In Awe of the Temples of Angkor

What could be written about the temples of Angkor that hasn’t been written before? Well after reading countless blog posts and travel articles about the temple complex, I thought there was no way I’d enjoy visiting: it’s simply too well-known, touristy and firmly situated on the beaten track.

Well surprise, surprise- I loved Angkor Wat and the many surrounding temples. There’s a reason that Angkor Wat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and featured on everything from Cambodia’s flag to its best-selling beer.

 And just to avoid confusion; Angkor Wat is the central, most famous temple of the Temples of Angkor but there are more than 35 temples total.

We left the hostel at four a.m. (ugh!) to meet our tuk-tuk driver and drive to Angkor Wat for the sunrise. Being the extremely sensible girl that I am (ahem), I tucked in early the night before and awoke bright-eyed and ready.

My travel buddies for the day? Not so much. My friends had the brilliant idea of drinking until dawn instead of sleeping, which resulted in a drowsy (albeit entertaining) group of travel companions.

Angkor Wat

When we arrived at Angkor Wat it was pitch-black so we patiently waited in the pond’s shallow water for the sun to peek over the temple. To get the best shot, I found myself frantically switching between the kit lens and 50mm.

I even shot in manual, guys. While standing in pond water. That’s serious.

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After the much-awaited sunrise, we stopped for a hearty baguette and omelet breakfast. IMG_8926                                                        Hair of the dog Angkor beers. Very appropriate! e                                 The best part of traveling with girls- lots and lots of kitschy portraits! IMG_8958

What surprised me most about Angkor Wat was the relative lack of tourists- rather than dodging fellow camera-toting tourists, I found myself lackadaisically wandering about and snapping shots of all the beauty before me.

e1 IMG_8971                                     Intricate carvings displaying scenes from Hindu mythology.

After Angkor Wat, it was back to the tuk-tuk for a visit to the nearby temple Ta Prohm. And for some of us, nap-time.

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Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm, more colloquially known as “The Tomb Raider Temple” is one of Angkor’s most popular temples and is especially known for its atmospheric back-to-nature appearance, with trees twisting around and shooting above the ruins. IMG_8980                                             Our failed drawing to try to be more like Lara Croft. Ha.

A one-time Buddhist monastery and university, Ta Prohm now seems like a temple the jungle wants to reclaim. It’s absolutely gorgeous and makes you feel a bit like Indiana Jones.

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Culture aside, one moment of comic relief was when my Australian travel buddy Luke broke his flip-flops (or thongs, as he would said) after falling in the mud. He then proceeded to wander around the temples barefoot for the rest of the day.

(Side-note- these were the same flip-flops he drunkenly stole from the hostel that morning, haha.)

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Preah Khan

IMG_9050                              Walking across the temple’s main causeway that crosses the temple’s moat.

Our third and final temple of the day was Preah Khan, one of Angkor’s largest temples. Preah Khan, Khmer for “Royal Sword”.

In order to enter the temple, you pass by many garudas, mythical birds prevalent in Hindu mythology that are meant to protect the temple. While of the three this temple was the least impressive, it was still worth a look around.

IMG_9055                                               A cute little boy playing in the water outside the temple.

Overall I was surprised by how much I loved the temples, and by how much I am dying to go back. Rather than being surrounded by others, I was able to soak in the ruins in solitude. This may have to do with the fact that we visited in October, the peak of Southeast Asia’s off-season.

By the end of the visit I did find myself a little annoyed by the little kids selling postcards and bracelets whose sale strategy was to relentlessly follow you and beg you to buy their merchandise. You buy cold water, one dolla? It made me incredibly sad that these kids are forced to sell to tourists all day when they should be at school. IMG_8975

One of my regrets of the day was that  being I didn’t get to see Bayon or Ta Keo temples. For reasons I will explain below.

Long story short, we were hugely ripped off by our tuk-tuk driver. We each paid $5  (a grand total of $25) for a full-day excursion. When we voiced after three temples that we wanted to return to the hostel for lunch, he said that if we went back he wouldn’t take us back to the temple- so the tour was over.

