Travel Report: Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
Thanks to all of you for following my extensive series of travel articles on What to See and Do in Siem Reap. So far, I’ve avoided the province’s biggest draw, the world famous Angkor Temples. Now, it’s finally time to dive in. But before sharing the spots I visited with Sladja in 2020, I’m gonna take you back to the trio of Angkor temples I hit during my first visit to Siem Reap back in 2015. Thanks, as ever, for being a part of this journey.
It was pitch black as we rumbled through the streets of Siem Reap in our tuk tuk. The time was a downright grisly 4:30 in the morning, way too early for me and my three zombified companions. Nevertheless, we were full of anticipation. After all, we were about to arrive at one of Planet Earth’s most stupendous temples.
That tuk-tuk ride from the city centre was a bumpy one. Hence I was delighted when we finally arrived, the morning sky already beginning to break. Disembarking and turning a corner on foot, there was a collective wow moment as Angkor Wat came into view.
Due to our obnoxiously early start, I had wondered if… just maybe… the place wasn’t going to be as crowded as I’d initially feared. But of course I was wrong. This was Angkor Wat, where dealing with crazy crowds is simply part of the package.
The Sunrise Crowds.
A large concentration of the masses had settled at the edge of the moat, directly in front of the entrance gates. This is the spot for photographs as the sun rises. It really is an amazing moment as the temple’s black, shadowy form begins to bleed into its signature golden glow.
Angkor Wat was built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II in tribute to the Hindu god Vishnu. This was an unusual move at the time, because most temples of the era stood dedicated to Shiva, the destroyer of Evil. Gradually, in the decades that followed, it morphed into a Buddhist temple.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
King Suryavarman became obsessed with expanding his temple, adding more and more residential wings, gardens and strategic military posts. Eventually, it became the centrepiece of the Khmer Empire!
Described as the very “heart and soul of Cambodia”, today the temple stands as the world’s largest religious monument. If you’re wondering just how big that is, I’m talking 500 acres!
Inside, there are stone courtyards, column arcades, dusty alleyways, vast open squares and crumbling balconies aplenty. Moreover, just about everything is stuffed with Buddhist and Hindu images.
It is so beautiful and intricate in design, especially when you read one historian’s theory that the original ground plan aimed to replicate the position of the stars in the Draco constellation.
Parts of the complex remain wonderfully wild and unfinished. Some historians say construction was ongoing even at the time of King Suryavarman’s death, somewhere between 1145-1150.
The cause of the temple’s actual abandonment has a pleasing air of mystery about it. Generally, historians agree that the city of Angkor collapsed at some point in the 15th century. The culprit? A prolonged period of drought followed by devastating monsoon rains.
Angkor Wat roughly translates as temple city. Right enough, the sheer scale of the place felt overwhelming. After a solid hour of wandering we eventually sought respite on this giant balcony, with views over a large grassy courtyard.
Angkor Wat is the chief attraction of Angkor Archeological Park, located roughly seven kilometres outside Siem Reap city centre. Thus you’re looking at about twenty minutes in a private car. Make that forty minutes in a rickety old tuk-tuk like the one we took that day. If you want to see more Angkor temples (and you definitely do), hire a tuk tuk driver for the day from $30 upwards…
You can visit Angkor Wat with The Angkor Pass, purchased both online and in person at The Angkor Archaeological Park Ticket office.
Planning to visit? You might want to check out the excellent visitangkor.org.
For more on this incredible region of Cambodia, check out my other travel reports on The Temples of Angkor.
You can also check out my exhaustive guide to the sights, cafes, restaurants and hotels of Siem Reap.
Or maybe delve further afield with my articles from across Cambodia.
I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.
An amazing feat of engineering and construction. I can see the appeal of the sunrise shots. Thanks for taking us there. Allan
Hey Allan, it was horribly early but worth it I guess. I only wish I’d taken more photos, this is was way back when I first launched the blog.
Of course, this was the main reason we were heading to Siem Reap, as you would expect. We’ll get there soon. We just can’t wait to have that experience of seeing the temples for the first time, that very first view. Petra, Taj Mahal and Rialto all did it (as have others) but we just have a feeling that Angkor Wat may top them all. Despite the crowds!
