My travel companion and I stayed in Siem Reap, which is the gateway to the Angkor temples- located roughly 6km away. With only 3 days in Siem Reap, we decided to purchase the 1 day Angkor Pass for $20, but you also have the option to purchase a 3 day pass ($40) or a 7 day pass ($60).
We hired a tuk-tuk driver to take us around for the entire day (14 hours)- from sunrise at Angkor Wat to sunset at Phnom Bakheng. We had planned to take a break in the middle of the day and then continue into the evening, but that never happened.
Even though it was hot and exhausting, we managed to see seven temples, took a long lunch, and stopped at a village in the countryside.
Our tuk-tuk driver, Smarty, was a lovely man who had lost half of his siblings during the Khmer Rouge. He gave us an insight into life in Cambodia, information about the recent protests, and a brief history of each temple we visited. He also stopped at a village to let us taste palm sugar and even invited us to the night market to have dinner with his family at the end of the day. There are hundreds of tuk-tuk drivers to choose from, but if you want a gracious, sincere, friendly, and knowledgeable driver, I can’t recommend Smarty highly enough.
Our first stop was (of course) to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. I knew it would be packed with visitors, but I was still slightly shocked when I saw the massive crowd of people gathered around the front of the temple. Despite the crowds, I was still in awe of the sheer size and beauty of this magnificent temple.
When the sun first started to rise, the sky changed from black to a lovely shade of purplish-pink, and the crowd fell silent. The only noise was the incessant clicking from the hundreds of cameras capturing the ever changing sky above the temple.
The sunrise was beautiful, but it honestly wasn’t the most amazing sunrise I’d ever seen. I was a bit disappointed, and couldn’t understand why everyone made such a fuss to get here at the crack of dawn.
We decided to walk into the temple and explore the interior while most of the crowd was still snapping pictures outside.
When we came back out and started to head toward the exit, we noticed there were still people standing in the same spot, taking pictures of the sunrise.
Was I missing something?
I turned toward Angkor Wat and saw this:
The sky had turned from purple to orange, and the sun looked like a bright and fiery ball, moving between the highest peaks of the temple as it continued to rise.
These pictures don’t do it justice- it was truly a stunning sight.
Now I finally understood why sunrise at Angkor Wat is something you have to see.
After the spectacular sunrise, we traveled to Banteay Srei. This temple is located furthest from Angkor Wat- roughly 30km away.
This unique temple is built from red sandstone which gives it a pink tinge. The temple name translates to “Citadel of Women” and it is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.
On the ride back from Banteay Srei, I fought the urge to nap and instead took in the beautiful scenery that surrounded me. Lush greenery, swaying palms, quaint villages, and dirt roads- I loved seeing this quiet area outside of Siem Reap.
After 25 minutes or so, we came to Pre Rup. This temple has a square layout and was thought to have once served as a place for funerals and cremations.
Our next stop was one of the most famous temples- Ta Prohm.
Ta Prohm is surrounded by jungle and has Fig, Banyan, and Kapok trees growing out of the ruins. Their massive roots spread over walls and stones, crumbling the structures as they grow longer. This temple is easily recognizable as it was featured in the movie Tomb Raider.
We then headed toward Angkor Thom. The name means “Great City” and there are multiple stone temples and monuments within this large complex. It was built in a nearly perfect square and is enclosed by an eight-metre high wall and a moat.
Bayon is located at the centre of Angkor Thom and is known for the hundreds of faces carved into the temple.
Baphuon– This pyramid-like temple was, in my opinion, one of the most impressive. It was dedicated to Shiva and converted into a Buddhist temple in the 15th century.
Our final stop of the day was at Phnom Bakheng to watch the sunset. This temple is one of Angkor’s oldest, and is located at the top of a steep hill. At the top, there is a panoramic view of the surrounding area- including Angkor Wat in the distance.
I had reservations about visiting the temples of Angkor- especially Angkor Wat. I had seen and heard so much about these ancient ruins before my arrival and I wasn’t sure if seeing them in person would live up to my expectations or alter my preconceived notions.
However, Angkor exceeded my expectations in every possible way. I was blown away by the beauty of the temples, fascinated by the rich history, and shocked at the sheer size of this ancient city.
Angkor is one of the most popular tourist sites in the world, and after exploring a small section, it’s easy to see why people come from far and wide to see it firsthand.
Are the temples of Angkor on your bucket list? If you’ve already been, which temples did you find most impressive?