The Angkor Kingdom is a series of Hindu and Buddhist complexes stretching over 400sq kilometres, making it the largest religious site in the world. The whole site features hundreds of temples and ancient ruins from the different capitals of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 15th century.
You could literally spend days walking or cycling around the different complexes (and some people do!) but being on a budget I decided to stick to the big circuit and spend just one day visiting the main temples. This was enough for me, but if you are really into your architecture and history, this is definitely the place to kill a few days.
If you are willing to get up at 5am, watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat is a great way to start the day. But be prepared for hoards of tourists flocking to the lake to get that silhouette shot of Angkor Wat reflecting off the water. If you’re not up for waiting around in the crowds, then my tip would be to grab a coffee and head into the main compound to have a little wander around. I found that by the time the sun had actually started to rise, most of the tourists by the lake had obviously got bored of waiting, so I took the opportunity then to quickly run down and get those shots.
Once you’re done taking photos, head on in to the main compound to explore the grounds. This is where it starts to get really impressive. The level of detail and artistic craftsmanship that goes into this temple is just insane! The crowds seem to disperse at this point, so you should find that at this time of the day you have most of the temple grounds to yourself.
The Bayon Temples (Angkor Thom)
From far away this complex looks largely like a huge rubble site. It’s not until you get closer can you appreciate the beauty of this place. Around 50 towers (at a guess!) dominate this site, each with four huge carved out faces pointing out in every direction. Personally I think this is the most charming and mystical of the temples. As you walk around, it’s hard to escape the feeling that someone is constantly watching you.
Most famous for being featured in the Lara Croft Tomb Raider movie, Ta Prohm looks as though it has been swallowed by the surrounding jungle. A wonderful mix of ruins with huge trees and roots intertwined around them make up a large proportion of this site. It is probably one of the most atmospheric temples in the kingdom and a complete haven for photographers.
Not templed out yet?
If you want to explore further, there are a number of other temples you can see in-between. Just ask your tuk-tuk driver or refer to a guide to see what’s nearby and you might just find some hidden gems!
Here are just a few that we stumbled across that are worth considering…
Phnom Bakheng (for great views of Angkor Wat)
The Elephant Terrace
Choose a ticket that’s right for you
There are a number of different passes at varying prices. The guide books recommend spending at least three days to get the most out of it, but unless you’re really into archaeology, personally I think you could end up getting a bit “templed out.”
Book a tuk-tuk driver
You can of course hire bikes to cycle to/from and around the temples. While completely doable, it’s worth bearing in mind how huge this complex is – it’ll be hot and you’ll already be doing a lot of walking and climbing up and down towers. In my opinion, a tuk-tuk is the easiest and most efficient way for getting around in one day.
Dress modestly and wear comfy shoes
This is a religious site where people come to pray, so be respectful and wear appropriate clothes that cover your shoulders and knees. It’s also a very physical day so make sure you wear comfortable shoes – flip flops are a no-no!
Drink plenty of water and take sunscreen
You’re going to be outdoors for most of the day with not much shelter from the blazing heat, so make sure you keep yourself hydrated and the sunscreen topped up.
Bring a torch
May seem like an odd tip, but it’s something we wished we had with us when arriving at 5am in the morning in complete darkness. With no lighting, it can be a bit of a hazardous walk from where the driver drops you off. So unless you want to risk ending up in a ditch (it happened to my friend!) then it’d be useful to bring a flashlight.
Have you ever been to Angkor Wat? Do you have any extra tips I’ve missed out above?
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