The ancient city of Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire between the 9th and 15th century. It covers a huge area over 400 square kilometers and contains the remains of the many temples, including the famous Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, it was originally built as a Hindu temple in the early 12th century but was later converted to a Buddhist temple.
We bought a 3 day pass temple pass which actually allowed us to enter the temples from 5pm the evening before our first official day. We used this time to explore Angkor Wat and watch the sunset. At 6:30pm the guards started kicking everyone out, which turned into a several people (us included) playing a little game of hide and seek. Eventually the guards won.
On the first morning our tuk tuk driver, Mr Rai, picked us up at 5:30am. The main reason for getting up so early was to catch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. We were accompanied by a few hundred other tourists, but the colours in the sky were spectacular. Well worth the early get up!
As soon as the sun had risen we drove to Ta Prohm which is one of the most popular temples and was used as Tomb Raider’s film set. We were the first people to arrive at the temple and for the first hour of exploring it was only us and a handful of other tourists. Perfect! My favourite thing has to be the large trees which are growing out of the temple. Their huge roots are beautifully intertwined with doorways and walls, the temple wouldn’t quite be the same without them.
There is also an Echo Chamber within Ta Prohm which was used for praying. As you beat your hand against your chest the sound reverberates through the incense infused chamber. As the coach loads of tourists started to filter in, we decided it was time to move on.
We visited Banteay Kdei, Pre Rup and Ta Som, followed by our favourite temple of the day, Preah Khan. This temple is huge and also has some intricate carvings that are still in good condition. We loved exploring this temple, not knowing what would be around the next corner.
On our second day we cycled around the temples of Angkor Thom city. We started at Bayon, one of the most popular temples, which has 54 towers each carved with 4 large faces. That makes a grand total of 216 smiling faces. A very impressive temple, which soon got too busy for our liking. After Bayon we visited Baphuon, Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King and Victory Gate. It was a good day, but rather exhausting cycling and climbing around the temples in the 35 degree heat.
On our last day we headed further afield to Beng Mealea which is 40km away from the main Angkor temples. We set off at 5:45am and drove through the countryside as young, often shoe-less, children walked and cycled to school. On arrival at the temple gates we were glad to see only a few other visitors. This temple has a real jungle feel; as we climbed around the temple and over the fallen rocks, we could hear the squawks of parrots and several other exotic birds overhead. Exploring this temple was a real adventure and we found some fantastic vantage points that looked out over the temple walls. This has to be our favourite Angkor temple.
In the afternoon we visited Banteay Srei, a petite temple, which is built out of red sandstone and has some of the most beautiful carvings. We had three very tiring but enjoyable days exploring Angkor’s temples. The size, variety and intricacies of the temples is really impressive. It is certainly one of our highlights of South East Asia.
Next stop: Yangon, Myanmar