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The Gods in Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

 

Light hits the golden peak of Mount Meru.

 

Angkor Wat

 

The center of the universe.

 

bayon

 

The home of the gods.

 

Angkor Wat

 

The earthly embodiment of the sacred.

 

Angkor Wat

 

The peak towers into the heavens

it roots plunge deeply into the earth.

 

srah srang

 

Mountains span to the furthest regions

surrounded by an indefinite sea.

 

angkor wat

 

The sun rises

day, birth, life

 

angkor wat

 

the sun sets

darkness, night, death.

 

bayon

 

The gods sit quietly in hiding

waiting for their next incarnation.

 

angkor wat

 

In Indochina Angkor Wat

created in the divine image of the Hindu Mount Meru

 

angkor wat

 

sits at the center of the tourism globe

bringing travelers from across the world

 

angkor wat

 

after years of genocide and war

Cambodia is back on the tourist trail.

 

angkor wat

 

Once a thriving empire

just hundreds of years after its creation

 

ta phrom

 

Angkor Wat became abandoned

as Thailand expanded

 

angkor wat

 

Cambodia entered its dark age.

 

angkor wat

 

Monks guarded the temples

nurturing the spirits who live inside.

 

ta prohm

 

Over the years the jungle wrapped its arms

around each corner and every curve

 

angkor wat

 

pulling the stone carved temples

back into the womb of the earth.

 

bayon

 

Rediscovered by the French

the temples became admired and prized

 

bayon

 

until the Khmer Rouge took over

using the walls as shooting targets

 

ta prohm

 

and a clever place to hide.

 

banteay srei

 

Years later when tourism boomed

Siem Reap progressed and grew

 

bayon

 

today the hotels drain underground water

sinking the peaks of the temples down.

 

ta prohm

 

As all beings arise from

and in time return to the earth

 

angkor wat

 

the glorious stone temples of Angkor Wat

like the rise and set of the sun

 

angkor wat

 

came from a beginning

and will one day come to an end.

 

angkor wat

 

While humans struggle to protect and preserve

the gods smile effortlessly

 

angkor wat

 

at peace with the impermanence of life

waiting patiently for their new home.

 

 

How to Make the Most of Angkor Wat

 

angkor wat

 

Avoid the crowds

 

By planning your route strategically you can enjoy these spectacular temples without tour groups clogging the pathways and blocking your photos. Typically this means going early every single day. So plan on napping in the hot afternoon or going to bed early instead of partying in Siem Reap. Continue reading below for my suggested one and three day Angkor Wat itineraries.

 

angkor wat

 

Rent a bicycle… a good bicycle

 

Sure it’s hot and Angkor Wat is a bit of a trek from the city center, but cycling was possibly my favorite part of exploring Angkor Wat. Outside of a tuk tuk you can hear the cicadas in the jungle and by moving at a slower pace you see the baby monkeys playing on the side of the road and the children swimming in the river.

 

Practically speaking Angkor Wat is over five miles from the city center and the temples are quite spread out. The Grand Loop is around 30km and the heat is quite intense. My first day I took a cheapo bicycle and it took me nearly an hour just to get to Angkor Wat and about eight hours to make it around the mini loop and see just three temples. Old ladies passed me. Needless to say pay a few dollars more and get a mountain bike. Consider hiring a motorbike to take you to some of the temples that are further out, however the big three (Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Ta Prohm) are quite accessible by bicycle.

 

Eat from the food stalls

 

Some of the least expensive food I ate while in Siem Reap was shockingly at Angkor Wat. Typically tourist attractions means a huge mark up on food, but I was able to get fresh cut up pineapple and mango for $1, a young coconut for $1, and a heaping plate of fresh spring rolls full of herbs and raw veggies also for $1.

