I didn’t go to see the big buddha or any of…
This was the reason that I had come to Cambodia. I had put the Temples of Angkor on my bucket list after seeing Tomb Raider for the first time (Lame reason, I know). They looked really beautiful and interesting in the film so I was keen to see them in real life. And how could I pass up the chance to see them while I was only a bus ride away?
The Angkor Archaeological Park is just outside Siem Reap, about a twenty minute tuk-tuk ride which should cost no more than 5USD. I went with a couple of dutch guys that I had met in the hostel and we split the costs. For 15USD our tuk-tuk picked us up at 5am so that we could go to the sunrise over Angkor Wat and also visit two more temples before bringing us back to Siem Reap. Apparently it’s possible to bargain down to about $12 for the same trip but we really didn’t mind paying an extra dollar each. After all, a dollar means so little to us but so much more to our driver. You have to buy a pass to enter the temples and yes they do check them at every temple. It’s a pretty simple process. Just tell your tuk-tuk driver that you need to buy one and they will stop at the ticket booth for you. You have a couple of options depending on how long you’re there for and how interesting you find temples. A single-day pass will set you back 20USD, a three-day pass is USD40 and a week pass is 60USD. I was only in Siem Reap for two days so I just bought the single-day pass. If I decided to come back the next day it would cost the same as the three-day pass anyway.
The sunrise at Angkor Wat is considered a must-do. Which means you definitely won’t be the only one there. If you really want to take photos from the water’s edge as the sun comes up you’ll need to get there really early. We got there at about 5:30am and there was already no space left. I moved up into the complex for the actual sunrise and explored the ruins before heading back down to the lake at about 7am. The sun is still behind the complex at that time so I could still get silhouette photos once the crowd had dissipated. There are a few market stalls and a couple of eateries next to the lake as well. As soon as the sun is up there will be people pushing menus into your hands. The menu is the same for each stall so it doesn’t matter which one you choose but the owners will almost fight over you trying to get you to eat at theirs. They will bargain with you in an effort to outbid their competitors. We ended up getting a banana pancake and tea for USD3.50. Not that cheap but a couple of dollars off the menu price at least.
After breakfast our tuk-tuk took drove us to Preah Khan temple. I liked this one better than Angkor Wat. Mostly because there weren’t as many people around. This one feels more like a ruin as well. There were massive stone blocks piled up inside where walls had collapsed. Many of them were covered in moss suggesting that they had been there for some time. Some still had remnants of paint so you could tell what colours the walls used to be hundreds of years ago. It’s so hard to imagine what the temples would have looked like when they were built. Polished, painted, with gold leaf adornment and no cracks to be seen. Somehow my mind just can’t form the picture when faced with the ruins. We spent about an hour exploring Preah Khan before moving on to Ta Prohm, the featured temple from Tomb Raider.
One of the coolest things about Ta Prohm (other than following the footsteps of Angelina Jolie of course) is the trees. These monoliths grow on top of the walls and galleries, their roots following the pillars and cracks in the stone. It is really humbling to behold. Other than that though I wasn’t particularly fond of the Jungle Temple. It is very busy and a lot of platforms have been installed for tourists to pose on. I think they detract from the beauty of the place to be honest. I wish I could have seen this temple 15 years ago. Before the movie made it famous. Before the repairs. We spent about an hour here too. Though I’m surprised it didn’t end up taking longer. Ta Prohm is a labyrinth. I lost count of how many times I got lost and I had to ask how to get out again. My companions weren’t particularly keen on seeing any more temples that day and I was inclined to agree. I’m not a temple enthusiast and to be frank, they all start looking alike after a while. Still I think the 6 hours we spent in the park was a good effort.
The next day I visited the Angkor National Museum with a couple of other guys from the dorm. I wish that I had done the temples and the museum the other way around. The museum gives you a lot of background about the religious backgrounds of the temples and a bit of the history. I think it would have been good to have the background before going to the temples. It’s worth taking the time to watch the videos in the different exhibition halls. I wish that I had paid for the audio tour though. Not all of the items have a proper description so it probably would have been helpful. It costs 12USD to get into the museum. You can’t take any bags in with you so leave them behind or be prepared to check them into the cloak room.
Have you visited the temples in Cambodia? What did you think of them?