrow, but very high rectangular stones.
The last temple, Ta Prohm is different than the others. It wasn’t totally cleaned of trees, which makes it unique. Most of the scenes from Tomb Raider were filmed here. Massive trunks forced their way into the temple, winding tightly the huge rocks. The force of the nature mixed with the power of a human who had to transport the giant stones, is unbelieveable. We got there right before the sunset, the trees covered the sky and the temple seemed mysterious and fascinating.
We had bad luck, as the sky was covered with clouds, so we couldn’t count on a nice sunset. We stopped at some temple, climbed to the top but after a few minutes of staring at the clouds we gave up. The sun went down with no light effects.
The next day we had a tuk-tuk tour to the floating village of Kampong Phluk. Amazing views and unique way of living . It was a very pleasant day. If only I hadn’t lost my phone…
The fourth day after some adventures connected with getting a police statement of losing my phone (because of our insurance) which included a ride through whole Siem Reap, the two of us and a policeman on a small motorbike and paying a “donation” for the police station, we went on bicycles to see Angkor Wat once again. It’s really worth staying there until sunset and the sunrise must be impressive as well. We went back to our hotel in total darkness. We stopped for a while in a park famous for a big amount of bats, hanging from the trees even during the day. Massive creatures of a size of big ravens were crossing the sky one by one.
To make the visit easier, there have been two routes created, so called “small circuit” and “big circuit”. The big one included less famous temples that are located slightly further from Siem Reap. I would name the temples, but the names are so difficult and similar to each other so you won’t be able to remember. The small circuit includes the most impressive temples like Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prhom, known also as the Tomb Raider temple. Many people start the visit at sunrise, but this is the time when you can meet crowds of photography amateurs, you know the ones making photos with mobile phones and selfie sticks.
The whole complex of the temples is huge, so it’s recommendable to hire a tuk-tuk that will stay with you the whole day and will take you to all temples. You can also opt for a bicycle but the route is quite long and the quality of bicycles you can rent in the center is rather poor.
Around the main temples there are plenty of food stands, the prices are reasonable and the food is quite good.