I visited Angkor Wat as a part of my Cambodia trip in 2013. We had just spent a few lovely (and lazy) days in Phnom Penh and were looking forward to seeing one of biggest attractions in the country.
The base town for Angkor Wat is Siem Reap. We stayed in Navutu Dreams Resort & Spa. The resort was beautiful and luxurious. They even provided us with a Tuk Tuk for the duration of our stay. The Tuk Tuk turned out to be a great asset since we realised soon that we could not walk around the Angkor Wat complex and see everything due to its size. Our driver also turned out to be very knowledgeable and agreed to double as a tour guide.
Angkor Wat is massive, spread over acres of land and Cambodia is hot. We devised a strategy of visiting the temples in the morning (never for sunrise though I hear it is highly recommended) and enjoying our resort during the afternoon.
We bought a 3 days pass for US$ 40 that allowed us to enter any of the Angkor Wat temples for three days during the next week freely. The process is simple and fuss free.
Highlights of Angkor Wat
Since we had only three days, we concentrated on seeing the main attractions - Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, the Bayon, Preah Khan, Banteay Srei and Ta Som. It is not possible to talk about all of them here but I would like to mention some of my favourites.
The complex takes its name from the temple of Angkor Wat. It was built in 12th century as a Hindu temple though now has some Buddhist symbols as well since the later kings; favouring Buddhism tried converting it into a Buddhist temple. The temple is surrounded by a massive moat for the protection of the temple which also represents the oceans where the world originated. The bas reliefs depict a number of Hindu mythologies, such as churning of the ocean and battle of Kurukshetra. The temple turns golden during sunset which is worth the heat of the day.
Ta Prohm is another 12th century construction and was built as a Buddhist temple. The outer walls of the temple enclose an area of approximately 600,000 square metres which would have been a large town in 12th century. However, it fell into disrepair after 12th century and was lost for centuries. One of the most interesting features of this temple- trees growing out of the ruins- is a result of the neglect. This has now become the symbol of Ta Prohm.
The Bayon was constructed in later 12th century and has beautiful bas reliefs depicted Khmer life in that era as well as stories from Buddhism. The most prominent feature of this temple is its upper terrace where each tower supports two to four faces of Lokeshvara Bodhisattva.
Tips for first time travellers
· Since Cambodia is a tropical country and at its coolest 35 degrees Celsius, it is better to travel during the mornings and the evenings and avoid stepping out during the afternoons. It is a great idea to carry some water with you at all times.
· While very tourist friendly, Cambodia is a conservative country and you cannot enter some of the temples in shorts, very short skirts or sleeveless tops. Since the heat makes it unbearable sometimes, it would be a good idea to carry a light jacket or shrug to be worn while entering such temples.
· The Tuk Tuk or taxi drivers know a good deal about the temples. However, it is advisable to hire a guide at least while visiting the main attractions. There is a lot of history in there which we may not have understood without the guide to explain it to us.
· Visit the night-markets in Siem Reap. They are full of local goodies (and smuggled electronics) though you will need to bargain hard. We bought beautiful Jade elephants and cobra wine from the night-markets at throwaway prices.
· There are a number of local artists selling their paintings in the night-markets and in the temple compound. It is worth having a look at the local artists and taking a flavour of Cambodia home.