Ah, Angkor Wat – Cambodia’s pride and jewel. While Southeast Asia is home to thousands of awe inspiring temples, there arguably none so enchanted as as the impressive Angkor Wat temple grounds in Siem Reap province, Cambodia. Temple tourism gets exhausting, and can often be underwhelming as [despite their varied histories] only a few pioneering temples actually display any architectural or stylistic innovations. As a result, it becomes easy to assume that because you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all. Angkor Wat however, is special. Perhaps we went into it with lowered expectations, but our tour of site exceeded our wildest dreams.
Here’s our list of 6 things you didn’t know about Angkor Wat, and why you’d be a fool to miss it.
1) “Angkor Wat” is Just the Name of One (of Many) Temples
Really a visit to Angkor Wat is a visit to Angkor’s Archeological Park. Angkor Wat is simply the name of the most famous of over a dozen ancient temples and sites. Other must see areas include (but are not limited to) Bayon, Ta Prohm, and Phnom Bakheng. While I’m sure it’s possible to visit all the temples in a day, you’d be rushing through them. Take your time, give yourself a couple days (as we didn’t) and take it all in. You’re in a very unique place.
2) Parts of the Movie Tomb Raider Were Filmed Here
Combining the beauty of Angkor with the beauty of Angelina Jolie is the much maligned movie Lara Croft – Tomb Raider (2001).
3) You Can Cycle There From Siem Reap
Angkor Archeological Site is only about 5 kilometres north of Siem Reap’s city centre, and so it should really only take about 30 minutes to get there by bike. At less than $2USD/day bike rentals offer a cheap alternative to tuks for those with a little more time to spare and who don’t mind sweating through their shorts. We put aside only one day to explore Angkor Wat, and so we opted for tuk travel in order to maximize what we saw in our short time there. Guided bike tours are also available.
4) You May See it by Hot-Air Balloon!
Oh, so you’ve got extra money, eh? Oh so you’re not on a shoestring budget like us, huh? Well then step right up, don’t be shy – see Angkor Wat by hot-air balloon! At $20 USD/person, you too can soar 100m up to experience Angkor Wat through the screen of your phone! The balloon is tethered to the ground, and hovers pretty far from the main towers, but is apparently worth doing? I’m not too sure, these reviews from Trip Advisor seem really mixed:
Tip: Angkor Wat faces westwardly which means the sun rises directly behind it. If you’re doing the hot-air balloon thing, get there early in the morning to capture some truly stunning sunrise photographs.
5) You Can’t See it All in One Day
Passes to Angkor Archeological Park are sold in one-day ($20USD), three-day ($40USD) and seven-day ($60USD) increments. We visited just Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm temple in our 6 hours in the park.
You can hire tuks to drive you around, but it can be really pricey which is why we recommend for those on shoestring budgets to rent a bicycle or motorbike from Siem Reap for the day. Bikes go about the same speed as a tuk, but offer you more in terms of flexibility. You’ll also get some exercise! Face it – you’ve been travelling a long time, drinking lots of alcohol and eating lots of delicious, greasy food, and you’re probably putting on weight. Ride a bike. (Sara just proofread this section and told me I could be funny without being so mean. I disagree, and think she smells bad).
6) There Are Tourists Everywhere
Perhaps unsurprisingly Angkor Wat attracts 2.35 million visitors a year. Fortunately the park’s so grand that the tourist density is low and so it’s relatively easy to find spots to capture beautiful photographs without people in them.
Tourists commonly congregate on one side of Angkor Wat’s garden ponds (which are positioned at either side of its face) in order to capture stunning pictures of the architectural masterpiece at sunrise. Even the most photographically inept individuals should be able to score some pretty sweet photographs in this special environment.
Bonus: You’re Going to Sweat
It’s true, you’ll be dripping from your elbows as you take selfies, and caress the walls. Reclaim your water loss by hanging empty buckets from your elbows and chin (or just take the easy road and stock up on water for the day).
We get it – you’re tired of temple tourism. By the time we got to Angkor Archeological Park we were too, yet we marvelled at its scale and majesty. Don’t miss it! Angkor offers tons to explore, serves as a photographer’s paradise, and will leave you feeling inspired, hot, and sweaty.