Angkor was once one of largest cities in the world, the capital of the Khmer Empire and the Royal center during one of the most prosperous and largest dynasties in Southern Asia.
1,000 years ago, the Khmer empire, strategically located between China and India, has used complex agriculture techniques to develop a civilization that has dominated Asia for hundreds of years.
Angkor means the Holy City and it was the symbol of the universe and the symbol city of the empire. It took 27 kings to construct it and spread across 400 sq km of land. It was a megacity with a complex system of infrastructure, including roads, canals, reservoirs and irrigation systems supporting around 1,000,000 people.
The wood and straw homes in which people once lived have long disappeared, and only the imposing stone temples still remain today.
It is called “Angkor” Archeological Park, and it is one of the most important landmarks in Southern Asia. It stretches over 400 sq km and most of it remains hidden in the jungle. It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The temples of Angkor are highly symbolic structures and scattered around the complex.
We wanted to visit Angkor Wat for a long time and this year we finally managed to make it happen.
In order to visit this amazing place you need at least 3 days but unfortunately, we only had a day and a half, and we have made the best out of it.
Sunset in Angkor
We knew that if we would buy tickets for the Archeologic Site at 17.00 in the evening, we could use it from that time onwards for the next 24 hours. So on the same evening, we went in Angkor to watch the sunset. First, we went around Srah Srang Lake, which is actuality a reservoir constructed in the 10th century. There is a special view platform created for sunset views but we did not find it spectacular. So we moved to Phnom Bakheng temple, which is the most popular place to watch the sunset.
Being a temple, we also had the opportunity to enter and climb to the top, but the downside was that it was quite crowded. What to do?! Sunset at Angkor Wat it is a bucket list experience.
Unfortunately, for us, that day was foggy, so the sky was not as pretty as it could have been. Even so, it was still an amazing experience.
Sunrise at Angkor
We woke up very early in the morning when there was still a thick layer of fog. We were so eager to see the sunrise in Angkor Wat. That famous sunrise!
Our friend, Kim, was already downstairs waiting for us in its tuk-tuk.
I remember arriving in Angkor, just in time for the sunrise, but unfortunately, it was a cloudy day. Therefore, we were not fortunate enough to have an amazing view. However, we stood there, enjoying the shy sun rays and walked around the complex.
There were hundreds of other tourist doing exactly the same thing. It made the place a little crowded.
Soon after, when the sun was up, we were going back to our tuk-tuk, when all of a sudden, we were in the middle of some crazy monkeys, which loved to play.
There were several “packs” of wild monkeys in Angkor which were accustomed to the tourists. Their main interest was to approach you and steal your food. We did not carry any, but still, they were attracted by my red dress and jumped all over me. It was a very funny moment; nevertheless, you need to stay alert all the time as a bite or a bad scratch could have serious medical implications. After all, they are wild animals.
Angkor is a huge UNESCO World Heritage and the world’s largest religious monument ever built.
A lot of people call the whole Complex “Angkor Wat”, but actually that name only refers to one temple. Angkor refers to the entire 154 sqm and its over 50 temples.
There are two main options to get around Angkor: bikes or tuk-tuks. Biking is nice, but in this case we were very happy with our decision to rent a tuk-tuk for the entire day. We were very lucky to meet Kim, our driver. He handled everything for us like hotel pick-up and drop off, touring around, lunch, taking us to secret or less crowded places.
You can find his contact at the end of the article if you are interested to book him.
- First stop was at the Angkor Thom complex.
Angkor Thom was the center city of the Khmer metropolis. The residence of priests, officials of the palace, military and is made up of buildings for administering the kingdom and the Royal Palace itself. And it remained the capital city of the Khmer Empire throughout its decline. It was a square city surrounded by a high wall and had five impressive gates providing access to the city.
Each of these gates had a central tower, flanked by two smaller ones and a bridge crossing the moat. The entrance towards some of the gates is lined with statues of gods and demons to protect the city.
We spent little time at the South Gate and we checked out the famous statues.