Here’s a tip- pay your tuk-tuk driver half of the money up front and half when you get back. We paid in full from the start which was probably why we were ripped off. And like Audrey, I would highly recommend hiring a tuk-tuk driver rather than renting a bike to see all the temples.

Practical info:

Passes are sold in one-day ($20), three-day ($40) and seven-day ($60) blocks that must be used on consecutive days. Photo taken on the spot with free of charge is required at time of purchase.

Visiting hours are 5:00AM – 6:00PM. Angkor Wat closes at 6:00PM, Banteay Srey closes at 5:00PM and Kbal Spean at 3:00PM. Always carry your ticket. It will be checked upon each park entry and at major temples. There is a significant fine for not possessing a valid ticket inside the park. A regular admission ticket is not required to visit Phnom Kulen, Koh Ker orBeng Melea, but there is a separate entrance fee of $20, $10 and $5, respectively. (Source)

Bring a big bottle of water. You’ll be walking a lot and the temples are hot!

As cited above, there are one, three and seven day passes to the Temples of Angkor. I went with the one-day pass and wish I had gone for three- I could have easily spent longer scoping out these amazing temples.

Make sure to dress modestly. Have your shoulders covered as well as pants or a skirt that covers your knees- due to my stupid mistake of wearing jean shorts I was unable to climb up to some parts of Angkor Wat.

Have you ever visited Angkor Wat? What did you think of it?

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Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is an American travel blogger and freelance writer who moved to Paris at 21 and has been traveling the world ever since. She's usually in pursuit of yoga, languages and perfectly ripe cheese and her writing has been featured in National Geographic, Viator and Jetstar Australia.
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16 Comments

  1. THAT SUNRISE PICTURE. But really, though…wow. Stunning!

    And I had no idea that Angkor Wat only referred to a specific temple within the larger Angkor complex. You learn something new everyday, I guess. I’m not very interested in SE Asia but this was a super informative, practical, well-written post/guide to it.
    Trevor Huxham recently posted..Culture Shock at a Supermarket in SpainMy Profile

    Reply
    • Thanks so much, Trevor! I just got Lightroom so I’ve been fiddling around with photos a lot more :). And honestly there’s something for every kind of traveler in SE Asia so you might find you like it, who knows!

  2. I love reading people’s experiences of Angkor Wat…everyone seems to think it’s going to be horrible and touristy and then it isn’t! Love your photos.
    RIka | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..Roatan Month 15 RoundupMy Profile

    Reply
    • Thanks so much! And I have read very similar write-ups, that’s true :)

  3. I’m glad you were still able to be amazed by the Angkor temples. I find myself avoiding some places these days because they just seem SO over-visited. I’ll have to give them more of a chance.
    Lindsey recently posted..How Do You Pack for Travel?My Profile

    Reply
    • I find myself doing the same but I’m so glad that I gave Angkor a shot… it really paid off!

  4. Really love that sunrise photo – definitely worth it to get up at 4am! I’ve always wanted to go to Angkor; hopefully I’ll make it someday soon.
    Laura recently posted..A Very Refined Tea at Fortnum & MasonMy Profile

    Reply
    • Thanks so much, Laura! Angkor is definitely one of those bucket list places :)

  5. Great sunrise shot. Lightroom is awesome! Check out a YouTube channel called serge remmeli. Has some great tutorials on landscape photography
    Jimmy recently posted..In search of Condors at Colca CanyonMy Profile

    Reply
    • Thanks so much for the tip! I definitely need a few pointers in Lightroom, I find it a bit complicated at times! :)

  6. I also loved Angkor! We had such a fabulous guide, it made it so fun. You got some amazing shots. I love the sunrise one! Totally worth wading in the pond!

    Reply
    • Haha it was quite a mission so I’m glad you like the shot! :)

  7. I found it exhausting, though, didn’t you? I was definitely temple’d out after the end of an eight-hour temples day. I think the best way to do it is spread it out over several days.
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..Diving in Key LargoMy Profile

    Reply
    • It definitely was exhausting but I still wish I would’ve had time to see a bit more- spreading the temples out over several days would definitely be would I would do if I went back!

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