I hope Angkor Wat lives up to your expectations. From what I understand the tourist crowds have depleted quite substantially in this post-COVID era. So you may be in luck. I actually think it was my least favourite of the Angkor Temples, just simply due to the busyness. But man, if you had the place to yourself…
That’s been one of the very very few positive consequences of the pandemic, we even more or less had Efesus to ourselves which is completely unheard of.
It sure looks worth the 40 minute bumpy ride. What an ambitious undertaking. At 500 acres, it dwarfs the Vatican. Loved the atmosphere shots, bird silhouette, staircase, and that shot of you sitting on the huge balcony. I really had to enlarge it to see you. Thanks for the journey.
Thanks Memo, I only wish I’d taken more photos. Indeed this piece was a little tricky to put together, as I just didn’t have that many shots.
What a humbling experience to visit Angkor Wat; I can only hope to visit someday. I have visited temples and shrines in Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea, but Angkor Wat is the Seventh Heaven of temples. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Tricia, plenty more Angkor temples to come over the next few weeks.
What a great way of starting your post with that amazingly beautiful silhouette photo! But oh my, you were not kidding when you mentioned the crowds … but I presume it must be great to see the sunrise here. Although you mentioned that you did not take a lot of photos, those you have here in the post is lovely. I’m looking forward to read more in your coming posts about your temple visits.
Thank you Corna, I guess Angkor Wat isn’t a bad way to start my Cambodian temple series. There’ll be lots to come in the next weeks, I’m hoping people won’t get bored of so many temples!
All of the temples in Cambodia look so beautiful! Thank you for sharing these photos and stories!!!
Thanks Allie, I’ll be publishing a wide ravage of Cambodian temples over the next month or so. Cheers for the comment!
It must have been worth the ridiculously early start in a rickety tuk tuk to arrive at Angkor Wat to witness the sunrise. Despite the crowds I’m sure it was memorable. I’ve visited many temples in Asia but it looks like I’m saving the best to last. Thanks for posting about it Leighton.
Thanks Marion, I hope you make it to Angkor Wat one day. I’ll be sharing more Angkor temples as well as the exceptionally underrated ruins of Koh Ker in the north.
THIS is the place that I’m dying to visit in SE Asia. Angkor Wat has fascinated me for the last few years, and since my parents visited four years ago, I’ve been meaning to go. I’m told it can take merely DAYS just to see everything, and one of these days, I’ll have to go (2024, perhaps?). Looks to be not just another touristy place to check off on the bucket list, but also a mystical experience to be had (especially at sunrise). Happy you had the opportunity to visit Angkor Wat during your time in Cambodia!
Hey Rebecca, yeah it would take you days if not over a week to see most of the Angkor temples. But really Angkor Wat can be done in a morning or afternoon. At least as much as your legs and brain can handle within one temple. This temple is the biggie, the one people get really excited about. I know of people who come, see Angkor Wat and leave without checking out any of the others. Hopefully, over the next weeks, I’ll sell the idea that it’s well worth exploring at least half a dozen of Angkor’s amazing temples. And then, beyond Angkor, there are the northern, isolated ruins of Koh Ker which were our absolute favourites. And largely ignored by mass tourism! Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy the temple tours to come…
During my stay in Siem Reap, I spent a good week exploring Angkor, keeping the same tuktuk for the day. Each day I returned to Angkor Wat, at different times of the day, passing by the front or the back. I certainly did not manage to see everything, all the corridors with their frescoes and sculptures; all the courtyards, some of them forgotten by tourists. As time passed, I could compare with other temples, Angkor Wat remains the summit, the Versailles of this era of history. Thanks for taking me back to daydreamland.
High praise indeed, thanks for taking the time to share your experience. Daydreamland sounds about right.
The crowds seem off putting but looks like they dispersed alright when you were exploring the temple itself? I can’t quite fathom 500 acres but must be a wonderful place to lose yourself in! Your posts are making me want to go to places I hadn’t even thought of before!
The crowds were not ideal, but unavoidable, at least back then. And yes, it’s big enough that you can soon find some relative peace once you enter the compound. I have a feeling that, like me, you’ll appreciate some of the lesser known temples more. Thanks for reading Holly!
Yes, I think you might be right there! Something to be said for the path less travelled.
