The Angkor Archeological Complex is a massive complex of ancient temples built on over 400 square kilometers of jungle about 4 miles north of Siem Reap—rated the 7th wonder of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The main temple, Angkor Wat, was constructed during the first half of the 12th century and is considered to be the largest single religious monument ever built.
The Angkor temple complex is the largest religious complex anywhere in the world and considered to be the most fascinating and most popular destination in all of Southeast Asia. It is located about 7 hours by bus north of the Cambodian capital of Phenom Penh and is also served by the Siem Reap International Airport. Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire from the ninth to the 15th centuries where it was both a religious site and a fully functional city. Mysteriously around the 15th century the Khmer population disappeared—much like the Andean Incas civilization disappeared in South America around the same period in global history.
While Angkor Wat is the main temple that many visitors first visit there are over 1,000 other temples, both large and small, which can be seen throughout this massive complex. There are several larger temples which are included in most tours but many smaller temples can be observed when driving around the complex—even these smaller temples provide many excellent photographic opportunities.
The Angkor National Museum
We decided to visit the Angkor National Museum as a good introduction to our temple visit. So the day before our Angkor visit we found ourselves walking around this beautiful museum enjoying the air condition. The visit turned out to be an excellent move. This world class museum was built and is currently owned by a Thai businessman. It is a fantastic museum which is well laid out and extremely well organized. It provides the guest with an excellent introduction to both The Angkor Wat Archeological Complex and Cambodian history. In each separate area there is a well produced video concerning the topic of that particular section. We were now well prepared for the next day’s visit to Angkor Wat.
Visiting Angkor Wat
You can easily spend a month exploring the Angkor Archelogical Complex and still want to experience more, not feeling as though you’ve seen it all. We purchased the 3 day pass for $72 each so we would be able to visit the top dozen temples or so over the next three days. This would also allow us to stop often and explore whenever and wherever we chose when spotting a something like a structure or temple which looked inviting and piqued our interest.
Arriving very early on our first day enabled us to see the famous Angkor Wat sunrise which was spectacular, as luckily it was not a cloudy morning. Even that early in the morning there was still a large crowd of visitors wanting to experience the Angkor sunset as well.
We hired a taxi for the three days which was recommended by our hotel manager. Hiring a taxi or tuk tuk is definitely a necessity when touring the temple complex as it is huge and the entrance ticket office is about four miles outside of Siem Reap. Our driver Cam was knowledgeable about the complex so between him, Google and our Lonely Planet guide book we figured out our way around. We didn’t want to be tied to the schedule and routine of an organized tour group and in the end we felt that this turned out to be an excellent choice.
As we grew to know each other Cam was able to provide us with valuable suggestions as to where to go. The complex is huge and a knowledgeable opinion by a person who understood our particular preferences as to where to go and what to visit proved to be invaluable. For example, Cam took us to an often overlooked Temple where we were able to experience an amazing sunrise on our second day—virtually alone.
Having our own taxi driver permitted us to bring our own food and cold drinks. Cam provided us with a cooler full of cold water and soft drinks which was a great way to help beat the intense heat. Visiting the temples requires a lot of walking and stair climbing therefore it is imperative to wear good hiking boots or shoes. Fortunately we were prepared in this regard.
Our first temple to visit was Angkor Wat which we entered after we finished watching the beautiful sunrise. This is the largest single religious building ever built. It’s famous profile is featured on the Cambodian flag. We marched up and down the several flights of stairs as we cruised, what seemed like miles of corridors while admiring all the amazing art and statues carved into the temple’s walls.
That afternoon we had Cam drive us the to the next temple over, Banyon temple, which was my personal favorite. The minute we departed our taxi we were greeted by the distinctive noise of crickets loudly singing their jungle welcome. Between the cricket’s welcome and the surrounding tall jungle canopy of trees and vines I felt like I was a character in a Raiders of the Lost Arch movie.
We spent the next three hours marching up and down stairs and exploring through the magical corridors of this magnificent ancient temple. Every turn offered a new adventure and we were treated to a wondrous experience which we will never forget. An experience I highly recommend to anyone who has the opportunity.