Originally constructed as a Hindu temple in honor of Vishnu, Angkor Wat was has always stood apart from other temples.
Located in Siem Reap Cambodia, Angkor Wat is the nation’s biggest draw for tourists from across the world. The Khmer people also take pride in Angkor Wat, proudly representing it on their flag.
Visiting Angkor Wat for myself, there’s really no way to describe it that can do it justice. It’s massive – unbelievably large! My brain whirled a little bit thinking about how much work it must have been to build it – and way back in the 12th century to boot!
Taking up 402 acres, it’s no surprise that standing in front of Angkor Wat invokes a sense of smallness and wonder in it’s 2.1 million annual visitors.
I am so happy that Angkor wasn’t destroyed while the Khmer Rogue was in power, as many temples, and their residing monks, were destroyed by the regime.
Fun Fact: A communist party known as the Khmer Rogues once ruled Cambodia, killing everyone who was not natively Khmer. An estimated 2 million Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai and other non-native men, women, and children were killed during this time not so long ago (1975-1979). The U.S is happy to stick it’s fingers in other communist pies but did not step in to help Cambodia at all during it’s own little mini holocaust…hmm…
Like many other historical sites, Angkor Wat has typical operating hours – 5 am to 7pm. I recommend planning your visit through an agency or your hotel/hostel. This is because Angkor has a few different sites that you can visit, called “circuits”, and a tour allows you to have Tuk Tuk driver that will take you to them.
I had toyed with the idea of renting a motorbike and driving myself, but I’m so glad I opted for the guided tour. While all of the sites seem to be in the general vicinity of one another, there are many backroads / side roads / twisty roads involved. Don’t get my wrong, I enjoy getting lost sometimes…just not in a jungle full of monkeys.
Yes, there were lots of monkeys on the side of the road. I managed to snap this drive by photo of one of them.
Side note: Not a big fan of monkeys. Or apes. Or gorillas. Humans seem to be the only primates I like..and even then it’s sketchy.
Not sure why, but I think it has something to do with my Christian upbringing and my brain going “we did not come from that! Naarrghh!“
Even though my alarm was set for 4, my brain likes to torture me and I woke up at 3:30. I got dressed and headed over to another hostel to meet up with my friend Aisha (we met in Hue, Vietnam) so that we could depart on our Angkor Wat tour together. The Tuk Tuk driver left from her hostel and off we went! It was $15 between the two of us for the entire circuit.
See? Traveling alone isn’t lonely – if Aisha and I weren’t both solo female travelers, we would have never met! I told you, solo travel rocks!
I mentioned earlier that there are several different circuits you can choose from. We opted to do the short circuit because we’re terrible travelers, but it was plenty for us. You’ll want to check with your hostel to see which sites are covered in each circuit. For us, the small circuit included 6 sites, and it totally satisfied our Angkor desires.
Departing Aisha’s hostel at 4:30 am (so close to 4:20!), we zipped off to the tour office where we would purchase our tickets. Tickets for Angkor come in two types – $20 for one day or $30 for two days. We were only going to visit a few of the sites, so we purchased a $20 one day pass.
The ticket office had this little guy out front. I couldn’t help but hug him.
HUG ELEPHANTS, (or bathe baby ones) BUT DON’T RIDE!
When we arrived, the ticket office hadn’t opened yet, but people were already lining up in front of the ticket booths. We waited about 20 minutes and the office began issuing tickets a bit earlier than their official opening time – yeehaw!
You’ll need to get your picture taken so that you can have a personalized ticket. Following the ways of my mother, I desperately hoped I would be allowed to keep the ticket for my keepsake boxes.
Spoiler alert: You get to keep the ticket! Just make sure not to get it wet, or allow any harm to come to it. They do check the tickets at all of the Angkor sites.
After purchasing our tickets, we rushed out to the Tuk Tuk like schoolgirls and found our driver. Off we went again, heading to the main Angkor Wat site for a sunrise view!
We drive through a gate, where our tickets were checked by the staff members there. Driving down a long, twisty road, we arrive at Angkor Wat – its outline becoming barely visible in the rising sun. Leaping out of the Tuk Tuk, we begin to walk towards Angkor while fending off plenty of locals offering us coffee, breakfast and tour guide services.
We are on the hunt and cannot be distracted.
Two of the people who introduced themselves as guides told us their names were Lady Gaga and James Bond, respectively.
By this time, the glow of the sun was growing fast. Along with droves of other tourists, we all rushed up to Angkor to get ‘the money shot’.
I also like to call it the “super-cliche sunrise shot”.
Angkor Wat absolutely oozes a sense of awe right as you take this photo. In the english language today “awesome” has been perverted into a word we toss around willy-nilly, having absolutely no semblance of it’s original meaning: causing or inducing awe; inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear.
Standing in front of Angkor Wat, I felt – only rivaled by my first time at Burning Man – truly in awe. I tried to find a good balance between taking a good photo, and still being able to enjoy the moment. Looking back, I nailed it.
The sun rose quickly, and I was able to get a few more photos where you can actually see Angkor Wat.
After the appropriate number of selfies, sunrise pictures, and adventuring around the grounds, Aisha and I began the walk back to the entrance where the Tuk Tuks were waiting.
On our way out, we saw a strange sight happening in the previously empty walkway.
What is going on here? I thought. Is there about to be a mass Salat here?
Then it dawned on me (hehe see what I did there? because the sun is rising…dawn…lol..gotta laugh when you can folks) – YOGA!
Yoga is offered in front of Angkor at Sunrise. I’ve not tried Yoga, but I have a lot of friends (and one awesome cousin!) who are totally nerdy for it. If any of you Yoga nerds ever make it to Angkor, you can do Yoga here in the morning. I bet that would be an experience unlike any other!
Aisha and I find our Tuk Tuk driver glued to a TV in a cafe back towards the entrance. After embarrassing him in front of all his friends by having a chain of guys get his attention, we hop in and zip off to site two.
One our way, we stopped at the victory gate.
This was on my list and I was so thrilled I wouldn’t have to go out and make a special trip to see it.
After the victory gate, we got to the second site, but it didn’t open until 7:30am.
Note to other travelers: take your time at Angkor Wat! Or, be prepared to sit and have a wifi-free smoothie while you wait for the other sites to open.
The second site wasn’t any Angkor Wat, but it was still impressive. My brain still struggled to imagine what it would be like to build a place like this with super rustic tools and no machines for transport.
I enjoyed all the faces at the place. The detail was incredible. No matter where you stood, you were always being watched. At first it was creepy but then I began to see myself in each of the faces.
The heat is gettin’ to me, man.
Fun fact: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was filmed here! Once she lands in Cambodia and arrives at the temple, you’ll recognize the tree from my pictures.
Aisha was specifically looking forward to this site! Engulfed by a giant tree, Ta Pronhm offered a different feel than the other sites. Also unlike the others, Ta Pronhm has not needed any restorative work since it’s construction. As it was in the 12th century, it remains today. Healing power of trees, anybody?
The sounds of the jungle was abound here, and the nature was rampant. After Angkor Wat, this was my second favorite stop of the day.
Here’s where I begin to lose my history and the names of the sites a bit. I’m sorry that the following will be a mish-mash of various sites and temples, but they provide cool pictures all the same!
Rolling in at about 9:30 am, we have completed the circuit and are ready to head back. The Tuk Tuk driver returns me to my hostel and continues on to take Aisha to hers. I shower and go back to bed, sleeping off one of the most exciting mornings I’ve had in while.
Would you ever want to visit Angkor Wat? Have you been anywhere that has similarly struck you with beauty and awe? What was it about that place that made you feel that way?