So you want to know about the temples of Angkor??
Let me tell you what. There is no photo, no article, no video or any description about them that can ever due them justice as to seeing them in person…BUT I am going to try to guide you through some key points and some helpful tips!
So…let's get started, shall we?
Angkor Wat is just ONE part of the complex (most people think that’s all there is), but this just gets you started into the extremely touristy part before you venture off to the rest of the complex. The walk and build up to get to the main building is stunning and serene...giving you a feeling that you are about to see something extraordinary. The first views of Angkor Wat do not disappoint on any level!
Surrounded by lotus ponds, Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world at a little over 400 acres big. It was originally built for Hindu worship of the god Vishnu before converting to a Buddhist complex in the 12th century. This “City of Temples” (if you will) is a symbol of power in Cambodia and is filled with vast writings in carvings along the walls. Every wall, pillar and architectural layout spec tells a story that leads to another story. There are many Buddha’s throughout the complex that you will see are missing heads or various body parts due to some of the religious struggles in the past. Even the headless Buddha’s are dress in ceremonial garments of gold out of respect. It is known for being the locations for some of the most amazing sunrises in the entire world, as the reflection of the building and sky reflect down upon the lotus ponds. Between war, lack of maintenance, looting, natural erosion and lack of funding, many temples in Cambodia have become badly damaged. Angkor Wat (hit least hard by war), has received the most attentive restorative efforts (you will definitely see the massive difference when you visit the rest of the complex). A number of countries (France<the first to start the process in the 1960’s>, India, Japan, Chinese and German) at various times have been involved in restoration efforts; some of which have come under fire for having damaged carvings and structures during the process. As a visitor, as detailed and preserved as many parts looked to the naked eye, you could definitely see history slowly fading away in different segments. The extreme influx in tourism since the mid 1990’s has helped maintain the complex by generating revenue to introduce wooden steps and bridges over certain areas to protect the temple from wearing down in walkways and lookout points. The main complex of Angkor Wat is great and a must see but definitely carve out enough time to visit these gems as well. Really if you have a couple of days, plan on splitting them and slowly make your way around the complex. Each temple is different. Each is pretty majestic. Each area sends you on your way with a different feeling than the last. All of them stay with you when you leave Cambodia.
Key things to know about Angkor Wat:
One CAN NOT wear a tank top or sleeveless article of clothing to the grounds. Your shoulders must be covered with a sleeved shirt (short sleeves are fine), shawl/ scarf, or sweater. Also, your pants, shorts or skirt must come below the knee. I went in early February and had amazing weather, but definitely plan on wearing lightweight materials when you go. I’m from warmer and humid climate so I was fine and thought their weather felt amazing with the cool mornings and evenings but I can only imagine how warm this place gets.
The complex is still a functioning place of worship. You will see monks walking the grounds and people worshipping. Please respect them and do not disturb. Women should not sit or stand too close to the monks out of respect and should ask when seeking a photo. It is really just best to let them enjoy their day unless they are offering prayer to you or approach you.
Have your tour pass accessible but safe.
You can bring a backpack to hold your valuables and camera equipment (tripods are HIGHLY discouraged).
Carry some essentials like water. It gets hot here and although there are places to buy drinks and food, it would be good to have a bottle or 2 on you. In fact there are still people who are living on the complex and make their living off selling goods to tourists. Also a hat, sunglasses and maybe a bit of sunscreen would be good. I didn’t run into any mosquito problems but I did have the bracelet packs in my bag just in case. Rule of thumb while taking day trips in general…always carry Kleenex for toilet paper and sanitizer or wipes!
Carry some cash in case you want a snack or a souvenir but make sure you keep it locked up (remember, touristy places are always known for pick-pocketing).
You will be bombarded by children wanting to sell you a book of the temple or other goods. My advice is to not purchase because you will open a can of worms of others wanting you to purchase. In fact, the adults give the children quotas for selling. It will take willpower because they are relentless but I would stay strong.
You can climb to the top of the complex by standing in a line that takes approximately 45 min (they only let a certain number of people up ever 10-15 min or so). They have added a staircase (just as steep as the actual temple steps) to the front of the structure to preserve the architecture. The climb is not long but not for the faint of heart! The views from the top include all of the surrounding grounds and you could easily spend an hour just getting lost in the views up there.
Since Angkor Wat has been restored, there are rules posted everywhere asking tourists to not climb, sit, lean on or touch carvings out of respect to preservation. If you are reading this, PLEASE respect this. Side rant- I can’t believe the amount of people that are so pompous that they think they are better than respecting others wishes. Stay off means STAY OFF. That I why they even put a picture up with a giant red X. There were some that were even ignoring tour guides and security guards just so they could get the right lighting and angle for their stupid selfie. Bottom line, respect is a language we all need to speak.
The main complex of Angkor Wat is great and a must see but definitely carve out enough time to visit these gems as well. Honestly, if you have a couple of days, plan on splitting them up and slowly make your way around the complex. Each temple is different. Each is pretty majestic. Each area sends you on your way with a different feeling than the last. All of them stay with you when you leave Cambodia. Also, as you venture away from Angkor Wat and into other areas of the complex, you have quite a bit more access for photos and exploring at your free will. This is due to the extreme conservation efforts that have taken place at the main complex. The other temples are not as well preserved by any means BUT they are slowly but surely starting to work on them. Ta Prohm (aka the Tomb Raider movie site) is one of those locations and I am extremely grateful that I got to go there during the restoration process of that area. Eventually it will have limited access like Angkor Wat.
Since the Angkor complex is over 400 acres large (402 to be exact) and hosts over 1000 temples (like wow), here are some of the highlighted must-sees besides the main complex of Angkor Wat. If traveling without kids then a 2 day pass should be plenty of time for you to see the main parts of the complex (might need more time depending on the age of your kids and limited attention span rates!). Other than that, you don’t want temple overload and you want to save some time to experience some other things like the Night Market, Art Gallery, museum/ shopping areas, Pub Street or maybe the floating fishing village (which they have throughout Southeast Asia).
I enjoyed Angkor Wat, but if you want to get the most out of your visit while still giving it some variety, see my other suggested Angkor complex temples here.
Bucket List Happy but Jaded by Tourism