Where I wrote this from: Flying from Chiang Mai to Ko Samui
There is so much to talk about here I’m just going to cut to the chase. Talking to a whole bunch of people about Angkor Wat the consensus was that you didn’t really need to spend too many days there. One day for the casual visitor is about enough before you get templed out.
Jia did the research here and found a private guide, Mr. Son who would take as around in an A/C jeep the whole day (8AM – 6PM – yes oh god) and see the main sites. We did the following:
- Ta Prohm Temple
- Ta Keo Temple
- Bayon Temple
- Elephant Terrace
- Angkor Wat
- Phnom Bakhen
We started off at Ta Prohm Temple which most will know as the Tomb Raider temple where Angelina Jolie did some on-location filming or the temple with trees growing out of and around it. Mr. Son was great in showing us around as he always managed to find areas of the temple that were more secluded and shaded. He knew the exact timing of certain tour groups. He would say things like “Korean group coming later so we finish before they come”. This complex was pretty huge with a good portion of it still in good shape and others completely collapsed. There was also a lot of restoration going on at this temple. Coming in and out of the temple was a bit crazy because we were parked near where all the tourists shops were. There is literally a huge gang of little kids and women knocking the glass of the car and begging once you go outside. They would say things like “Buy from meee…” or “I give you good price” or “1 dolla for 10 postcaaards”. And when you shake your head and start walking towards the temple they go “When come back buy from meee”. All of them have this desperate and whiney voice.
The heat at this point was picking up slowly and manageable so far. Next we made a quick stop at a small temple called Ta Keo. We did a quick climb up, snapped some photos and came back down.
The next large temple we did was Bayon Temple, which is within the large walled city called Angkor Thom. We first stopped off at one of the entrances to the city, which has an incredible walled gate and gods and demons leading into it.
I was very impressed with Bayon Temple. You just look at it and just go “Oh my god there are so many faces”. Here there are large walls containing a good amount of reliefs, chambers for Buddhas and many many 4 sided Buddha faces. The Dutch discovered this back in the 1700’s I believe and actually did a good amount of restoration work. Mr. Son said that if it wasn’t for them many of the walls would have collapsed already. The Dutch took fallen down stones and piled them up to brace walls that were leaning over.
At this point I’m already sweating like a pig.
For lunch Mr. Son just brought to the area in the park that has a string of locals running restaurants. At lunch I caved and ended up buying a pack of 10 postcards from this really cute little girl even though she pulled the same lines: “Buy from meeee…”, “It’s not the same…”, “1…2…3…..10”, “Buy for your girlfriend”…
After lunch we quickly stopped by the Elephant Terrace for some quick snaps. I felt so gross at this point because the sun was beating down on us and I literally look down at my arms and their soaked with sweat. I’m constantly using my buff to wipe sweat off…everywhere.
Then we finally hit the main event – Angkor Wat itself. Simply put, this site is enormous. From the entrance and across the man-made moat the temple towers look tiny but you soon realize that this is because you have to pass the main gate building, cross through an park with lakes and “library” buildings until you finally reach it. Again Mr. Son was awesome in taking us “off the beaten path” and away from all the tourists which was great. The only thing distracting me from fully enjoying it was the heat. Seriously Jia and I have never sweat this much in our lives. Fully drenched from basic walking.
Within the temple we were able to walk around the outer area which is lined with reliefs and within there are several levels that you can reach which for the most part is in amazing condition. Even though this temple is older than the others we saw it was probably in the best shape.
My one regret is not getting the money Angkor Wat shot which we just couldn’t figure out at the time where to shoot it from. So unfortunately I don’t have that many great shots of Angkor Wat. I think in part we were just so exhausted from the heat.
Our last stop was Phnom Bakheng which we thought was just a hill to climb to see the sunset but turned out to be another temple. At the top, tourists lined the western face of the temple to watch the sunset. We found a spot and just camped out to watch the sunset. The retarded thing was at 6PM before the sun was fully down they kicked everyone out to close down. Even though tripods weren’t allowed I snuck a few shots in.
What a long day right but I guess you really do need that amount of time to see the 3 main temples so I’m happy we did it. Just prepared to feel nasty the whole time. What makes it worse is having to carry a backpack full of camera gear too.
After Mr. Son dropped us back at the hotel we cleaned up and decided to head out to the pool. Le Meridian has a pool but it was under reservation so they were offering shuttle rides to the nearby Sofitel. The pool at the Sofitel was pretty bomb. The sun had set at this point and was starting to pour but we still spent a good 40 minutes here before heading back.
For dinner Jia had made a reservation at Meric at Hotel de la Paix. We wanted to check this one out because it had fancier Khmer food and to top it off you get to eat on this huge table swing. The tasting menu was pretty good though of course more expensive than a local restaurant but still an overall good experience.
- Cambodia is 85% Buddhist, 10% Muslim, 5% Christian
- In the Angkor National Park there are 300 temples in total, 40 temples are visitable and covers an are 400 square kms.
- So things are a bit different out here. Jan/Feb is high season when most tourists come and April/May are the hottest months.
- If you arrive earlier in Siem Reap you may consider visiting Angkor Wat for sunset. The deal is that if you purchase the day pass after 5PM it is valid for the next day and also provides admission for the day you’re buying it. Note that the park closes at 6:30 or 7PM.
- Highly recommend getting a driver/guide like Mr. Son to take you around. First of all, these guides know where to go and when to avoid the hoards of tourists and secondly the brief A/C breaks and water recharges.
- For the “money shot” of Angkor Wat you need to go for sunrise and not sunset. Do not take it from the outer wall behind the moat. You need to be actually within the complex and position yourself behind one of the lakes there to get that perfect reflection.
- A lot of these places don’t allow tripods. I didn’t get a chance to do sunrise at Angkor Wat but it wasn’t allowed at Phnom Bakheng when we went for sunset.
- Breakfast @ Le Meridien
- Mr. Son pickup at 8AM
- Ta Prohm Temple – Tomb Raider
- Ta Keo Temple
- Bayon Temple – Faces
- Elephant Terrace
- Angkor Wat – Main Event
- Phnom Bakheng for sunset
- Back to Le Meridien Angkor
- Sofitel for pool
- Dinner at Meric @ Hotel de la Paix (now Park Hyatt Siem Reap)
Head to the Next Day
To read about the next day, head over to Day 17 – Siem Reap – “We Ride A Little Rice Paddie”
Curious what else I did on my trip to Asia? See the full itinerary and all 89 days.