Travel Log: Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

After about six days in Thailand (check out my travel logs on Bangkok here and here, as well as my Koh Samui travel log here), we flew to Cambodia for a step back in time.  Angkor Archaeological Park is a UNESCO world heritage site, one of the most important in Southeast Asia and home to the former capitals of the Khmer Empire.  Visiting the Angkor temples has been on my bucket list for a while now, and January was the perfect time to visit for warm and dry weather.  January is within the peak tourist season (November through March), so we knew we would need a plan to avoid the worst of the crowds.  The best piece of advice I received was to hire a car and driver to visit the major temples, and I am so glad we did.  During the dry season, it gets hot and dusty and being in an open tuktuk looked miserable.  The car and driver cost us $30 USD for ~8 hours and we enjoyed history lessons from our friendly driver as well as air conditioning, cold water, and door-to-door service.  Our driver picked us up from our hotel after breakfast, took us straight to the Angkor ticket office to get our day passes, and then dropped us off in front of Angkor Wat about 8:00 am.  We were told that most of the tour buses go to Angkor Thom first, then Angkor Wat, so he took us the opposite route.  After dropping us off at each location, he would wait for us in the parking lots and was always very easy to find.  Best $30 spent of the trip, hands down.  Please read on for photos and details of our time in Angkor Wat, the most famous site within the Angkor Archaeological Park. 

Angkor Wat is often considered the centerpiece of any visit to the Angkor temples.  It was built by King Suryavarman II during a span of ~35 years and dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu.  There is an exterior wall and a moat, and once you get inside the outside wall you find this long walkway toward the main temple.

When we reached the center of the temple, the first level contained an exterior wall covered with bas-reliefs, a stone walkway, and a double row of columns that seemed to stretch for a mile.

Another view of the outside wall, with a better view of the bas-reliefs that detail key points in Cambodian history & mythology.

The most famous section of the bas-reliefs: the "Churning of the Sea of Milk" in the East Wing.  This scene depicts the the gods (devas) and demons (asuras) enlisting the help of Vishnu and the five-headed naga Vasuki to churn the Ocean of Milk in an effort to produce an elixir that would grant immortality.

Moving further inward, we reached the central structure of the temple, a three-tiered pyramid that also contained the iconic lotus-shaped towers that Angkor Wat is known for.  The steps were old and steep, but how amazing to be able to climb the same steps as someone in the 12th century!  This view shows some of the wear and tear on the structure.

One reason why I wanted to visit Angkor Wat sooner rather than later is that you can still roam freely throughout the temple with few restrictions.  As you can see, there was a bit of scaffolding/support here and there but not much.  I was able to walk over to the base of one of the towers, and this photo shows the scale - I felt so small!

A man-made wooden staircase takes you up to the third level of the temple, because the original stone steps are too worn and unstable to allow foot traffic.  This is a small indicator of how many tourists pass through Angkor Wat and the effects on these ancient structures.

Looking out from the upper level of the temple, you can see the outer walls containing the bas-reliefs, and the forest beyond. 

If you follow me on Instagram, you've already seen these next two photos but I have to share again because it was one of many highlights on our trip.  The highlight was galloping around Angkor Wat on a horse that was brought into the grounds for tourist photos.  Now if you don't already know, I grew up with horses and riding is one of the things in life that makes me truly happy.  In this case, I jumped at the chance to ride in Cambodia and negotiated to take the horse around the grounds for $5.  I wasn't sure if this horse would even want to run, but when offered the chance he took off at a full gallop!  What an exhilarating experience, and a head-turner.  I have a feeling that I was in a bunch of people's photos that morning.

When I came back to where I started, the local guides were amazed that I knew how to ride, and told me that they had never seen anyone do that before.  Who knows, maybe I started a new trend?

This spontaneous horseback ride was a great end to our ~2 hour tour around Angkor Wat, and as you can tell by my face I was so glad I did it.  We then walked back out through the exterior gate, found our driver, and headed to our next stop: Angkor Thom.

I hope you enjoyed these photos and details about Angkor Wat, and if you have ever been thinking about visiting Cambodia I absolutely recommend a visit to Siem Reap and its amazing historical sites.  Please stay tuned for more posts on Angkor temples, and thank you for visiting my blog today! I hope you have a great week.


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