After being on the road for almost 14 hours the day before, traveling to Siem Reap in Cambodia from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, flying from Manila two nights ago, we finally found ourselves standing in front of the main temple of Angkor by sunrise. I was happy and grateful just being there, looking at the silhouette of those five towers while the sky came alive in gorgeous shades of red, orange and pink.
For years, I’ve wanted to see Angkor Wat. Sure, it’s become one of the most touristy places on earth and watching the sunrise is one of the most touristy things you can do when you visit Angkor (another is the sunset at Phnom Bakheng, more on that in another post), and you’ll be among hundreds of others who made the trip, most of whom will likely be blocking your “perfect sunrise over Angkor shot”, but that doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t take away the fact that you’re right in front of something beautiful that has withstood centuries, including the decline of an ancient empire and genocide. I could only imagine how many sunrises this 12th-century temple has seen.
After the sun rises, most of the people right in front us disappear to have breakfast and we took the advice from this travel blogging couple: that the best time to explore the grounds of Angkor Wat in relative solitude was right about that time. We had water, crackers and nuts in case we got hungry, so explore we did. You won’t find yourself alone in the temple, but there weren’t hundreds of people in there as well.
Even before entering, you’ll see that there are areas closed off for restoration. Trips to the other temples later on would reveal that Angkor Wat is the best preserved temple within the Angkor Archaeological Park, primarily because it was never abandoned and it has remained to be a religious center. It was originally constructed as a Hindu temple then served as a Buddhist temple when Buddhism became Cambodia’s dominant religion back in the 14th century.
After almost two hours of going around Angkor Wat, we decided to head out to have the complimentary breakfast back in our inn before venturing to the other nearby temples for the day: the vast Angkor Thom, Banteay Kdei, Ta Prohm, Ta Keo, Thommanon and Chau Say Thevoda. I didn’t get the perfect sunrise-over-Angkor or even the requisite Angkor-reflected-on-the-pool photos, but being there was perfect enough. 🙂
* Before you see any of the temples, you have to get a ticket (day pass 20 USD, 3 days 40 USD, one week 60 USD) at the ticket booth, which is open from 5 am (right in time for sunrise) to 5:30 pm. Tickets purchased after 5 pm are still valid for the next day.
* To go to the different temples, you can hire a tuk-tuk for around 15 USD (for the small tour circuit, which can include Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and a few other smaller temples nearby) to 20 USD (for the grand tour circuit, which can include Banteay Srey, a temple 37 km away from Siem Reap). Just be sure to agree on the rate before you start the tour. Almost all hotels and guesthouses (preferably where you’re staying) can recommend a reliable tuk-tuk for you. You can also go around the Angkor Archaeological Park on a bike. Most guesthouses have bikes for rent for around 2 USD.