The Angkor Temples

Over the long weekend I went to Siem Reap to see the mighty Angkor temples. It was such an adventure! From climbing across the ruins of temples and hiking up the jungle to see carvings in the river, it was such a magnificent experience. The Cambodian people are so incredibly nice and we got very lucky with our tuk tuk driver who was super patient and kind. It made our experience that much more better.

We only had 2.5 days so we crammed in as much as possible and pretty much only had time for seeing temples. I would recommend about 4-5 days total so that you can do temples in the morning when it is cooler and then do something else in the evening like a cooking class, massage or just exploring the town. We got the 3 day pass for $40 USD.

On the first day we started off at the Ta Phrom which is the one where the trees are growing into the ruins. It was cool to see how nature has it’s own way of things since not all of the temples have this. We spent quite a lot of time here (about 3 hours) just walking through and taking in all the sites. It was really fun to explore the area and just walk through the corridors not knowing what was coming up next. The second temple we went to was Bantay Srei. This one is translated as the Citadel of Women and is made up of pink sandstone. The carvings are said to be so intricate that they could have only been made by women. This was one of the few temples that was said to be commissioned by a Brahmin (priest) rather than a king like the others. Bantay Srei was just opened a few years ago since the civil war kept it closed for a long period of time. So if you came here a few years ago, you wouldn’t have been able to see this one!

Ta Phrom
Ta Phrom

The Angkor Temples

Love the red dirt!
Love the red dirt!
Bantay Srei
Bantay Srei

The third one we were going to do was Kbal Spean translated loosely as “river of a thousand lingas.” This was the one where you hike up 2 km in the jungle to see the carvings in the river and a waterfall but as soon as we got there I got really hungry since we hadn’t stopped for lunch. We stopped for a quick bite but as luck would have it, it stated pouring! We stayed at the restaurant for a little longer but after a while our guide came by and said it was ok to start even though the rain hadn’t completely subsided. I was a little (ok a lot) hesitant since I was wearing flip flops and it had just rained so I thought it would be muddy and slippery in the jungle. But we moved along. Halfway through we met another Chinese girl and her tour guide and it turns out she was in her flip flops too and was skeptical of going any further. But I guess somehow my flip flop wearing convinced her and she decided to come along with us. It only took about 90 min to get to the top and back but it really felt like 3 hours. When we got to the top it was totally worth it though. The waterfall was amazing. Since it had just rained (and was still drizzing a little) there was no need to cool off in the waterfall. The carvings on the stones were pretty but the whole atmosphere of being in the jungle and rain falling lightly added to the experience. A little further up were just rows and rows of stone carvings and as our guide explained it, the water that went over the carvings is considered holy. A lot of people still come up to pray and meditate and on the way back down we saw some monks going up.

The Angkor Temples

Vishnu
Vishnu

The second day’s highlight was Bang Melean. It was 80 km away so it took about 1.5 hours just to get there in the tuk tuk. We were hoping it was worth the long ride and the extra $5 and it TOTALLY was. We started off going on the wooden bridge trail but later found out that you could really just climb anywhere you wanted! We didn’t really know how to climb on the rocks so we stuck to a more sanitized version of exploring (and I was in flip flops again) but towards the end we met one of the helpers (not officially tour guides but still guide you through and help you climb over rocks). Her name was Mai and I’m so glad she was there since she took us in and out of the temples through the small doors and helped us climb over the rocks! It was seriously so much fun being able to explore the place like this and glad I didn’t leave with the sanitized version of just walking on the bridge trail.

You can walk along the path or climb anywhere you want!
You can walk along the path or climb anywhere you want!
We actually cliimbed through here!
We actually cliimbed through here!

On the third day we woke up early to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Unfortunately it was cloudy so it wasn’t that spectacular but the mornings are so much cooler so it made walking around that much better. The main Angkor Wat temple was built by King Suryavarman II and is devoted to Vishnu. It was built around the same time as Notre Dame. We then continued to Angkor Thom which was the city and at its height contained 1 million people (when London only had 50,000 people!). It has 5 gates with humungous statues of the Bodhisatva and to the right and left of each gate are 54 gods and 54 demons that is a replica of Samudra Manthan.

Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat
The gates of Angkor Thom. The people and tuk tuks look so small in comparison!
The gates of Angkor Thom. The people and tuk tuks look so small in comparison!
54 gods and 54 demons on either side of the entrance.
54 gods and 54 demons on either side of the entrance.

The temple of Bayon and Terrace of Elephants was next. From the gate of Bayon to the main temple we took an elephant ride! It was expensive (about $15 for 20 min) but it was so much fun and we really felt like royalty passing through the huge entrances. Bayon was one of my favorites. There are supposedly 216 faces on the temples and they just look so magnificant. It was too crowded though and it was so hot with no room to move.

A few of the 216 faces on Bayon
A few of the 216 faces on Bayon

I successfully made it through the adventurous trip in flip flops without getting bit, scratched or any major injuries! I had such a great time in Cambodia, I hope to be back soon to see more of the real country.

Practical tips:

  • Most countries have visa on arrival for $20 USD at the airport. You have to bring one photo for the visa but I forgot mine and they just charged me $1 to take a photoscan of my passport picture.
  • There is no need to exchange local currency before hand. Everything is in USD which makes it easier to carry around and exchange back.
  • Airport transfers are usually free for pick up but will charge about $5 for a return trip.
  • Don’t travel outside of the tourist areas or the well known paths as there are still about 4 million land mines in the country. Our tour guide’s brother lost a leg to a land mine 😦
  • Be patient outside the temples since there are so many children and women selling items. They corner you making it hard to even move but you just have to plough through!
  • I only mentioned the main temples above. We also saw the 3 temples on the Roulous circuit and Preah Khan. In my opinion they weren’t as impressive so if you are short on time try the ones above out first.
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