One of the amazing things I got to do last year was visiting Angkor Wat (or I should say Angkor as Angkor Wat is merely one part of the whole park!). Even though I was running on four hours of sleep and intense heat exhaustion, I was still conscious enough to be amazed at all I saw. I had a few specific things I wanted to do (Angkor Wat at sunrise, smiling Buddha faces in Bayon, tree roots in Ta Prohm), but over all I really didn't know that much about this former Khmer capital beyond its place on UNESCO's World Heritage List and the New Seven World Wonder's List of Runner-Ups.
Over all, I was pretty unprepared for what to expect, and now it's on my list of places to return so I can properly soak it all in without the exhaustion and sleep deprivation. I read somewhere before going that it's highly recommended to do over the course of a few days, and I agree. If you spend a good amount of time in Siem Reap, definitely plan out a small itinerary over 2 or 3 days to enjoy the park without tiring yourself out. Here's a quick guide to Angkor to help you out!
- Stay away from the hottest parts of the day. It's best to go early in the morning and leave around lunch.
- Water. Lots and lots of water. Way more water than we drank.
- Dress conservatively. Knees and shoulders covered.
- Hire a tuk-tuk. Hopefully you have a fantastic driver like we did at our hostel, but definitely use a tuk-tuk and ask for his or her advice on what to see.
- Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire, Cambodia's predecessor (802 AD-1431 AD). It was a Hindu-Buddhist empire that ruled over most of mainland Southeast Asia.
- Major Kings:
- Jayavarman II (founder): 802-835
- Yasovarman I (est. Yasodharapura, Angkor's first city): 889-915
- Suryavarman II (united kingdom): 1113-1150
- Jayavarman VII (greatest king): 1181-1219
- Jayavarman VIII: 1243-1295
This is the grandest Khmer temple and the one you'll see photographed quite a lot. Built in the 12th century, it's peculiar for a temple as it is oriented to the West. Because of this, the sun will rise behind, not in front of it. We got here for the sunrise before making our way around the park. You will be joined by lots of other tourists, so the sunrise at Angkor Wat isn't necessarily "avoiding the crowds."
The main capital of Angkor is Angkor Thom, which could have once held one million people.
- Bayon Temple: Known for its giant smiling faces. Over all there are about 216 smiling faces across 54 towers, either depicting Avalokiteshvara or a combination of King Jayavarman VII and Buddha.
- Baphuon: Represents Mount Meru (a sacred Hindu site). Features giant reclining Buddha. Much of putting the temple back together was lost in war.
- Five Entrance Gates: There are the north, south, east, and west gates as well as an additional gate along the east wall, called the Victory Gate. Each gate will have a face of Avalokitesvara.
- Phnom Bakheng: Located hilltop, it's actually under construction at the moment :/.
- Terrace of the Elephants: Has a line of elephants along the east side. Jayavarman VII used it to welcome his returning army after their victories.
- Terrace of the Leper King: Named after a 15th century statue of Yama, the god of death, because moss began to cover it while it also began to discolor, looking like someone with leprosy. It is also believed that Yasovarman I had leprosy.
North and Further East of Angkor Thom
- East Mebon: Three story temple mountain with five towers built in the 10th century. Known for its elephant statues.
- Neak Pean: It's made up of a tower in the middle of a large pond surrounded by four smaller ponds.
- Pre Rup: Temple mountain similar to East Mebon, good for viewing the sunset.
- Preah Khan: Jayavarman VII's capital before Angkor Wat was complete. A little less touristy compared to its neighbors.
- Ta Som- Built in the 12th century in dedication to Dharanindravarman II. One of the temples that is still not restored, so you can see lots of vegetation growing around it.
East of Angkor Thom
- Banteay Kdei: Monastic complex still in state of repair.
- Prasat Kravan: Smaller temple made of five red and symmetrical towers dedicated to Vishnu in the 900s.
- Sras Srang: Terrace leading to the pond.
- Ta Keo: Incomplete temple, can reach the top level with steep stairs.
- Ta Prohm: This is by far the most famous of the Little Circuit temples. This is where you can trip over massive tree roots as the trees are intertwined in the architecture. You may also recognize this as the Tomb Raider temple. It was definitely my favorite probably for the trees alone...
There are two other sections technically a part of Angkor Park, the Roluos Group and the Outlying Temples, both of which are much farther out.
BEYOND THIS GUIDE TO ANGKOR
Have you been? What did you think of Angkor?
Words and Photographs by Samantha