Angkor Wat – an architectural wonder and historical treasure

The Temple of Angkor Wat is perhaps the most famous and most recognizable religious monument in the world.  It has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag, and a source of great pride to Cambodians.  It is the country’s prime tourist attraction.  Yet this temple is just one of many ancient temples and ruins that form the Angkor Archaeological Park, a vast site stretching over some 400 square kilometres that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.

A visit to Angkor Wat was high on my bucket list, and I was pretty excited to arrive in Siem Reap last Sunday, after an easy flight from Vientiane.  I couldn’t believe how touristy Siem Reap was – when a town has a street called “Pub Street”, you know the tourists have invaded. Our guesthouse, Bayon Garden, was located on a quiet side street away from the noisy tourist centre.  We thought the location was perfect until later in the week, but I’ll tell you about that in the next post.

We purchased a three-day ticket (US$40 each) which we could use on any three days within a week.  It turned out to be just enough time to take in the major sites, before hitting our temple saturation point.

On the first day, we hired a tuk tuk driver who took us on what is known as the outer route which, as the name implies,  takes you to temples further afield.

At the end of the day, we watched the sun set behind the Temple of Angkor Wat.

On the next day, we rented a couple of brand new mountain bikes with new helmets (better than any motorcycle helmet we have worn in South East Asia!).  The bikes cost US$5 each per day as compared to US$1.50 for an old, rickety, single speed one.  As we cruised along with ease in the stifling heat, whizzing by riders who were plodding along on the old bikes, we congratulated ourselves for making such a good choice.  It was a great way to explore the area, giving us freedom to stop whenever we wished, but giving us the mobility to still cover a fair bit of distance too – probably 30 km for the day.  The terrain was flat, so it was an easy ride.  We spent several hours just exploring the Temple of Angkor Wat that day.  This site is so huge we probably could have spent a full day there and still not see everything!

On our final day, we hired our tuk tuk driver again to take us out at the crack of dawn (5:00 am to be precise) in order to catch the sunrise over Angkor Wat.  Once we figured out the best spot to see the sunrise and to get the iconic photos that are on all the postcards, we joined hundreds of other tourists who were also there to see the sunrise. After that we did the “short tour” that included a visit to my favourite temple, Bayon with it’s multitude of serene and massive stone faces on the many towers jutting out from the upper terrace.  Some of the faces were remarkably intact, whereas others were barely visibly, due to the effects of the passage of time.  Unfortunately, dozens of Chinese tour groups arrived at this temple at the same time we did.  These tourists were so loud and obnoxious, their leaders corralling the groups with loud speakers, everyone yelling to each other, and otherwise disturbing the serene atmosphere of the site.  We were kicking ourselves for not visiting this site the day before when we had passed by in the afternoon  on our bikes and observed nary a tour bus or tuk tuk in sight.

The crowd watching the sunrise.

We were wowed by this site, something that is hard to do these days after all the amazing things we have seen on this trip.  This was probably the most impressive architectural site we have ever seen.  Check out Wikepedia if you are interested in learning the history of Angkor Wat or for more details about the many temples on the site.

Video:  Monkeying around at Angkor Wat

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2 Responses
  1. Angus says:

    Looks like a magical place.

    The architecture reminds me of Indiana Jones, need to get Chris a new hat and whip.

    I can’t believe so many people got up to watch a sunrise. Never catch me doing that unless I was suffering from insomnia.

    Love the monkeys, good thing you weren’t carrying beer in that basket or there would be a bunch of drunk monkeys. The one’s you were feeding are too cute. Janet would have adopted one.

  2. Lina says:

    Great photographs!