Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world and has been on my bucket list for years. It was a no-brainer I would picket it as my destination for Halloween 2015.
My day in Angkor Wat began before 5 AM. A friend and I had rented a room in a guesthouse in Siem Reap, the town closest to the temples. They had bikes to rent for only $2.50 a day, which is considerably cheaper than hiring a Tuk-Tuk for the day for about $20. However, next time I go I plan to rent a motorcycle for the day and explore that way. As it was, we rode over 43 km throughout the day. Other options are a taxi, hired motorcycle or elephant. I didn’t research the prices on those, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend one of the captive elephants.
We left the hostel at 5 AM and were at the park around 5:20. A day pass costs $20, 3-days (used in a week) costs $40 and 7-days (used in a month) costs $60. We didn’t realize that Cambodia uses USD and didn’t have enough on us. We paid in Thai baht instead, which they accepted. If you’re a speed freak like me, you can experience the park in a day. Otherwise, plan for at least two to three days.
We made to the first temple by about 5:45, just as the sun was rising. The temple is called Angkor Wat, which is also the name of the whole “city.” In Cambodian, Angkor means “city” and Wat is “temple,” so Angkor Wat means “City of Temples.” The main temple when you first arrive is also called Angkor Wat, and is the most famous.
By sunrise there were already plenty of tourists, but not nearly as many as I was expecting. From all the stories I’d heard, I was expecting thousands of tourists that you would have to push your way through to get anywhere. Instead, it was closer to dozens at any one time. I was even able to get to the front of the crowd to get my photos of the fantastic sunrise.
The next ten hours were spent walking through the miles and miles of ruins. While the bike ride was over 43 km, we probably walked over 20 km through the temples. After Angkor Wat was the massive complex of Angkor Thom which includes Bayon Temple, Baphuon Temple, the Elephant Terrace, etc. Bayon was really interesting with it’s dozens of carved heads. No one can agree on their original purpose, but their detail is amazing.
Further north was Preah Khan, the first temple we saw with massive trees growing over the rubble. It was in a far worse condition than the first two. This was part of what’s called the Grand Tour, as opposed to the Small Tour, and there were far fewer tourists. Many of the shots we were able to get didn’t have any people in them at all. Not completely empty, but good enough for me.
Then there was Neak Pean, a “floating temple” built in a lagoon on an island in a larger lake, with a long wooden causeway leading out to it. The trail with trees growing up out of the water of the lake reminded me of Willow, as well as every other fantasy movie with a long path leading through a spooky, swampy setting. Like I said, perfect for Halloween.
The next temple was Ta Saom. When we arrived, I tried to lock my bike up against a tree but couldn’t find the key. I then had to backtrack over two km to find the key, and another 2 back to Ta Som. Nothing like adding extra side adventures to my trip. At least I found the key where it had fallen in the dirt when we parked at Neak Pean. Ta Saom was much smaller by comparison to the other temples and didn’t include anything special. We didn’t stay long.
There was one more temple we had to visit. Ta Prohm Temple. That’s where you’ll find the famous tree found in movies like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones: Temple of Doom. Even here there weren’t a lot of tourists and we were able to get photos of the tree without anyone in them in the frame.
Finally it was time to call it a day. But not before a fresh fruit smoothie for $1.50. We drank in the shade, watching a group of ants carry a dead grasshopper up a cable. Yuck! While the temples were full of insects, there were also plenty of animals in the park. Dogs and cats were everywhere, and so were horses, cattle, pigs and, of course, monkeys. I’m just glad the monkey I got within a foot of to photograph didn’t try to steal my camera, as I heard they are wont to do. Oh, there were also captive elephants available for rides, but I’m not counting those as animals in the park. Definitely eco-tourism at it’s worst.
Our visit was quite possibly on the best day of the year to visit, when most Westerners are at Halloween parties and it’s off-season in Asia with the potential rain. When you plan your trip, keep this in mind. Show up on a holiday or around October or November. Otherwise you could be competing with the millions of tourists who come each year. In 2012 alone there were over 2 million!
As mentioned earlier, there are two routes to take around Angkor Wat: the Small Tour and the Grand Tour. The Small Tour will take you through Angkor Wat temple, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm and Banteay Kdei before heading back to the entrance. The Grand Tour continues after Angkor Thom to Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon, Pre Rup and Sras Srang before heading to the exit. Just make sure you branch off to Ta Prohm after Sras Srang before you leave to see the tree.
Food in the park is really cheap. I had a pancake breakfast with bananas and pineapple, and my friend had pineapple fried rice. Each were about $3. A 1.5 litre of water will cost you $1-$1.50 and is sold throughout the park. Or you can bring your own snacks to the park, but food in Cambodian markets is outrageously expensive. A small cup of yogurt is $2 and a pint of Häagen-Dazs is over $18!!!!! You can read more about that in my upcoming post on Siem Reap.
The only other advice I could give would be to ensure Angkor Wat is on your bucket list. This is definitely a place you need to see, and before the annual visitors reach 10 million! If you want another great post by a fellow traveler about Angkor Wat with a few more details and photos, check out LoveAndRoad.com. Also make sure you read my post on Siem Reap to find out the easiest and cheapest way to travel to Angkor Wat.