Erected in the 9th century, Angkor Wat has seen a lot over the years. The world’s largest religious monument, the structure has had a Buddhist, Hindu and cult following.
It’s had addition after addition added until the 15th century, stretching 400 km2 across the center of Cambodia. The funny thing is, if you didn’t know it was there you probably wouldn’t be able to find it amongst the country’s forests.
More than anything the monument has survived the test of time, the Khmer Rouge that tried to destroy all of Cambodia’s cultured past and even mother nature who still tries to rip through the architectural wonder today with its mighty roots.
Angkor Archeological Park is home to all the temples that make up Angkor Wat. Today the UNESCO World Heritage site that had been ignored for so long is getting the attention it rightfully deserves. Tourists from all around the world visit the site each year to see its crumbling religious structures.
I visited in May 2011 and was in shock of the size of the place. The guesthouse I stayed at set up a tuk tuk to pick my partner and I up at 4:30 a.m. We hired the tuk tuk for half a day for only $20, a bargain considering he drove us around for six hours that day and my partner and I split the price.
Entrance into the Park costs $20 per person for one day, but multiple-day passes are discounted. Though most the guidebooks and blogs I read recommend visiting for at least three days, I decided to just try one day and see how I felt. Inevitably I would have liked to have seen more, but like castles in Scotland, I was starting to get a bit temple-weary at this point in our trip around Southeast Asia.
Our tuk tuk driver had a schedule of temples for us to visit that day, but also considered ones we point out in a tourist book I bought there for $5. We visited Angkor Wat for sunrise, which was worth the early wake up. Besides being an amazing building, a pond in front mirrors the image of the sun rising behind it. We visited Bayon (the temple with many faces on it), Ta Prohm (the most photographed temple for trees growing through it) and about five more temples that day. The three mentioned are probably the most well-known, but there is so much more to be discovered in this park.
Not much of the park that I visited was cut off to visitors at the time. A lot of it was being restored while I was there, which was great to see. I have to say my favorite temple is Bayon. It was such an amazing structure and fun to walk around. Everywhere I looked a stone face was smiling back at me. Visitors will spot quite a few monkeys hanging around this area of the Park, which are cute, but still wild so treat them as such.
There are plenty of places to buy food and water. A strip of food carts operate by the main temple. Each cart is named after a celebrity like Lady Gaga or Angelina Jolie.
There are plenty of spots in the Park to buy souvenirs. Cambodia is very poor, but I met more children and people who were selling goods rather than just begging around Angkor Wat. I bought a few bracelets from children and books from land mine victims in Siem Reap. I would really recommend this as a way to give back to a place with such beautiful people and land who have suffered so much.
People interested in visiting Angkor Wat should base themselves in Siem Reap. The busy Cambodian town is located about a 20-minute drive from Angkor Wat. All you hear about in the town is Angkor Wat, but make sure to take a few days to just enjoy Siem Reap. It’s a gorgeous city with markets, cafes and great restaurants.
I wouldn’t bother arranging anything until arriving in Angkor Wat. You’ll most likely get scooped up by a guesthouse at the bus station anyway. They’re really good in organizing tours and very friendly. Make sure to haggle though and always be aware that scams do happen.
Angkor Wat is a magnificent place to visit and it’s an incredibly cheap trip in terms of travel around the world. Have you ever visited the Park? What was your experience like and what are your tips for those who have never been?