 

Pack Breakfast

 

Food stalls are great throughout the day but when you’re watching the sun rise at Angkor Wat it’s nice not to feel like you have to rush off to get breakfast somewhere as soon as the sun is up. I packed some bananas, raw cashews from Angkor Mart, and whole grain bread from Blue Pumpkin and ate my breakfast on the moat surrounding Angkor Wat. It was peaceful and the view unbeatable. After I cycled over to Bayon and had it all to myself while the crowds were still eating breakfast.

 

angkor wat

 

Dress Appropriately

 

It’s hot, like really, really, really, hot here but it’s important to dress modestly. As long as your shoulders and knees are covered you will respect the culture, so wear loose cropped linen pants that tie at the knees or a knee length dress or skirt with short sleeves. You can also bring scarved to modify your outfit, adding a skirt over shorts or a shawl over a tank top. Then when you’re in places by yourself you can take off the scarf and breathe.

 

Also, take the extra time to make sure you look good. It may seem like a nuisance when you wake up before dawn to comb your hair and wear something fashionable, but you will appreciate it in the photos later. The day I watched the sunrise I wore yoga pants and look totally out of place in all of the photos, compared to days when I wore an ikat printed dress.

 

angkor wat

 

Give Yourself a Break

 

If you plan to do the three days pass spend at least a week in Siem Reap so that you can space out your time and have days of enjoying some of the museums and shops in Siem Reap or simply relaxing.

 

angkor wat

 

Take your time

 

Did you come all the way to Cambodia just to rush through some of the most incredible temples surrounded by crowds in the stifling heat? I met many people in Siem Reap who said one day was more than enough in Angkor Wat and honestly I can understand why. They crammed in nearly ten temples in one day and by the time the sun was high in the sky every temple looked the same, the crowds became overwhelming, and the heat felt unbearable.

 

Angkor Wat is a place to savor not to scarf. Soak in your surroundings, wander over to little piles of ruins on the side of the road, chat with the locals in the food stalls, and sit on the stairs at Angkor Wat while the sun sets. The best thing about Angkor Wat is the atmosphere, and the only way to truly feel its magical energy is by sitting still long enough to invite it to come in.

 

angkor wat

 

Respect the Temples

 

I’ve recently read that the temples of Angkor Wat are incredibly threatened due to mass tourism. There is little regulation and tourists are able to climb all over the ruins. I saw tourists sitting on top of repaired lions to have their photos taken and climbing up the faces of Bayon. Phnom Bahkeng, the most popular sunset watching spot, is suffering critical damage from thousands of tourists climbing it up every day.  In fact I even slept inside of Ta Prohm with little effort, a clear sign that the temples are not well regulated. I recognize that climbing up on the roofs was ethically questionable. Remember that these temples are works of art and consider treating them the way you would a piece in a museum.

 

One Day Itinerary in Angkor Wat

 

angkor wat

 

Buy your ticket the day before at 5pm and you can go into the park for free to watch the sunset. My favorite spot to watch the sunset is inside of Angkor Wat but another nice place to watch the sunset is on the bridge leading into Angkor Thom at the South Gate. Here you can see the sun go down on the river with rows of stone carved faces guarding the bridge.

 

Arrive at Angkor Wat by 5am the next morning to get the best spot on the lake for photo taking. There are massive crowds here always FYI.

 

As soon as you get your perfect shot when the sun crests the top of the temple, immediately go outside. The crowds, camera flashes, and hawkers interfere with the beautiful experience watching the sunrise at this temple. Go outside and sit along the moat with almost no other people and watch the sunrise peacefully while eating breakfast.

 

By 7am make sure to head to Bayon. The crowds start to filter in about 7:30am and by 8am it’s totally packed. This time of day the light is also stunning, splashing the faces with golden light and casting flattering shadows.

 

Head over to Ta Prohm and really take your time wandering around the ruins. If there are crowds, just take an alternate route and you’ll find yourself alone.

 

After Ta Prohm go back into Siem Reap for lunch, rest a little at the pool, and recharge for the afternoon.