Angkor Thom now contains only the remains of a large number of temples of different ages and styles like:
Bayon temple – the smiling faces temple Bayon is in the center of Angkor Thom and represents its pride.
It is a fantastic temple to explore which is built on three levels (symbolizing the underground, ground, and heaven) linked by stairs, small yards, a maze of tunnels and doorways.
Bayon was constructed in 12th century by King Jayavarman VII, soon after the victory over Cham people. It is actually a Buddhist shrine and it is known as the 200 stone-carved faces temple. All of the statues have the same serene smile and eyes closed representing the state of inner peace.
We just loved it.
Also in Angkor Thom, we saw the Baphoun temple, one of the oldest temples, which was partly rebuilt by a team of French archaeologists.
Not far from the two temples, we discovered a terrace – Terrace of the Elephants
This is a long stone terrace supposedly used for ceremonies of its victorious returning army or public performances and royal audiences. The stairs are decorated with lions and life-sized elephants displaced on the walls of the terrace.
Terrace of the Leper King – directly adjoins the Terrace of the Elephants to the north.
The name came from a statue discovered at the site called Leper King because of the moss growing looking like leprosy.
- The second stop was at Ta Prohm, the famous temple seen in the first Tomb Rider movie.
Maybe we all know about Ta Prohm’s appearance in the first Tomb Raider movie starred by Angelina Jolie.
This is one of the most famous temples in Angkor.
It was built in the 12th century as a Buddhist monastery and university.
After the fall of the Khmer Empire, Ta Prohm fell into despairs and was swallowed by the jungle. Trees began to grow from the top of the buildings, and they got bigger till they mysteriously merged with the temple.
Although work has been done to stabilize the ruins, the huge tree roots were deliberately left there and swallowed Ta Prohm. It was a perfect experience! Ta Prohm is especially serene and beautiful when visited in the early morning
We visited temple after temple and we did not even realize when time passed, so we ran to our tuk-tuk to find a place for lunch.
Kim took us to a perfect place where we had a delicious meal and a good rest before continuing our temple hopping.
- Next stop was at a Jungle temple. I don’t remember its name. But I remember that we were the only people there and we enjoyed it without having to battle the crowds.
- Last but not least, the famous Angkor Wat Temple
We let the best for the last. So we visited the famous temple at sunset to be able to have time to enjoy it.
Angkor Wat is the most impressive temple and the pride of Cambodia. And one of the largest religious monuments in the world. King Suryavarman II, who ruled for almost 40 years and expanded the Khmer empire constructed it during the 12th century.
The temple is built to represent Mount Meru, the center of the world in Hindu religion and dedicated to the God Vishnu.
Later on, around the 13th century, Angkor Wat was converted into a Buddhist temple.
The entire complex was abandoned in the 15th century when the Khmer empire moved its administrative center to what is now Phnom Penh.
First of all I have to mention that this temple was huge. It had three levels, five towers and it stretches across 3.6 sq km.
We entered and passed these gorgeous concentric galleries on our way to the top. The temple is simply amazing having its unique Khmer architecture.
Everywhere we went we saw Buddhist monks, at some point one might think that they are living here. Well, they are not, they are only making pilgrimage due to the importance of this Buddhist temple and their presence here adds to the mystical atmosphere.
On our way back, we found a Buddhist monk that was doing a blessing ritual and we thought that it is a very good idea to have one for the two of us.
Water blessings are a traditional Cambodian Buddhist practice that dates back to ancient times. The water symbolized the cleansing of your body and mind. We took off our shoes and sat on the carpet in front of him. He started to sprinkle water towards us while chanting.
The blessing and the water was a big bonus for us because it was a very hot day.
After he finished his blessings, he tied a red string bracelet around my left wrist and Costin’s right wrist, in order to bring good luck and prosperity.
It must be kept on until it naturally falls off.
I hope it will stay there for a long time because it brings such a big smile on my face every time I look at it and remember the nice moments.
For us it was a one in a lifetime experience: the temples, the vibe, the mystery…everything was simply amazing and we loved it.