I cant wait for my visit, and selfishly hoping its still quiet there (well at least not as busy as you had it!). Thanks for info as always,your posts have been a great help!
Thank you Anna. From what I understand things are much quieter these days, so you might be pleasantly surprised. Keep an eye open for plenty more Angkor temple reports throughout August.
Great, I look forward to reading more!
I knew it was big but had no idea that it was 500 acres! Guess it needs to be for all the tourists to be able to spread out. Angkor Wat is definitely a place that we would love to visit someday. I enjoyed this post very much and look forward to more of your wonderful posts on Cambodia!
Thanks for reading Kellye, hope you enjoy the upcoming Angkor temples tour.
Wow, amazing. We are planning a couple of days to explore the temples, but even that will barely scratch the surface. I can’t believe those sunrise crowds! Looking forward to more write ups on this amazing site 🙂
Thanks Hannah, hoping you find some inspiration from some of the more off-the-beaten-track temples.
Seems like visiting Cambodia‘s Angkor Wat is like being granted the keys to another world for a short period of time. I would be completely entranced by the famed spiralled towers and colourful sunrises of Angor Wat. I always joke to my husband (who in all likelihood is getting tired of my jokes) that it’s always worth it to get up extra early or stay up extra late because fatigue is temporary, but pictures and memories last forever. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Ava xx
This is one case where the early wake up call is 100% worth it. Thanks for reading and commenting Ava, it’s nice to have you back.
Wow! How cool to experience at sunrise with you and your closest friends 😉 but all kidding aside props to you for getting up so early! I am sure the tuk tuk rides are quite the experience.
I often wonder what happened to all those people that morning. You know, they never keep in touch. Thanks for checking out Angkor Wat, Lyssy.
Wonderful captures. Angkor Wat looks and sounds impressive. I’m not sure I could handle the crowds though! It seems like it was worth it though, especially to get there for the sunrise.
I so rarely deal with crowds on any level, let alone these kinds of mass gatherings. But hey, this was simply part of the deal back then if you wanted to see Angkor Wat. It seems things are much calmer these days, finally something to thank COVID for? Thanks for reading!
I think it is so interesting that it is such a mix of Buddhist and Hindu religious iconography. But I like that instead of just demolishing what was there to make way for the new that instead they share the space. And that it was based on a constellation pattern just makes the place all the more interesting. I am looking forward to exploring these famous temples more with you, but I’m also really glad that you shared all the lesser known but equally as significant places of the area first. Once I understand the people it makes the places all the more beautiful.
Hey Meg, I’m so happy you’ve enjoyed the Siem Reap journey thus far. Angkor Wat is incredible, no doubt. But I think I much preferred the quieter ruins where one could get lost and be perfectly alone for a while. Excited to share those in the coming weeks. You’re right about the mix of religious iconography at Angkor Wat, a rare example of mutual respect between the faiths.
Despite the crowds I’d definitely do it again. Watchung the sun rise and slowly expose the temple was just the beginning. Looking forward to the rest of your series. Maggie
Somewhere I have some of those stunning sunrise reflections (2010-ish?). Thanks for reminding me of this wonderful city of exceptional ruins.
I guess nobody forgets their visit to Angkor Wat. Memories and photos to cherish for life.
Yes, they do forget how to spell it though! 😉
Oh my goodness. I’d heard this place was crowded but I wasn’t envisioning that many people. I can see why… but still.
It’s a bit too much right? But hey, that was the situation, pre-pandemic anyway. Thanks for stopping by Diana!
Our guide took us to a slightly different place to watch the sunrise over the temple. The plus was, we had it to ourselves. But we didn’t get the reflection shot at the moment of sunrise although I did get some shortly after. On balance I think we did the right thing : Thanks for taking me back to a special place!
Ha, I also think your guide’s spot sounds like an overall better experience! Left to my own devices, I doubt I would have joined the main crowds either. That day we went with Cambodian friends who were really keen to take charge of the logistics. If I ever get a second bite of the Angkor Wat cherry, I’ll definitely opt for a different approach. Thanks for reading, Sarah.
magnificent! I wish I could visit it
Thanks for reading and leaving a comment Tanja. Sorry your message came through as Anonymous. I’m trying to sort this out with WordPress support.