 

At 4pm head back out to the temples, this time stopping at Angkor Wat. The temple will have plenty of people but the light is most gorgeous at this time. Angkor Wat is so big you can easily find spots where there are no other people. Stick around inside until the guards kick you out after the sunset and you can get a glimpse of the temple without another soul around.

 

If you’re feeling extra daring, consider sneaking into Ta Prohm or another well-enclosed temple to spend the night.

 

 

Three Day Itinerary in Angkor Wat

 

Buy your ticket the evening before and at 5pm they let you in without stamping your ticket. Watch the sunset along the river outside of Angkor Thom or from inside of Angkor Wat.

 

angkor wat

 

Day 1:

 

Watch the sunrise at Srah Srang, which is a large water reservoir guarded by stone carved animals. Afterwards head over to Ta Prohm before the crowds, around 6:30am, and wander the temple taken over by jungle alone, it’s a magical experience. Then go to Ta Keo, which is just next door and has some lovely carvings.

 

Late afternoon head out to Rolous Group (Bakong, Preah Ko, Lolei) to see the first temples built by the Khmers. It’s about 13km outside of Siem Reap. At this time of day there are no crowds and monks congregate around the temples. You can watch an amazing sunset at Bakong in the Rolous Group.

 

angkor wat

 

Day 2:

 

Go to Banteay Srei early in the morning before the crowds hit around 7am.  You’ll need a tuk tuk as it’s over 30km from Angkor Wat. The temple is very small but has beautifully preserved carvings and the red sandstone offers a nice change.

 

Afterwards go to Kbal Spean about 5km from Banteay Srei to see the beautiful carvings along the walk to the waterfall.

 

Go back to Siem Reap to eat and rest for a few hours and in the afternoon go to Beng Mealea, about a 2 hour tuk tuk ride. Arrive for the golden light and wander this totally ruined jungle temple with few others and stick around for a glorious sunset.

 

angkor wat

 

Day 3:

 

Arrive at Angkor Wat by 5am to get the best spot on the lake for your photo but I don’t recommend lingering.

 

As soon as you get your perfect shot when the sun crests the top of the temple, immediately go outside. The crowds, camera flashes, and hawkers interfere with the beautiful experience watching the sunrise at this temple. Go outside and sit along the moat with almost no other people and watch the sunrise peacefully while eating breakfast.

 

By 7am make sure to head to Bayon. The crowds start to filter in about 7:30am and by 8am it’s totally packed. This time of day the light is also stunning, splashing the faces with golden light and casting flattering shadows.

 

After Bayon walk around the other temples inside of Angkor Thom until they too fill up with crowds.

 

Go back to your hotel late morning and rest until 4pm, the best time of day to see Angkor Wat. The temple will have plenty of people but the light is most gorgeous at this time. Angkor Wat is so big you can easily find spots where there are no other people. Stick around inside until the guards kick you out after the sunset and you can get a glimpse of the temple without another soul around.

 

 

Even with the 3 day itinerary there are tons of temples I had to cut out. If possible I recommend finding a way to also catch sunrise or sunset at Phnom Krom, which is a hilltop temple about 13km outside of Siem Reap. It looks out over the Tonle Sap river with some amazing scenery. Better yet, get the week long pass and you can even revisit your favorite temples.

 


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Comments

  1. Lovely description. I love vising ancient temples and sculptures.

  2. Amazing shots! Angkor Wat is such a magnificent place to visit. The temples are a wonderful!

  3. Well said…Everything has a beginning and an end… unfortunately, even the beautiful things in this world. Great article, and great photos! Makes me want to meet those gods before they leave. Cheers!

  4. What a great read. I’m going to follow this! :) I think I’ll get the week pass so I can really soak it all in.

    • Camille Willemain Says: November 21, 2014 at 8:52 pm

      Awesome thanks so much! Yes definitely get the week pass, it’s such a special place just make sure to avoid the heat and the crowds to really enjoy it :)

  5. excellent info
    leaving for cambodia in 2 days–this helped my itinerary planning!