A staple on many people’s bucket list is a visit to Angkor Wat, the ancient city near Siem Reap, Cambodia. The ruins cover many miles and spending one or more days exploring the various temples is literally the one reason why people come to this otherwise isolated part of the country. When we planned our sabbatical to SE Asia, we planned the entire trip with this trip to Angkor at the very top of the list. Here are my impressions of it from 11 January, 2011.
I’ve wanted to visit the temples of Angkor Wat since I first heard about them. They are often heralded as one of the top few things to see in the entire world, and if you come to this region and don’t visit, you would definitely get some weird looks from your fellow tourists. There’s good reason for its popularity. The ancient city and temples around Angkor (and most famous, the temple Angkor Wat), are breath-taking.During our one day visit to Angkor, we managed to blow through six of the fifty or so temples and we did not dilly-dally around. Our day began at 5:30 when our hotel-arranged tuk-tuk driver picked us up so we could get to Angkor Wat for the sunrise. Next to a visit to Angkor, the other major to-do item is to see a sunrise or sunset over the temples, so we took one for the team and chose the super early option partially because before sunrise you’re not yet sweating through your clothes. Sure enough, the sunrise was stunning, although I will say the moment was a little less jaw dropping due to the throngs of flashing cameras. Shortly after the first hint of daylight, Drew and I headed into the temple complex and for a few blessed minutes we were alone. Alone in Angkor Wat. It was a highlight of our day.
During the rest of the day we saw some of the other biggies (Bayon and Ta Phrom) as well as some more off the grid temples (Ta Keo), and we both agree that Bayon, with all of its carved faces, was another highlight. Ta Phrom, a temple that was used in the filming of the movie Tomb Raider, would be amazing to visit without the 10+ tour buses and flag-wielding tour leaders marching their groups through the narrow doorways.
Including a break during the day for lunch, the temple fatigue set in mid-afternoon and we were back at the hotel by 4:30. A cold beer on Pub Street and some lotion for the sunburn was a solid end to the day.
I do have one bone to pick with the entire Angkor institution and with our Lonely Planet guidebook, in particular. You can visit the temples for one, three or seven days – you buy whichever pass you’d like when you arrive. The guidebook highly recommends a full week of temple watching, and completely shuns anyone who could possibly prefer a single day of temples to get their fill. I personally feel that one full day was absolutely enough Angkor for me…it’s stunning, don’t get me wrong, but every temple kinda looks the same, and if you start with Angkor Wat, it’s downhill from there on the spectacular scale.Oh, and one more thing. Price is definitely relative, and our visit was one of the most expensive things we’ll do on our entire trip, but compared to visiting Six Flags or going to a Red Sox game, it’s a bargain. $20 for a single day entry per person ($40 for three days, $60 for a week, all in US dollars), and $15 or so for a private driver per day. You can also rent a bike for a couple bucks if you’d like, though many of the temples are several kilometres apart and there’s the whole heat thing. Of course, first you have to actually get to Cambodia, but that’s for another day…
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