How To Visit Angkor Wat – Siem Reap
About Siem Reap
You expect a small sleepy town that primarily services the surrounding temples, but MAN were we mistaken! On the way into town there must be conservatively 15-20 5 star hotels. All concrete monstrosities that have maybe 10% Cambodian flavour and 90% Korean influence. The minute you step outside your hotel (or for us tiny little guest house), you are accosted with Tuk Tuk drivers, restaurant hosts, money changers and the like.
While this is most definitely Asia, and you have to expect these things, what I didn’t expect was the jump off point to Angkor Wat and Ta Phrom to be so so so overly commercialized. I can’t believe that people come to Cambodia and expect, actually no DEMAND, a 5 star level of service. I’m not sure what came first – The hotel or the Tourists!
I can fully appreciate that a lot of people don’t like to travel like we do but it seems a little strange to me to come to see 1200 year old temples in a community still so devastated by war and want to go 5 star all the way. And of course this level of $$ encourages the locals to become completely financially driven and if you want to be a traveler and not a tourist – you can just forget it.
In saying that, the temples themselves are AMAZING! The similarity (while I’m sure anyone with any kind of Archaeology interest would disagree) to the Incan and Mayan cultures seemed very significant to me. Same central courtyards, same time frame of building, same quality of stone masons (actually the Incan’s had it all over everyone in that department) is eerie indeed. It's so interesting to me to see ruins of roughly the same era that are on opposite sides of the globe but have such striking similarities.
Visiting Angkor Wat for The Dawn
Our local tour guide Fila organised his dad to pick us up for the day in his little tuk tuk which we were so grateful for. We got up at 4am to head out to Angkor Wat and did the whole reflection pool photo with all the other early risers. While I love photography, my mandate is always the experience, not necessarily the shot, so while all the other photographers were still waiting for the perfect shot over the reflection pool, we headed off with our miners light on our heads into the gloom inside the temple.
Heading inside the temple at this point turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. For about an hour or so we were the only people inside the temple. In the dawn, as the sun rose and the colours changed, and the silence dropped away, for about 60 minutes we had it all to ourselves. It was just us and Angkor Wat. An unforgettable hour for sure.
Once you are inside the temple you can immediately imagine the life that must have gone on inside these walls. I look around the main square and you can see from the bollards along the side of the walkways that this was a covered in water. Not very deep but clearly the floor of the outside parts of the temple was underwater. I wondered if it was just monsoon protection or the water held some kind of significance. Sadly I couldn't find anyone that knew.
Visiting More Sites In Angkor Wat National Park
I think what a lot of people don't realise is that the Angkor Wat park is more than just that one temple. The ruins are enormous and you could easily spend an entire day (including the 4am start) exploring. We were very lucky to stay ahead of the crowds and had most of the ruins to ourselves.
Ta Prohm lives up to the Tomb Raider mystique with ease and is a photographic gem! The moss covered, vine strangled ruins are exactly as you imagine and its hard not to pretend, for just the smallest time, that you are Lara Croft.
Just for a minute…
My Recommendations for Your Angkor Wat Visit
Angkor Wat is so much more than one temple. The entire park is mind blowing. The architectural styles, along with the quality of the actual buildings are really something you have to see. If you can, spring for the Sky Venture microlight experience. We had done microlights before but to be flying over Angkor Wat in not much more than a hand glider with a motor is an experience in itself. Take a jacket that day though – its cold up there.
- Get up early, do the 4am start.
- Plan to spend the entire day in the park.
- Find a local tuk tuk driver to hire for the day – its really worth it.
- Take some snacks (for your driver as well)
- Tie a scarf or something you will remember onto your tuk tuk. Its really hard to find yours in a sea of tuk tuk's when you come back from one of the ruins.
- HAVE SOME RESPECT! When we were coming out of Angkor Wat we saw so many young people in singlets and bum freezer shorts. This is a spiritual place for the Cambodians. Be Respectful. Cover shoulders and knees.