What is Angkor Wat
First of all, “Angkor Wat” is the name of one temple inside the huge Angkor Complex. Angkor Complex refers to the entire 154 sqm and its over 50 temples and one of the most visited religious sites in the world.
Angkor once was one of largest city in the world, as the capital of the Khmer Empire.
When to go
There are a few options:
Rainy season – it will rain a lot, it will be muddy but less touristic (May-October).
Dry Seasons – great weather but crowded (Nov-April).
December and January the best weather and incredibly crowded.
Where to stay
Siem Reap is the closest place to Angkor. This city grew in order to fulfill the need for tourist accommodation visiting the famous site. You can find a lot of hotels and hostels here, from budget places to luxury hotels.
There are many temples there and most of them have clothing rules. It is very simple: the shoulders and knees must be covered. Both for women and men.
Taking a guide or not
To navigate around the archeological site can easily be done alone, but for sure you will miss important information that can make the difference.It is an historical site with many story to tell.
How to get to Angkor
There are many ways to explore the ancient ruins and the entire complex depending on your budget. The most popular options are:
-Rent a bike
If you plan to rent a bike, you have to take under consideration to start very early in the morning to overbeat the afternoon heat.
It is better to have a well-created plan because the distances between the temples are huge.
You can find a lot of renting places with prices as low as 1-5 USD/day/bike
-Rent a tuk-tuk
This is the most popular way to see the temple. It is not a problem to find a tuk-tuk for rent.
It may cost between 20-25 USD/day.
We were lucky to find, Kim, that helped us with transportation and important tips while in Cambodia.
You can find him here:
Khmer Angkor Driver
WhatsApp:+855 10 833 168
-By car or bus
Groups also like to drive through Angkor Park in air-conditioned vehicles.
The price is between 25-30 USD/day
Can be booked almost everywhere. The downside is that will depend on the group and you won’t be able to explore at your own pace.
There are more options:
1-day pass- 37 USD
3 days pass -62 USD
7 days pass – 72 USD
Ticket Center 5.00-17.30
Tickets can’t be purchased online. At least not yet.
It is more practical if you buy the ticket the evening before, from 17.00. This has two benefits. First – you can see Angkor Park and the sunset on the same evening. Second – you will have a little more time in the next morning and you can go directly to the temples.
How to explore the archeological site
You can spend days and days exploring Angkor Archeological Site, but after the first few hours all the temples will look alike, and most probably you won’t have the patience of seeing all 1,000 temples.
So it is better to be well organized and have the help of a tuk-tuk guide. Depending on the length of your stay, you shouldn’t miss the following temples:
Angkor Wat Temple
This is the most important temple of the site and the largest one. It is huge, complex, amazing and an absolute must-do.
It was built in the12th century as a Hindu temple, later transformed into a place of worship for Buddhists. It took 30 years to be completed and it is one of the best-preserved temples. We spent a few hours walking around and never got tired to exploring each and every corner of it.
Was constructed as the capital city of the Khmer empire. The city is surrounded by a thick wall, towers, and famous entrance gates.
Once inside you shouldn’t miss:
This is a very photogenic temple especially around sunrise and sunset. It has a unique architecture with numerous smiling stone faces.
It is said that more than 200 stone-carved faces can be seen around the templeElephant Terrace is a viewing platform for public ceremonies placed in the center of Angkor Thom and has beautiful elephant stone carvings.
Ta Prohm Temple
This is the most famous one due to being part of the Tomb Raider movie and it is easily recognized by its large vines covering the ruins.
Ba Phunon Temple
It is a temple that was constructed in the honor of Hindu God Shiva and its shape represents the mythical Mount Meru.
Phnom Bakheng Temple
It was constructed two centuries earlier than Angkor Wat. Today it is very famous for sunrise and sunset views.
Unfortunately, we only had one day to explore the complex, and it was a tiring one because we wanted to see as much as possible.
Despite all that, Angkor has a special place in my heart.
It was amazing!