After a lazy week in Koh Rong, I then made my way to Siem Reap, where I completely fell in love with Cambodia. I was only meant to stay two days to explore the Angkor temples, which is the main attraction here, however two days turned into three, four, then five.
Siem Reap had a much more relaxed vibe compared to Phnom Penh, making it easy to get sucked into their pace of life. Most travellers would spend their day exploring the temples and then head to Pub Street or Night Market in the evening to unwind after a full day of walking around the ancient ruins in the blazing heat.
Angkor What? A brief introduction to its history…
To provide a little bit of background (this history behind these temples is immense!) 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.
The most well-known of these temples is Angkor Wat, and I was told that going to see it at sunrise is an absolute must. So myself and a couple of friends booked a tuk-tuk for the day to take us around the temples. This seemed like the best way to make our way around the main circuit, as the sites are so huge and cover quite a distance. Cycling around in over 30 degrees of heat was not my idea of fun!
Getting up at the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise
In a bit of a dozey haze (as most of you know, I am NOT a morning person!) we left the hostel around 5am to make our way there. We arrived in complete darkness, but only realised when we had got there that none of us had been awake enough to think about packing a torch.
Just to set the scene, as we made our way in, I suddenly hear this thud and a big “OUCH” coming from my friend. As I walked over to him, I realised he had fallen into quite a big ditch! Luckily no bones were broken (but dignity maybe not quite so in tact, haha!) and a kind local guided us the rest of the way with his flashlight.
As we arrived, hundreds of tourists were starting to flock to the swamp pond to make sure they could get that one amazing photo of Angkor Wat reflecting on the water. I’ve never encountered so much tourist rage in all my life! Everyone was pushing and shoving to get in a prime position, and at one point I thought this small French girl was going to lamp a Japanese tourist with her selfie stick because his big fancy camera was blocking everyone’s view. Even I was quite tempted (as I said before, NOT a good morning person!).
As with any sunrise it was taking what seemed like a lifetime. Tired of all the ragey tourists we decided to venture into the compound and find a quieter spot just outside the temple. By this point most people had got bored of waiting and left, but as I’ve often learnt in life – patience is a virtue! We waited and waited and just as we were about to give up and put it down to being a cloudy day, the sun rose above the magnificent towers of the temple and it truly was something special. Noticing there was hardly anyone down by the pond, I quickly ran down to get the shot everyone had been so ragey about in the earlier hours of the morning – job…done!
I won’t go into the detail about every single temple I saw after that as we’ll be here for days….but what I will say is that nothing can be compared to the sheer scale, beauty and history of this place. So much detail went into the construction of each temple site and their individual uniqueness leaves you almost speechless. It’s amazing that some of them, especially Angkor Wat, have been so well preserved over the years, so it’s no surprise it has been labelled a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Final thoughts about Cambodia…
On the whole, although things got off to a rocky start in Phnom Penh, I can honestly say by the end, Cambodia had won me over. It’s a country that is still trying to find its way after dealing with years and years of bloodshed, poverty and political corruption. But it’s also a country filled with so much rich history and culture, a beautiful coastline, and despite the hardships they’ve faced, the Khmers are some of the happiest and most helpful people I’ve ever met. Just one big smile from them will seriously light up your day.
If you fancy seeing more stunning photos of the Angkor Wat Kingdom (of which I took loads!) you can check out my photo diary.
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